What’s That? Fox-Fels Hall

‘The mansion’ is home to the Fels Institute of Government, Penn's graduate school for public policy and public management. 

    • This is …
      Front of red brick Fox-Fels building with green shutters and white trimon Penn Campus
      The entrance to Fox-Fels Hall on Walnut Street.
    • It lives …

      On Walnut Street between 38th and 39th streets.

    • It’s cool because …

      The mansion is the former home of Samuel Simeon Fels, a philanthropist, civic leader, and president of Fels & Company, the manufacturer of Fels Naptha, a popular household soap. The Georgian house is part of a mansion group on Walnut Street that recalls the early 20th century character of the area.

      “Samuel Fels came out of the progressive movement and was a big believer in good government but was seeing a lot of not so good government around him at the time in Philadelphia,” says John Lapinski of the School of Arts & Sciences. Lapinski is faculty director of the Fels Institute of Government, faculty director of the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program, director of the Program on Opinion Research and Election Studies, and director of elections at NBC News. “Fels embedded himself in this tradition that government can be a science, that it can be run well, it can be efficient, and it can be ethical.”

      In the 1930s and ’40s, Fels held salons at the mansion hosting power players from Philadelphia and around the state, from elected officials to governors and mayors, Lapinski says.

      “They had conversations that led to policy decisions that governed the Commonwealth and also governed Philadelphia as a city. There were a lot of good things that happened there, where it was sort of this amazing place with so much going on,” he says.

      Fels donated the home to Penn in the 1950s to house the Fels Institute of Government. The mansion provides classrooms and study spots for students, offices for the Fels administrative team, and indoor and outdoor gathering spaces for student and alumni events throughout the year.

      “It’s a state-of-the-art facility with an old world feel to it, and our students really embrace it,” Lapinski says. “It’s a bustling place where we want the ideas that are underneath good government to form.”

Interior of Fox-Fels Hall on Penn Campus, with wooden inlaid fireplace and low bookshelves, wooden dining table and oil paintings of people's portraits on the walls.
Interior shot of Fox-Fels Hall, also referred to as “the mansion” and home to the Fels Institute of Government, Penn's graduate school for public policy and public management.