Tag Archives: history

The First Student Union: The Change Within Houston Hall

 

By: Jorge Penado, C’19
International Relations Major
Work-Study Student, Sweeten Alumni House

university-of-pennsylvania-houston-hall-bill-cannon

Source: Fine Art America

At the center of Penn’s campus alongside iconic buildings like College Hall and landmarks like the Benjamin Franklin Statue, Houston Hall has had a long history at Penn as a center of social, recreational, educational and cultural activity, and in 2018, the hall has over 120 years of serving the Penn community. Quite recently, the Penn community has begun to adjust to the top-to-bottom renovation of the basement’s Houston Market, completed over Summer 2018. But, with all of this in mind, it seems right to look back at the long history of Houston Hall and how this year’s renovations are just an extension of the hall’s purpose and intention that it’s adopted since its conception.

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Source: University Archives & Record Center, Houston Club Booklet

 

As many Penn community members may be aware of, Houston Hall started as the first student union in the nation and opened on January 2, 1896. Generally, the student union was meant to serve as a university’s community center for recreation and socialization and often was the host of student affairs and even student governance which can be seen now. As the first student union in the United States, Houston had some liberty to gather influence and set the tone for what would eventually become a common center at any modern university. In particular, Houston drew its inspiration from Cambridge University and Oxford University, where the first union would be established in 1823. However, it wouldn’t be for another 70 years that Penn Trustees would decide to provide students with their own center.

After their decision, Trustee Charles Harrison would announce a competition amongst students and recent graduates who would have the opportunity to design the building. Soon after, two students, William C. Hays, and Milton Bennett Medary Jr. would win the competition and have their designs combined into the architectural style of college gothic and ultimately executed by Philadelphia-based architect, Frank Miles Day. It seemed only natural that the student center for the university would be designed by two architecture students. In order to finance the project, Trustee Harrison was luckily able to secure a donation of $100,000 from Trustee Henry Howard Houston and his wife Sallie S. Houston. Interestingly enough, the building is not technically named for Trustee Houston as it was actually named for his late son Henry Howard Houston Jr. who had unfortunately passed the year after his graduation from the university in 1878.

Once the hall was completed in 1896, the doors would eventually open to the student body. One significant activity that emerged at the beginning would have to be the Houston Club. This club was founded to, as stated in their constitution, “draw together students, officers, and alumni of all Departments of the University in a wholesome social life, and to provide for them suitable amusements and recreations.” The club would soon after establish an internal leadership which many accredit to the first semblance of student governance at Penn. Besides leadership, they also established three committees that were meant to help in the operation of Houston and included the House Committee, in charge of maintaining Houston’s various amenities, the Membership Committee, in charge of admission of new members, and the Library Committee, in charge of all reading material. Interestingly enough, Houston Club was only open to tuition-paying male students at the time, and thus, with the creation of Bennett Hall, the Bennet Club would be created as a female version of this club. As a club, this student group had much influence over the maintenance and usage of Houston Hall. However, this would only last until 1929 when it was replaced by the more inclusive Houston Hall Board, then in 1969 when it was replaced by the Penn Union Council and finally, transform into the modern Social Planning and Events Committee.

With this historical information in mind, it is possible to understand how the services that Houston Hall provides has changed over time. In particular, the original Houston Hall would be almost unrecognizable to many Penn students now and to some degree, would draw in a sense of awe for what was once provided. For example, the original Houston Hall of the late 19th century had such amenities as a billiards room, a chess room, a trophy room, a gym, a pool, and even bowling lanes! At first glance, it was amazing that Penn once had their own bowling lane which is something I’ve only ever occasionally heard in movies and would love to have on campus. But, then I consider what’s in its place now and realize that Houston Market takes up the area.

