- This is …
- 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.”
ICA Spring 2024 Exhibitions
“Dominique White and Alberta Whittle: Sargasso Sea” and “Tomashi Jackson: Across the Universe” are presented as the Institute of Contemporary Art’s spring 2024 exhibitions. The former is an installation that draws inspiration from the Sargasso Sea, the only body of water defined by oceanic currents. The latter, meanwhile, brings together paintings, video, prints, and sculpture by Jackson, who investigates histories related to cities, lands, and individuals in the U.S.
12:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.
Institute of Contemporary Art, 116 S. 36th St.