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University City

Penn GSE today faces Walnut Street. Fifty years after its involvement in developing the Free School, Penn GSE continues to prepare urban educators and assists local schools with curriculum and instruction, general planning, and resource development. 

The University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education (Penn GSE), shown here as a new building in 1965, provided staff to support the operation of the Free School. The project’s first director, Aase Eriksen, was a junior member of the Penn faculty. The primary source of teachers for the Free School was Penn GSE’s Experimental Program in Urban Education, many of whose students were graduates of Ivy League colleges. Entering this Master’s-degree program in the fall of 1969, they were expected to work as part-time interns in the local schools. Yet Eriksen recruited seven of them, all White, to begin full-time teaching in the annexes in the winter of 1970. Whiteness and youthful progressivism were a source of tension with the Free School’s community board.

PGH’s closing in 1977 unleashed a bidding war for the leveled site that was eventually won by a consortium that included Penn, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), Children’s Seashore House, and the Veteran’s Administration. The consortium, called the PGH Development Corporation, built the Philadelphia Center for Healthcare Sciences, a complex of seven new buildings on the former PGH property.

In the first half of the twentieth century, the Blockley Almshouse farmed out its almshouse services and its “lunatic asylum” and recast itself as the Philadelphia General Hospital, whose clinical services significantly improve after the Second World War.

In 1872, the University of Pennsylvania relocated its small campus from the central City to Blockley Almshouse property that the City deeded to the University. 

In 1834, Philadelphia relocated its almshouse (poorhouse) to Blockley Township in West Philadelphia, to a hilltop environ above the Schuylkill River; by 1854 the site included a swath of new buildings for indigent housing, workshops, and hospital facilities, including an insane asylum.  

This contemporary map shows the major buildings in the Penn Medicine and CHOP healthcare complex.  

Construction began on the Penn Medicine Pavilion in May 2017. According to a Penn Medicine website, “The Pavilion will house 500 private patient rooms and 47 operating rooms in a 1.5 million square foot, 17-story facility across from the Hospital of University of Pennsylvania and adjacent to the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine. This gigantic structure will offer patients the tremendous benefits of state-of-the-art hospital-room designs, laboratories and treatment facilities, and advanced technologies. Priced at $1.5 billion, the Pavilion is scheduled to open in 2021. 

Penn Tower, a grim modernist edifice that opened in 1975 on Convention Avenue as a Hilton Hotel morphed into an office building for HUP. This photo from 2013 shows Penn Tower between the University Museum and the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine, with Convention Avenue separating the erstwhile hotel from the Perelman Center. The University demolished Penn Tower in 2015–16 to clear the site for construction of Penn Medicine’s Pavilion.    

This photo shows part of the Penn Medicine healthcare and health sciences research complex on the north side of Civic Center Boulevard, opposite CHOP’s main hospital. The blue-tone building (left center) is the Ronald G. Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine, which is the primary site for HUP’s state-of-the-art clinical services and laboratories. The Smilow Center for Translational Research rises above it (right center).