As I mentioned, Houston Market recently went through their own renovation, valued at around $15 million, and expanded the number of dining options available for everyone. Actually, the last renovation Houston Hall underwent was about 20 years ago. This renovated Houston Market now serves from eight different stations with expanded hours. While the response has been mostly positive, there has been some discussion on the ever-changing purpose of Houston Hall. In an article published on September 20 in the DP, one contributor noted the shift from Houston being purely about student socialization to being mostly a place to work and dine. This opinion piece noted how students nowadays find it harder to locate a central place to completely relax and meet in today’s busy community and believe socializing in Houston has changed. With all of this in mind, it’s clear that Houston Hall has remained a dynamic building on campus.

Overall, the new renovations of Summer 2018 seem to be a part of the constantly evolving intent of Houston Hall. While Houston is still a place where people congregate to eat and do work, the purpose has definitely changed since its conception in 1896 as recreational activities like pool tables and TV rooms mostly exist within college houses. Even though the conversation continues on campus, this walkthrough of Houston Hall’s history has only solidified its status as a staple of Penn’s campus.

 

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Filed under Jorge Penado, C’19, Uncategorized

Guess Who’s Back, Back Again?

By: Carolyn Grace, C’16

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I’m finally back on the blog, Quakers!  And boy, does it feel good.

For those of you who don’t remember, I spent last semester studying abroad in Paris through Reid Hall, a joint program between Columbia and Penn.  I took classes in History, Cinema Studies, and French (le duh) at both this international school and at the Sorbonne.  But like all study abroad programs, my adventure in Paris was not only comprised of studying!

Living with a host family, getting lost in art museums, sipping cappuccinos in cafés, catching the last metro home after a long night out, sprawling out on the grass in a luscious garden, exploring boutiques on streets big and small, this was over half of my education abroad.  And these are just a handful of the activities I did in Paris alone!

If you’re interested in knowing more about my adventures, check out the blog I kept last semester: For the Love of Paris.  You’ll find photos, videos, songs, and most importantly musings of my time in Europe.

But that semester has come and gone, and I admit that for all the fun I had overseas, I am incredibly happy to be back on Penn’s campus.  I missed my friends, my classes, and my activities.  I missed being a part of a thriving campus culture that, although stressful at times, encouraged me to be proactive.

So I’m back in the swing of things, but with a bit more gusto than last year!  I’m singing with Counterparts and sitting on the board as Alumni Relations Officer, I’m helping run Sigma Kappa as Vice President, I’m writing for 34th Street and Penn Appétit, and I’m beginning to conduct research for my Senior Honors Thesis for my History major.

Don’t worry, there will be future blog posts where I’ll delve deeper into these topics!  Just know for now that I’ve hit the ground running this second semester of my junior year, and I’m glad to have that academic cardio in my life again.

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Filed under Academics, Campus Life, Carolyn G., Clubs, Student Perspective, The Arts, The Arts at Penn

Penn Women Remember . . . Freshman Camp 1964

Submitted by Susan Croll, C’68, CPU’94
(Originally appeared in the Association of Alumnae fall 2012 newsletter)

At a recent meeting of the Association of Alumnae’s 100th Anniversary Planning Committee, Penn songs became a topic of conversation, as we considered having some music as part of the celebration.  This led my 1968 classmate, Barbara Russo Bravo, and me down memory lane, to Freshman Camp 1964.  Just before the beginning of our freshman fall semester, the women of the new entering class boarded buses outside of the Women’s Residence Hall (now Hill Hall), which took us to Camp Green Lane, in the Poconos.

Shortly after we boarded the buses, the two Penn juniors who were leading Freshman Camp, Judy Seitz (later University President Judith Rodin) and Prudy String, handed out documents that were to become our first Penn homework assignment.  The document included the lyrics to all of the Penn songs, including “The Red and the Blue”, “Hail Pennsylvania”, “Drink a Highball”, “Fight On Pennsylvania”, “Hang Jeff Davis”, “Cheer Pennsylvania” and a song entitled “Pennsylvania Women’s Song”.  Our job was to learn the melodies (which they sang for us) and the lyrics – and quickly – since we were to be tested on them frequently (i.e., asked to sing them) during the freshman camp experience.  Over the years, through football games, graduation, Homecoming and Alumni Weekends, we have sung most of the songs repeatedly and will always remember them.  However, subsequent to Freshman Camp 1964, I never have heard the “Pennsylvania Women’s Song” sung at any Penn event.

