Making History…Living History

Author: Lisa Vaccarelli, C’02

It’s easy to take for granted the amount of history that surrounds you at a place like Penn – especially when you spend so much of your time on campus that it begins to feel like your second home.  For example, my office building – the Sweeten Alumni House – originally housed the Delta Tau Delta Fraternity.  It was in the mid 1960’s after a fire – allegedly set off at a holiday party when a fraternity brother fell asleep with his cigarette too close to a crepe paper snowman – took the life of at least one young party-goer that the building eventually fell into the hands of the alumni association.  And yes, there are plenty of rumors about the ghost of said party-goer haunting the 2nd floor ladies room.  However, on a daily basis, one gets caught up in emails and phone calls and meetings and quickly forgets all of this.

Ironically, it was a recent trip off-campus that reminded me about Penn’s historical context.  Last week, as a previous blogger mentioned, the entire Alumni Relations staff headed down to 310 S. Quincy Street for a day long staff retreat at the Mask and Wig Clubhouse.  Most Penn alumni and friends are very familiar with the all male comedic theater troupe, the University’s oldest student group founded in 1888.

Mask and Wig Grill room circa 2010

Not as many, I would suspect, have had the chance to visit the group’s clubhouse, acquired in 1894 as a gathering place and rehearsal hall.  As per the Mask and Wig website:

Prominent Philadelphia architect Wilson Eyre was commissioned to convert the building, which had previously served as a church, a dissecting room, and a stable. He hired the young Maxfield Parrish, who would later become one of the greatest illustrators of the twentieth century, to decorate the interior.

Indeed, it is hard not to appreciate this history when you walk into the Mask and Wig Clubhouse.  The Grille Room – a wood-paneled bar/lounge on the first floor – is decorated with caricatures of members; a tradition that continues today, with the second century of members’ caricatures continued upstairs at the entrance to the theater.  Next to each member’s caricature is a peg for their personal mug, which they alone can take down and use when present.  Despite recent renovations to provide facilities for handicap accessibility, including an elevator, as well as air conditioning, the Clubhouse retains its authentic, historic atmosphere.

Mask and Wig Grille Room circa 1910

Next time you come to campus, I encourage you to take a moment to stop and take a moment to take in the history that surrounds you.  Maybe even read one of the plaques on those statues you’ve whisked past dozens of times before on your way to class or a reunion party.

Woodland Walk (aka Locust Walk) circa 1915


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Filed under Alumni Perspective, Campus Life, Historical, Making History, Memories of Penn

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