Houston Hall (University of Pennsylvania)

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University of Pennsylvania
Houston Hall
Houston Club
Houston Hall, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA.jpg
Houston Hall, before 1910
General information
Type Student union
Address 3417 Spruce Street
Completed 1896
Renovated 1936, 2000
Design and construction
Architect Frank Miles Day, William C. Hays and Milton Bennett Medary
Renovating team
Architect Robert Rodes McGoodwin, 1936
Venturi, Scott Brown & Associates, 2000

Houston Hall is the student union at the University of Pennsylvania, established in 1896. The idea of a student union was first established at Oxford University in 1823.[1] Seventy-three years later, Houston Hall became America's first (and now oldest) student union and student union building, both being based on the models of the Cambridge University and Oxford University Unions.[1][2]

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.[3] 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.[4] To finance the project, Harrison secured a donation of $100,000 from the Trustee Henry Howard Houston and his wife Sallie S. Houston. The Hall was named as a memorial for the son of its principal benefactors, Henry Howard Houston, Jr., (University of Pennsylvania class of 1878) who 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.

The Perelman Quadrangle: Houston Hall (at left), Cohen Hall (center) and College Hall (right).

The original Houston Hall contained a bowling alley, swimming pool, music room, gymnasium, theater, and a billiards room as well as lounge and reception areas.[5] Before the opening of the building itself, a "Houston Club" was formed, allowing membership to any male student and charging yearly dues of two dollars. These dues were then applied to the operation of the facilities. Bennett Hall, a version of Houston Hall exclusively for women, was built in 1926.[6]

Houston Hall has undergone several renovations throughout its history, first in 1936 by Robert Rodes McGoodwin, and again in 2000 by Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates (an architectural firm led by Robert Venturi and Penn graduate Denise Scott Brown).[7]

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


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ American Universities and Colleges By the American Council on Education (1928) p. 33
  3. ^ Building America's First University: An Historical and Architectural Guide to the University of Pennsylvania George E. Thomas, David Bruce Brownlee, p. 3.
  4. ^ 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
  5. ^ Original 1896 brochure commemorating Houston Hall.
  6. ^ History of Penn Student Government, from the University of Pennsylvania Archives
  7. ^ About Houston Hall Facilities

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