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Drexel’s campus expansion, funded by federal and city urban renewal dollars in the decades following World War II, brought the University into conflict, first with Penn and then with Drexel’s neighbors in Powelton Village.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (RDA) designated five units in West Philadelphia’s University Redevelopment Area for urban renewal. Unit 5, in Powelton Village, charted the expansion of Drexel’s campus northwest of the historic core around Chestnut Street. Unit 1B, contested with Penn, gave Drexel the Chestnut Street half of the block-square of Chestnut–Walnut–32nd–33rd streets. Drexel’s construction of dormitories in Unit 5 provoked spirited resistance by Powelton Village residents, the upshot of which was a truncation of the University’s expansion plans.

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Alarmed that the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (RDA) earmarked all of University Redevelopment Area's Unit 1 for the University of Pennsylvania’s campus expansion, Drexel Institute of Technology’s president James Creese filed a grievance with City Council in 1957. The RDA’s coupling of Units 1 and 2 would have given Penn urban renewal rights to the entire quadrant bounded by Walnut and Chestnut from 32nd to 34th Streets. Under pressure from City Council, Penn reached an agreement with Drexel that divided Unit 1 between the two institutions, giving Drexel redevelopment (i.e., campus-expansion) rights to Unit 1B, and positioning the Institute cheek-by-jowl with Penn.


The Drexel Institute was only marginally involved in the creation of the University City Science Center, a project of the West Philadelphia Corporation (WPC) in Unit 3, which included the blocks between 34th and 38th Streets from Powelton and Lancaster Avenues on the north to Chestnut Street on the south. Drexel’s president, William Hagerty, James Creese’s successor, resented Drexel’s second-class status vis-à-vis Penn in the WPC, the Science Center, and the larger cosmos of West Philadelphia urban renewal.


The Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority created Unit 5 of the University Redevelopment Area in 1961, with Drexel as the designated redeveloper. Drexel commissioned the firm of Nolen & Swinburne to design a master plan (called the 1970 Plan, it was completed in 1964), which projected Drexel’s campus expansion into Powelton Village. As construction of the 1970 Plan’s first building, Kelly Hall, Drexel’s first men’s dormitory, proceeded in 1965, the Institute and the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority were at loggerheads with the Powelton Civic Homeowners Association. Other community battles over dormitory placements would follow in the coming decade and disrupt Drexel’s timetable for campus expansion. After the 1970s, community protests abated as Drexel, now a university, slowed its expansion in the face of a mounting financial crisis.