Barbara and I treated the other 100th Anniversary Planning Committee members to our rendition of the “Pennsylvania Women’s Song” (to the tune of “Till We Meet Again”).

Pennsylvania, here’s a toast to you.

Pennsylvania, royal red and blue.

Memories of friends and fun,

Things together we have done.

And so before our college days are through,

Let us pledge our loyalty anew.

To keep forever, sweet and true,

Pennsylvania.

The sweet melody and lyrics were enough to keep this song in Barbara’s and my memories for the past forty-eight years, along with other memories of Freshman Camp – such as sleeping in cabins on army cots; eating Rice Crispies out of paper bowls, and participating in cabin to cabin competitions to compose and select the Class of 1968 women’s class song and class cheer.  As our class approaches its 45th reunion next May, the women of the Class of 1968 can proudly  declare:  “We don’t even need a cheer.  ‘68’s the greatest year!”

Click the following link to view the Association of Alumnae Fall 2012 newsletter.

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Filed under Alumni Perspective, Association of Alumnae, Campus Life, Historical, Kristina C., Memories of Penn, Traditions

Bastille Day, Philadelphia-Style

Author: Nicole C. Maloy, W’95

July 14 is known as Bastille Day in honor of the French Revolution-launching “storming” of Paris’ Bastille prison in 1789. On Saturday, July 16, 2011 I got to witness Philadelphia’s version of the holiday. It’s safe to say that it deviates just slightly from the original; ours has waterguns, Darth Vader, and TastyKake.

Marie Antoinette with her royal guard… and Darth Vader with his imperial stormtroopers. OK, sure, why not?

Closer view. Marie Antoinette is the one who looks like a giant cotton swab.

When I first moved to Philadelphia, I wondered why I couldn’t find any snacks by Hostess. Twinkies are surely not an essential part of any diet, but it was strange that, here, they didn’t even seem to exist. I asked someone about it and learned that Philly’s preferred blend of sugar and preservatives comes under the local TastyKake brand.

It is fitting, then, that Marie Antoinette would trade in her usual “Let them eat cake!” for “Let them eat TastyKake!” and have her royal guard hurl hundreds of (thankfully, wrapped) cupcakes downward at the turbulent crowd.

“Let them eat TastyKake!” But first let them *catch* TastyKake.

Whenever the announcer said “Reign of terror,” the revolutionaries onstage (portrayed by the Old Fort Mifflin Historical Society) aimed Super Soakers at the crowd and fired upon us. It was very Rocky Horror, especially considering the costumes. Attendees had been encouraged to dress either as angry revolutionaries or aristocracy, and a costume contest took place onstage for those daring souls who actually dressed up (I was not one of them, sorry). This was not long after a very lively can-can number had gotten the crowd clapping along to the familiar music. At tables throughout the street festival, children made crafts with Fairmount Art Center, DiBruno Brothers gave out samples of French cheese, Fare offered tips on French wine, and people of all ages got their faces painted and picked up little French flags to prepare for the revolt.

It is fitting that a local re-enactment of the storming of the Bastille would take place at Philadelphia’s own Eastern State Penitentiary, which is now a museum (that includes the former cell of Al “Scarface” Capone). It hosts an annual haunted house that is consistently ranked among the best in the nation so, if you’re into that sort of thing, it might be worth a visit this Halloween. But, if you prefer your costumed craziness to take place outdoors, in July, during the light of day, then watch for next year’s Bastille Day Celebration in Philly. This unique, local spectacle is definitely worth seeing at least once.

If you’re going to be guillotined, you might as well enjoy one last bottle of champagne. I have to say, I like her style.

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Filed under Alumni Perspective, Nicole M.