Look Up! A Beaux-Arts beauty on the Penn campus

“Look Up!” is a PlanPhilly feature that encourages appreciation of our architectural and historical environment. The photo essays focus on different Philadelphia areas and their distinctive building styles and details, all of which make up the physical fabric of the city and region.

A slightly worn, often overlooked architectural gem on the Penn campus was added to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places in March. The Rotunda, 4014 Walnut, sits back from the street and strikes a modest pose next to the neighboring cineplex. But the building maintains an active role in the neighborhood and the campus arts community.

The Rotunda was dedicated in 1911 and is the only building in Philadelphia designed by the New York firm of Carrere and Hastings, masters of the Beaux-Arts style. John Merven Carrere and Thomas Hastings designed the New York Public Library and the buildings that house the Frick Collection and the Neue Gallerie; the Russell Senate Office Building and the Carnegie Institution in Washington; and the Memorial Amphitheatre at Arlington National Cemetery.

In this area, they also designed the majestic Nemous Mansion and Gardens, the home of Alfred I. du Pont in Wilmington, and Cairnwood, the home of John Pitcairn in Bryn Athyn, Pa.

They erected The Rotunda for the First Church of Christ Scientist of Philadelphia, which used the building until its congregation dwindled and the University of Pennsylvania purchased it in 1995.

The dome of The Rotunda is 80 feet in diameter, and a 1,500-pound main chandelier  hung from the center. The cast iron and blue crystal lighting inside the building was made by artist Violet Oakley, a church member, with help from Tiffany and Company. 

The Rotunda hosts a variety of performances throughout the year, and the back portion is a lively venue for arts programming.

“Look Up” Moderne and Machine Age Schools

“Look Up” Frank Miles Day mansions
“Look Up” Thomas Ustick Walter’s columns

“Look Up”  Jacob Reed Building

“Look Up” Ronald McDonald House

“Look Up” Jeweler’s Row

“Look Up” Abington’s flirtation with Hollywood

“Look Up” Rittenhouse Square’s stables

“Look Up” Fairmount’s contribution to the row home dynamic

“Look Up” Drexel’s Poth Dynasty

“Look Up” Wright’s Ardmore Experiment

“Look Up” Contemporary neighbors in Society Hill

“Look Up” Imaginative Eyre on Locust Street

“Look Up!” Elfreth’s Alley has issues

“Look Up” Architectural exercises on Boathouse Row

“Look Up!” John Notman’s brownstone temples

“Look Up!” 19th Century luxe on Locust St.

“Look Up!: 20th Century evolution in East Falls

“Look Up!” Rural retreats in Northeast Philly

“Look Up!” Modernist lines on Haverford Ave.

“Look Up!” Chestnut Hill’s modernist gems

“Look Up” Furness Chapel
Contact the writer at ajaffe@planphilly.com.

“Look Up!” The Art Deco Palace of Mt. Airy
Look Up! An architect’s legacy on Spruce Street
Look Up!” The French Village in Mt. Airy
“Look Up” and check out the nouveau mansions of North Broad

“Look Up” and check out elegant Southwark
“Look Up” and check out Henry Disston’s company town
“Look Up: and check out Spruce Hill
“Look Up” and check out Green Street
“Look Up” and check out West Laurel Hill
“Look Up” and check out Parkside
“Look Up” and check out Awbury Arboretum
“Look Up” and check out Nicetown
“Look Up” and check out Overbrook Farms
“Look Up” and check out Girard Estate
“Look Up” and check out Rittenhouse/Fitler Square

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