It was November 1886 when Penn's New York alumni became the first local alumni group outside of Philadelphia. At a dinner at Delmonico's restaurant, the New York Alumni Society was formed.
|This building at 35-37 East 50th
Street housed the Penn Club from
1922 to 1935.
(Photo courtesy, University Archives)
At the annual banquet at the Waldorf-Astoria in January 1900, New York Penn alumni presented a plan to secure "a convenient suite of rooms in the middle of the city, adjacent to a cafe."
In 1964, the Club took up space in the Biltmore Hotel at 45th and Madison. But that arrangement lasted just two years. For the next three decades, although both the New York Alumni Association and the Wharton School Club conducted active programs, alumni who wanted to join a New York college club became associate members of the Princeton Club.
On Saturday evening, October 6, 1900, the University of Pennsylvania's Club of New York opened in four ground floor rooms in the Royalton Hotel, just 200 feet west of today's Penn Club. It soon had more than 150 members at a time when 400 alumni lived in the New York area. (Today more than 50,000 alumni and friends live in the region.)
In 1901, the Club received its state charter to "maintain clubrooms or a clubhouse for the use and benefit of alumni, matriculates and officers, professors and instructors of the University; to secure mutual understanding and confidence between the University and its graduates in and about New York; and, in general, to uphold the name and further the influence of the University of Pennsylvania." The new Penn Club corporation now carries out that charter.
In 1905, the Club moved to "new and commodious quarters" in the Hotel Stanley at 124 West 47th Street. It remained there until 1910.
At that time the alumni gave up the club rooms to focus their efforts on their annual banquet. Attendance at the 1911 banquet was triple that of past years; a silver cup was first presented to honor "distinguished service" by an alumnus; and a directory was published of 1,100 New York alumni, with "a summary of their activities since leaving the University."
In 1915 the annual banquet was advertised under the slogan: "The call of the hour is a national clubhouse in New York City" and the case for a clubhouse was set forth in words that still ring true: "The best interests of our University demand it shall have in the great city of New York a club, which will equal in dignity, character, equipment and service the clubs of other great universities. Apart from any questions of sentiment and affection for our Alma Mater, the establishment of such a club will give to each of its members a rallying center, a home, furnishing all the accommodations of a first class hotel to those sojourning in New York, with such surroundings that no one will ever feel that he is stranger in a strange land."
But the major effort to establish a permanent clubhouse in New York would not begin until World War I had ended.
After a three-year search, the club's directors, in 1922, approved a 20-year lease on two townhouses at 35-37 East 50th Street. The two houses, next to what now is the New York Palace Hotel, had been built for William Parsons, founder of the famed Parsons Brinkerhoff engineering firm, and his mother, Leon Gillette, reported renovations would cost $20,000. With the club treasury in a "healthy condition," the clubhouse opened September 15, 1922.
By November a "direct telegraph wire" reported Penn football games from Franklin Field to Red and Blue fans. At year-end there were 500 members and a profit of $56.29 for the month of December.
Throughout the 1920's the Penn Club on East 50th Street was active and successful. Its dining and guest rooms were regularly filled and its dinners and programs for Mask & Wig and Penn athletic teams were highly attended. By 1929, with nearly 1,000 members, the Club raised more than $12,000 in a capital campaign. But the Depression quickly hit the Club hard. When the Parsons family estate sold the property, the remaining 350 members of the Club moved on July 30, 1935.
The Club spent the next two months sharing space in the Cornell Club at 22 East 38th Street. It then moved to the Satterlee House at 37 East 36th Street on October 1, 1935. But after three years there, continuing financial pressure caused the Club to move again on October 1,1938, this time back to the newly vacant space at 22 East 38th Street that it had once shared with Cornell. The Club remained there one year, moving in late 1939 to the Phi Gamma Delta Club at 106 West 56th Street. Here it remained until the building was sold in 1961.
THE BUILDING OF THE PENN CLUB
In 1986, a compelling letter from a recent graduate spurred the new Trustee Chairman to organize a high-level effort to build a new clubhouse. He enlisted fellow trustees of the University to lead the drive. They determined that it was essential that the right building be acquired.
Cushman and Wakefield, noted New York realty brokers, was instrumental in working with the trustees in the complicated, two-year effort to purchase the building. Hundreds of alumni and friends gathered at 30 West 44th Street on November 1 and 2, 1989 to celebrate the University's acquisition of the 65,000 sq. ft. Clubhouse.
A Penn Club Committee was formed to lead a large volunteer effort, including young alumni and regional groups with newsletters and brochures. Construction of the Clubhouse kicked off on April 16, 1992.
More than 7,000 alumni and friends joined as Charter Members by June 15, 1994. On that day, The Penn Club officially opened its doors and again welcomes its members to Clubhouse Row. The extraordinary vision and leadership of our Founding Members and hundreds of alumni and their colleagues has turned a century-old dream into a vibrant reality the Penn Club of New York.