For the Record: Penn’s era of campus expansion

When Penn moved from Center City to West Philadelphia in 1872, College Hall, the University’s first building, housed classrooms, the library, labs, and faculty offices.

Within a few years, the campus added Medical Hall, now Claudia Cohen Hall, and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania building. By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Penn acquired other buildings to expand the campus, and Franklin Field and the Law School were constructed.

The 1912 campus map (pictured) shows a time when the University was comprised of more than 50 structures, interspersed with neighborhood residences. The campus was bounded by Franklin Field on the east end and the Dental building at 40th Street. On the northern end of campus was the Law School on Chestnut Street, with the Botanic Gardens on the southern end.

After World War II, the campus experienced its largest expansion in Penn’s history after the Board of Trustees adopted the 1948 master development plan.

In the early 1950s, Penn President Gaylord Harnwell led efforts for the physical and educational development of campus. During his tenure from 1953-1970, the University built 93 new buildings, including high-rise dorms, classrooms, Van Pelt Library, and administrative offices.

Penn’s institutional growth was aided with the support of city government urban renewal policies in the 1950s and ‘60s.

At the time, manufacturing industries were declining, and large cities such as Philadelphia, New York, and Chicago turned to universities to help drive urban renewal efforts.

Penn’s designation as one of the locations of the city’s Urban Renewal program paved the way for the University to acquire nearby homes and businesses and to eventually turn Locust Street into a pedestrian walkway lined with trees.

While Penn’s growth was an economic engine for the city, the project was controversial because of the need to relocate some local residents and businesses.

In recent years, Penn has worked to encourage preserving and enhancing the residential communities in University City. In addition, the University developed a retail district on campus and expanded east, with projects on the former postal facility near 30th Street, including Penn Park.

For more information about this and other historical events at Penn, visit the University Archives online.

For the Record Penn