We get it: you were too busy daydreaming on your Penn tour to remember that the Quad was built in 1492 or the names of William Henry Harrison’s frat. Street's got you covered. We’ve created our own map of Penn landmarks every incoming student should know. These are the places and spaces that your campus tour guide didn’t show you, that your college guidance counselor didn’t advertise to you, and that not even College Confidential (*gasp*) could have turned you onto. Welcome to fucking Penn.
Catacombs (3700 Spruce St)
The rumors are true: there are tunnels under the Quad. Yup. These are the places of freshman lore, of late night smoking and dusty pregaming. The Catacombs run the length of the the dorms, from Lower Quad Gate to upper Quad Gate, and are accessible from a boiler room under Bishop White or the garbage room ladder at Upper Quad Gate. The majority of the steam tunnel runs parallel to Spruce, though smaller arteries allow travel underneath the Quad’s courtyards, including a walkway that connects to the McClelland dining hall. Though mainly used for storage, the pest ridden crawl space has several small rooms with enough space for sitting down, where graffiti, burned joints, and discarded alcohol bottles provide evidence of past student visits. The Catacombs may be one of the few “secret spots” on campus, but are undoubtedly worth visiting for new residents in the Quad, as are the less-traveled corridors underneath the Upper Quad courtyard and the abandoned dorm spaces underneath the Baby Quad and Speakman hall.
Lea Library (3420 Walnut St)
We know you’ve seen pics of it on Instagram and wondered where exactly on campus this gem is located. The Lea Library is a library within a library in the Kislak Center on the 6th floor of Van Pelt — think gorgeous wood paneling, an elegant fireplace, second story catwalk, grandfather clock and all. It’s unrivaled in beauty by anything else in VP, and not even the lighting in the 6th floor bathrooms can touch this antique beauty. The library previously resided in Charles Lea’s 2000 Walnut St. row house, where a Saxby’s currently stands. His manuscripts and were donated to Penn and were housed in a special wing of Fisher Fine Arts, before they were transferred to VP after its building. Lea’s library was reconstructed in its entirety, walls, collections, and everything. Though some classes have the privilege of meeting in the storied, most students must request a tour or ask to look at manuscripts in the collection. Much of the library is devoted to Lea’s interest in the Inquisition and Church history, there are selections on witchcraft and demonology as well as William Penn’s original map of Philadelphia and several other local historical documents, all available for your research viewing or pleasure.
Lightbox Film Center (3701 Chestnut St)
Penn has had an independent film house in our midst since 1979, and it’s been painfully underappreciated. Housed in the International House, most students are only familiar with the building for the abroad advising it provides. But up a floor inside the housing residence, Lightbox Film Center has continued to host film festivals, screen movies, and invite industry luminaries to speak. The unassuming little theater shows multiple titles weekly, usually in some sort of thematic series or retrospective. It has both 16mm and 35mm film projectors, and enough events to make a film buff cry.
Biddle Law Library (3400 Chestnut St)
Sure, it’s no secret. But it is a beautiful study space for law and non-law students alike. Located on Sansom right across the street from Avril 50, it’s a stone’s throw from King’s Court and a nice change of scenery for when VP is overstuffed. Anyone can get into the space, except during finals season. This overlooked spot has numerous carrels and enough long study tables to make Elle Woods cry. If it was open later than midnight, it would be a true five-star cramming spot.
Singh Center for Nanotechnology Greenroof (3205 Walnut St)
Simple and self-explanatory, the luscious rooftop of the nanotech building is the best lunch spot on campus. The building looks like something straight out of 2001: A Space Odyssey, but its top floor is a different story. As part of a project by local landscape architect Roofmeadow, the roof is planted with local grasses, trees, and blooming perennial flowers. Benches and tables provide seating in this urban oasis, which is accessible during class hours with your PennCard and during other times by friendly researchers who will open the door if you look pitiful enough.
Philomathean Halls (College Hall)
High up above College Green on the fourth floor of College Hall are the Philomathean Halls, the residence of the Philomathean Society, the university’s oldest and first student group. The Halls were built specifically for the membership during College Hall’s construction in 1872, and contain an art gallery, meeting room, and library, all trimmed with intricate wood detailing and enough rare books, candelabras, and antique oddities to make your head spin. The striking views of College Green and Center City ain’t nothing to scoff at either. Though the space is locked and reserved for member use, the society hosts a number of open events to invite the general public into the space, including biweekly Friday night meetings.
Dr. William Pepper Statue (3400 Spruce Street)
Did you know Dr. Pepper went to Penn? And that he was a Penn Provost? This school has such distinguished alumni!
Arthur Ross Gallery (220 S. 34th Street)
Although it has the distinction of being the only place on campus where unzipping your backpack is a crime against silence, the Fisher Fine Arts Library is more than just a quiet study spot. It contains the Arthur Ross Gallery, a free gallery that has been open to the public since 1983. The ARG occasionally features student work, but displays a wide range of artists, like Japanese print-makers, Lakota weavers, and Soviet propagandists. Even though the docents are Penn students, most Quakers don’t know the gallery is tucked away on the side of the entrance Fisher.
The Penn Museum Café (3260 Spruce Street)
If you haven’t been to the Penn Museum since the NSO toga party, you’re missing out on their café. The Pepper Mill Café on the second floor of the Penn Museum is good enough to tempt even non-Anthropology majors to go to the museum. Although getting there is more of a hike than Hub Bub, it’s one of the most underrated study spots on campus. The café has a student-discounted lunch that actually tastes good while containing vegetables (a feat Commons has never quite mastered). The glass walls of the café provide a view of the museum gardens, which offer a lush backdrop to drinking three cups of the café’s coffee and weeping onto your keyboard.
Roman Columns (3300 Locust Walk)
Penn is one of the oldest universities in the country, but there are things on campus that predate even Benny Franks. For example, 2,000-year-old Roman columns decorate the Engineering Quad and are used as benches by students. The columns were a gift from King Hussein of Jordan to Philadelphia in 1976, and they have languished in the Quad ever since. There is no sign indicating the columns’ age or significance, or any immediate plans to remove them to a safer location. Until then, enjoy your lunch on a stone as old as the Gregorian calendar.
The BioPond (433 S. University Ave.)
The BioPond is part of the oldest green space on Penn’s campus, but students don’t revere it for its history. The BioPond is a place to escape the hustle and bustle of the Quad and imagine that this is what it would be like to go to Williams, right? By day, the BioPond is the site of Biology class research projects and thwarted turtle euthanization, but by night it transforms into recess for freshmen. The BioPond is only a few paces from the back of the Quad, but it isn’t visible from the footpath and freshmen discovering it for the first time will wonder how they never noticed the picnic table or clouds of wafting smoke.