A Look Inside Penn’s Outdoor Spaces

In Philadelphia—a city famed for its perpendicular streets and silver skyline—a step onto Penn’s campus can take visitors into a verdant, yet wildly urban setting.

The University’s lush, leafy atmosphere is carefully planned. Landscape staff at Facilities and Real Estate Services (FRES) work year-round to maintain Penn’s signature green spaces and develop new ones—all of which are inspired by the University’s Landscape Development Plan of 1977.

“What we see here today—granite curbs, brick walk and stone paving, benches, and light fixtures—was designed to be a contiguous palette of materials,” says University Landscape Architect Bob Lundgren. “This plan gave us a template to follow as the rest of the campus was developed.”

More than 35 years later, approximately 100 acres of Penn’s 300 total acres are devoted to three types of open spaces: green spaces, walkways, and small gardens.

The Current met with Lundgren to explore the history and little-known facts of five of those spaces— iconic, brand-new, and renovated, existing ones—for Penn students, faculty, and staff to appreciate as they retreat from office buildings and classrooms.

 

College Green

Between 34th and 36th streets along Woodland Avenue

When College Hall was constructed as Penn’s first West Philadelphia building in the late 1870s, farmland dominated the landscape. As the city developed, major streets crossed through campus until the 1960s.

With the implementation of the Landscape Development Plan of 1977, the University began converting streets and transforming them into pedestrian walkways.

In 1977, the Graduate School of Fine Arts, now PennDesign, recommended that the then-disheveled asphalt walks and worn lawns surrounding College Hall become the heart of campus, modeled after an English park landscape with trees, lawns, benches, and lighting. With funding from Blanche P. Levy, College Green—also known as Levy Park—began its transformation.

Lundgren says many of the trees within College Green were planted along with College Hall itself, such as the American elm that stands in front of the structure.

“It’s 130 years old—a descendant of the original treaty elm under which William Penn signed a peace agreement with the Lenape Indians in the 1680s,” Lundgren says. “In the late 19th century, the tree came down and slips were propagated and planted on College Green. It’s a pride of our campus, and we do a lot to take care of that tree.”

 

Edward W. Kane Park 

Spruce Street between 33rd and 34th streets

When Edward Kane attended Penn in the 1950s, the area at 33rd Street in front of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania was a large popular green space adjacent to the Penn Museum. In the 1960s, 33rd Street was extended along the west side of the Museum, and the remaining space was converted into a parking lot.

“After all those years, Ed [Kane] wanted to put the green back,” Lundgren says. “It was important to him.”

Thanks to a gift from Kane and his wife, Martha “Marty” Wallace, the asphalt parking area known as Lot 8 was recently transformed into Kane Park with the addition of trees, shrubs, grass, flowers, and ground cover, along with ample seating for visitors to sit back and enjoy the newfound green space.

 

BioPond

Hamilton Walk and 38th Street, behind the Quadrangle

Lundgren describes the BioPond as the “wild side” of Penn. The BioPond—officially known as the James G. Kaskey Memorial Garden—is a park comprised of what remains of a scientific botanical garden, which dates back to 1895. In the 1950s, it gained popularity as a teaching tool, and today, it is still managed by the Department of Biology.

“We strive to keep it a little more wild, a little more naturalistic than the rest of the campus,” Lundgren says.

The pond itself is home to communities of ducks, fish, and turtles. Fifteen years ago, FRES introduced a system that circulates the pond and propels its tranquil waterfall.

Lundgren says the plants at the BioPond are not necessarily native, since botanical gardens are collections of plants. “All of this was planted between 1895 and yesterday,” he says.

 

Locust Walk

Penn Park to 40th street, between Walnut and Spruce streets

 

Considered the main artery of Penn’s campus, Locust Walk dates back to the 1960s.

“George Patton, a Philadelphia landscape architect who designed Locust Walk back in the 1950s and ‘60s, stressed the importance of permanent materials like granite and brick,” Lundgren says.

Locust Walk became one of the first spaces on campus composed of granite curbs and brick paving—inspiring the materials used for what would soon become College Green and many of Penn’s signature green spaces.

“Most of the trees along [Locust Walk] were planted by [Patton] when the Walk was first done in the early 1960s, but a few of the larger trees are from when the Walk used to actually be a city street,” Lundgren says.

 

Shoemaker Green

33rd Street and Smith Walk, between Walnut and Spruce streets

Until recently, the area currently occupied by Shoemaker Green was home to Penn’s outdoor tennis courts. With the addition of Penn Park athletic facilities, the University renovated the space into a green oasis, complete with lawns, native plantings, permeable paving, and seating areas.

Shoemaker Green also serves as a pilot project for the Sustainable SITES Initiative, a national program designed to support sustainable land development and management practices. Penn’s Department of Earth and Environmental Science is participating in this effort by collecting data and samples on soil, plants, and water.

“Another important aspect of this site is we are not using any synthetic fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, or chemicals of any nature,” Lundgren says. “That is unique because the industry standard is to use synthetic chemicals. That’s a lot easier—but as times change, we are taking a more ecological approach.”

 

Text by Maria Zankey

Video by Kurtis Sensenig