Ronald O. Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics: A New Home in a Centrally Located Building

Ronald O. Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics Open House: September 21

On Friday, September 21, 3-5 p.m., SAS will host an afternoon of short talks, refreshments, and tours of the new Ronald O. Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics, a vibrant new social science teaching and research hub that beautifully combines a contemporary addition with a renovation of the historically significant former West Philadelphia Trust Building at 133 S. 36th Street.

  • enjoy presentations from faculty and students
  • visit the academic centers housed in the building
  • get your photo with the Philadelphia skyline as the backdrop at the Selfie Station on the Alber-Klingelhofer Terrace
  • indulge in specialty ice cream from Little Baby’s and delicious international street food at stations throughout the building

caption: Exterior view of the building in present day. Photograph by Jackson Betz.In 2013, prominent Penn alumnus Ronald O. Perelman, CEO and chairman of MacAndrews & Forbes, Inc., donated a $25 million gift to the University of Pennsylvania (Almanac February 5, 2013). The gift allowed Penn to embark on a project to consolidate the University’s economic and political science departments within the School of Arts & Sciences, as well as other policy-related organizations including the Center for the Advanced Study of India (CASI), the Center for the Study of Contemporary China (CSCC), and the Penn Program on Democracy, Citizenship and Constitutionalism (DCC), in a single building.

Penn hired Toronto’s KPMB Architects to renovate the existing space and design an addition to the rear, at the corner of 36th and Sansom Streets, that would combine departmental office space with study space for students (Almanac January 27, 2015). KPMB Architects, led by designer Shirley Blumberg (Almanac April 3, 2018), designed an addition with a steel and glass façade that would complement the original building’s vertical fenestration, and renovated the interior of the original building to complement the newly-designed interior of the addition. 

caption: Interior of the building, present day. Photograph by Jackson Betz.The new building, which recently opened to the public, will have an Open House next Friday. It furthers Penn’s initiative of integrating historic and innovative, modern architecture on its campus. The completed building features 100,000 square feet of study, seminar and office space, including several sizes of classrooms. The new addition replicates the scale of the original portion of the building, including its striking double-height ground floor. The new addition emphasizes visibility, with many rooms featuring glass walls that allow their occupants to interact with people in interior common spaces and outside. The main entrance is located on 36th Street, near the intersection of the old and new buildings. Despite the large expanses of windows, the building is targeted for LEED Silver certification.

The Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics has a rich history, and though it is situated in the heart of Penn campus, not all of its history involves Penn. The West Philadelphia Title and Trust Company Building (its original name) came into existence as an early example of Penn involving itself in the construction of buildings on its campus. The University-owned corner had previously housed twin fraternity mansions, but in 1924, the University demolished the houses and sold building rights to the West Philadelphia Title and Trust Company, whose president was looking to expand from its former location at 40th and Lancaster Avenues. In turn, the bank hired Davis, Dunlap and Barney, an architectural firm of former students of influential industrial architect Paul Philippe Cret, to design a new bank building. These architects created a sleek Art Deco low-rise limestone skyscraper with ornate columns, copper details, and stone carvings, designed by sculptor Joseph Bass.

caption: The building in the 1950s. Photograph from the Free Library of Philadelphia.The building opened in 1926 and business was so successful that the bank company commissioned the firm McIlvain and Roberts to build an addition. It was completed in 1928, and that same year West Philadelphia Title and Trust Company ran into trouble. Integrity Trust Company bought them out and hired Cret himself to add new façade details. In 1940, Integrity Trust Company dissolved. Soon the building had several tenants; American Law Institute and American College of Life Underwriters occupied most of the building, but both had moved elsewhere by 1965. In 1967, the Girard Bank moved in. It was the first bank in the area to have ATMs, and as a result, many Penn students and community members remembered it fondly as the Girard Bank Building, even after its name had been changed. Penn purchased the building, but the retail space remained a bank until 2002, when Penn had the building renovated. When it reopened in 2003, an Ann Taylor store opened on the ground floor (Almanac July 15, 2003).