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Houston Hall

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1894–1895, William C. Hays and Milton Medary, with Frank Miles Day; 1936 enlarged, Robert Rhodes McGoodwin; 1995–1998 restored, Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates. 3405 Spruce St.

Designed in a student competition to house the nation's first student union and judged by a national jury including William Mead of McKim, Mead and White, Houston Hall marked a dramatic change in the university's architectural values, and away from the bold formal invention of the Victorian era. Instead, Hays and Medary found their architectural models in the past, in this case, the late medieval Peacock Inn at Rowley, Yorkshire. Built of local Wissahickon schist and limestone trim, their building housed dining rooms, a pool parlor, a reading room, and club offices as well as a swimming pool and workout space in the basement.

The wood-paneled central hall terminated by fireplaces at each end is an undergraduate's imitation of a men's club of the day and represents the era when children grew up to be their parents. The building was funded by Henry Houston, vice-president of the Pennsylvania Railroad for freight services, in memory of his son Henry Jr., class of 1878. Scattered throughout the building are trophies of university history, from the College Hall ( PH147.2) bell to a handsome plaque dedicated to John Thayer, who was on the fatal voyage of RMS Titanic. McGoodwin's seamless addition of large rooms at each end enabled the building to serve the growing university. Restored by the Venturi office, its central hall serves as a lounge while restaurants in the basement offer a chance to experience the clamor and speed of undergraduate life.

Writing Credits

George E. Thomas


What's Nearby


George E. Thomas, "Houston Hall", [Philadelphia, Pennsylvania], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of PA vol 2

Buildings of Pennsylvania: Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania, George E. Thomas, with Patricia Likos Ricci, Richard J. Webster, Lawrence M. Newman, Robert Janosov, and Bruce Thomas. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2012, 130-131.

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