Houston Hall (University of Pennsylvania)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Houston Hall
Houston Hall in 2005 at right, as viewed from Perelman Quadrangle
Houston Hall in 2005 at right, as viewed from Perelman Quadrangle
General information
TypeStudent union
Architectural styleCollegiate gothic
LocationUniversity City
Address3417 Spruce Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Opened1896 (1896)
Renovated1936, 2000
OwnerUniversity of Pennsylvania
Technical details
Floor count4
Design and construction
ArchitectFrank Miles Day, William C. Hays, and Milton Bennett Medary
Renovating team
ArchitectRobert Rodes McGoodwin (1936)
Venturi, Scott, Brown (2000)
Houston Hall
Houston Hall, Univ. of Penna., Philadelphia, Pa (NYPL b12647398-67602).tiff
Houston Hall, on an 1898 postcard.
Houston Hall (University of Pennsylvania) is located in Philadelphia
Houston Hall (University of Pennsylvania)
Houston Hall (University of Pennsylvania) is located in Pennsylvania
Houston Hall (University of Pennsylvania)
Houston Hall (University of Pennsylvania) is located in the United States
Houston Hall (University of Pennsylvania)
Location3417 Spruce Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
expanded 1936
ArchitectDay, Hays & Medary
Architectural styleCollegiate Gothic
Part ofUniversity of Pennsylvania Campus Historic District[1] (ID78002457)
Designated CP21 June 1978[2]

Houston Hall is the student union of the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Completed in 1896, it was the first student union built on an American college campus.[3]

Houston Hall was listed as a National Register of Historic Places contributing property in the University of Pennsylvania Campus Historic District in 1978.[1]


The idea of a student union – a clubhouse or activities center for students – was first established at Oxford University in 1823.[4] Houston Hall was based on the models of the Cambridge University and Oxford University Unions.[4][3]

In 1893, the University of Pennsylvania Trustees decided to provide a facility for the social and recreational use of students. Trustee (later Provost) Charles Custis Harrison announced a contest for its design, open to students and recent graduates of the University of Pennsylvania School of Architecture. Two students, William C. Hays and Milton Bennett Medary, Jr., won the competition.[5] The final design for the building was a combination of the two entries, and was executed by architect and faculty member Frank Miles Day, with Hays and Medary listed as associate architects.[6]

Henry Howard Houston Jr by Cecilia Beaux, 1895

To finance the project, Harrison secured a donation of $100,000 from University Trustee Henry Howard Houston and his wife Sallie S. Houston. The Hall was named as a memorial to their son, Henry Howard Houston, Jr. (University of Pennsylvania class of 1878), who had died in Rome within a year of his graduation. The cornerstone of the building was laid on January 22, 1894, and Houston Hall was dedicated January 2, 1896.

Prior to the building's opening, a "Houston Club" was formed, allowing membership to any male student and charging yearly dues of two dollars. The dues were then applied to the operation of the facilities.[7] The original Houston Hall featured a 4-lane bowling alley, swimming pool, gymnasium and locker rooms in the basement; a student lounge, billiards room and reception areas on the first floor; an auditorium, athletic department offices and trophy room on the second floor; and offices for student clubs (including the student newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian) on the third floor.[8] A women's student union, Bennett Hall, was built at 34th & Walnut Streets in 1926.[9]

Houston Hall has undergone several renovations throughout its history. In 1936, Robert Rodes McGoodwin expanded it with a dining hall at the east end and a student lounge at the west end. In 2000, Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates (an architectural firm led by Robert Venturi and Penn graduate Denise Scott Brown) completed a renovation of the building.[10]

Houston Hall now contains a cafeteria and other eating establishments, study rooms, auditoriums, and numerous meeting rooms and offices.



  1. ^ a b Cohen, Madeline L. (1977). "University of Pennsylvania Campus Historic District" (PDF). National Register of Historic Places Inventory and Nomination. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Retrieved March 8, 2017.
  2. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. March 13, 2009.
  3. ^ a b American Universities and Colleges By the American Council on Education (1928) p. 33
  4. ^ a b Rath, Jay. (September 3, 2003) Wisconsin State Journal. Mad for the union. Madison has been in love with the memorial union for decades. Now the party place is celebrating its history. Section: Daybreak. Page D1.
  5. ^ Building America's First University: An Historical and Architectural Guide to the University of Pennsylvania George E. Thomas, David Bruce Brownlee, p. 3.
  6. ^ University of Pennsylvania: Its History, Traditions, Buildings and Memorials By George Erazmus Nitzsche. International Printing Co., (1918) p. 46-49. Full text at Google Book search
  7. ^ Original 1896 brochure commemorating Houston Hall.
  8. ^ Common Schools of Pennsylvania, Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for the Year Ending June 1, 1896 (Clarence M. Busch, State Printer of Pennsylvania, 1896), pp. 240-41.[1]
  9. ^ "History of Penn Student Government, from the University of Pennsylvania Archives". Archived from the original on 2017-04-23. Retrieved 2007-07-28.
  10. ^ About Houston Hall Facilities

Coordinates: 39°57′03″N 75°11′38″W / 39.95092°N 75.19386°W / 39.95092; -75.19386