Speaking Out

Plight of Penn Book Center

The appalling news that the venerable Pennsylvania Book Center is about to close down seems not yet to have circulated throughout the Penn community. I have only discovered by accident that the store's current book sale is not in preparation for moving but is designed to clear the shelves before the center completely ceases operation.

I hope to stir up concern on the part of local book lovers by warning them that this valuable resource is about to disappear from our campus. I only hope that it is not too late to rescue a store that so many of us rely on for rewarding browsing and intellectual stimulation! Like other businesses that are obliged to relocate because of the impending construction on the corner of 38th and Walnut, the center needs a new home. The problem has been an inability to find rental premises that can be leased on affordable and otherwise satisfactory terms. Hopes to negotiate acceptable terms for leasing the former Sam Goody store in the 3401 Walnut complex have been dashed.

Is it possible that a university like Penn cannot appreciate the vital importance of retaining an independent bookstore with a well-selected stock of interesting new books and classics? Is it conceivable, when competing schools like Harvard are surrounded by excellent independent bookstores, that Penn does not realize the contribution that intelligent, knowledgeable book merchants make to the calibre of the academic experience of both faculty and students? Could it be ready to sacrifice a unique emporium that people from Center City come out to patronize at the same time that it is seeking to establish University City as a "destination"?

There are many of us who do not go to a bookstore to buy Penn sweatshirts, Clinique cosmetics, or greeting cards--offerings the like of which take up much of the floor space of the Penn Book Store. We are hungry for things that a serious bookstore can offer, such as the discovery of an exciting new poet, gaining insightful perspectives on contemporary issues, or expanding our grasp of any of a number of subjects outside the range of our own academic specializations. Sometimes it is just the well-informed recommendation of an engrossing read for long journey that we seek.

Good advice and a good choice of titles at the Pennsylvania Book Center have for years given many of us enriching reading experiences that we would otherwise not likely have had.

It seems to me that the center has served us well. Are others willing and ready to rally to see if we can forestall its untimely demise and the resultant impoverishment of the local intellectual climate? Is there no one in the administration who can be persuaded to rethink the rental terms that are forcing out a business that is so intimately tied to the business of the University--the business of developing minds?

--Ann Elizabeth Mayer, Associate Professor

Legal Studies, Wharton School

Response to Dr. Mayer

We all agree that the qualities that make up an attractive, urban University community derive from a variety of sources and that independent, intellectual bookstores are surely one of them. The University's real estate team recognizes this and has worked very hard toward retaining the Penn Book Center in an affordable and good location. Negotiations with the Bookstore are underway and I am optimistic that an agreement can be reached.

--Tom Lussenhop, Managing Director, Real Estate

Whither McKenzie/Brown?

Your May 19 issue with a story covering the fate of the sculpture gallery in the Gimbel Gym touched a raw nerve. The fact that so few Pennsylvanians were aware of the existence of this gem of an art gallery has always been a disappointment to those of us responsible for its existence.

Brought together in a handsomely designed setting is a comprehensive collection of the sculptured work of R. Tait McKenzie, to which was later added a collection of Joe Brown's small bronze maquettes (models). Included in the exhibit is a copy of McKenzie's large World War I memorial relief plaque commemorating Canada's Expeditionary Force, which McKenzie served as Surgeon General.

Seen, as displayed at the Gimbel Gym site, these two collections make an eloquent statement about the artistic development of their creators and of their mission--to accurately depict the human form while engaged in diverse sports activities.

We are told that a location, as yet unspecified, is being considered where some of the sculptures may eventually be placed.

To indiscriminately break up the collection and to spread its parts about in different locations, wherever space permits, is to invalidate the purpose which prompted the original planners. That purpose--to bring it together in one well-planned gallery where a comprehensive representation of the works of two talented sculptors could be viewed.

To that end, a campaign was originally begun and successfully executed to enlist the support and funding necessary. At the helm of all that activity was then Vice President for Operational Services and former Athletic Director, Fred Shabel. All those whose support was enlisted to insure the fruition of that project might well feel betrayed to discover that it shall no longer exist as intended.

Hoping that an equitable solution to the final disposition of these artworks might still be considered, I've taken the initiative on my own to explore possible sites where the exhibit could enjoy a new, more visible and accessible, existence.

--Maurice S. Burrison, Director,Faculty Club, Art Gallery

Response to Mr. Burrison.

The vast majority of pieces in the McKenzie-Brown Gallery will be relocated to highly visible and appropriate locations at the Inn at Penn, the new Faculty Club and the University of Pennsylvania Bookstore, all within Sansom Common. This will finally allow the University to show this collection in a fitting way.

Fred Shabel has been consulted throughout this process, and his advice has been invaluable relative to the placement and presentation of the pieces, as well as the overall management of the collection, which will be done by the University Curator. Finally, a new catalog is being published of the collection and McKenzie and Brown will be remembered with a tasteful display in the "living room" of the Inn at Penn.

Given the necessity of relocating the McKenzie-Brown Gallery from Gimbel Gym to make way for a new state-of-the-art fitness facility, we think we have come up with a creative way of showing this important collection to our many constituencies.

--John Fry, Executive Vice President

Speaking Out welcomes reader contributions. Short, timely letters on University issues can be accepted by Thursday, July 9, at noon for the July 14 issue, subject to right-of-reply guidelines. Advance notice of intention to submit is appreciated.--Ed.

Almanac, Vol. 44, No. 35, June 16, 1998