Between the yellow umbrellas of Huntsman's Au Bon Pain and the open space of College Green, there's really no reason to stop on Locust Walk. No place to purchase food and -- unless you're in Phi Delt -- barely any place to sit or hang out.
But it wasn't always that way: A restaurant and bar once occupied the heart of Penn's campus.
Until 2003, the Palladium occupied what is now the ARCH building, which contains a classroom and space for minority groups. Leather couches and chairs were placed next to a grand fireplace, and a beautiful classic oak bar divided the room in half.
"It really fit in with the campus," said former Palladium owner Roger Harman. "One of the reviews said Ben Franklin would have loved the Palladium."
The Locust Walk area has been sorely lacking in activity since the Palladium's forced departure.
Academic buildings that attract small numbers of students -- such as the Penn Women's Center and the the Vice Provost for University Life's office -- line Locust Walk from 36th to 38th streets. The few fraternities remaining provide occasional social gatherings, but not nearly as much as a full-time restaurant and bar.
The Palladium's fate was caught in the Rodin administration's quest to move underage drinking off campus.
"Everyone knows that people drink in college," Harman said. But "there was a [belief] in the [administration] that having a bar in the middle of the campus was a bad message to send. God forbid someone may see someone drinking."
Since the University terminated the restaurant's lease, the heart of Penn's campus is no longer a destination for students. It is simply a place to walk through between classes.
But the Palladium wasn't just unique in its location; it filled a niche that Penn has yet to replace and attracted a mix of people who now mingle much less than they did in 2003.
"It was the only place on campus where you could sit down and start up a conversation with someone completely different from you," said fifth-year College senior Michael Swavola, who frequented the bar as a sophomore during its final year of operation.
On the other hand, other nearby gathering spots "cater to the lowest common denominator" of people, Swavola added.
Smoke's attracts Penn undergrads; Brownies draws Drexel students and La Terrasse sees an older crowd.
Destinations in the heart of this University, however, should be a destination where biology majors can mingle with History professors and third-year architecture students.
Since the Palladium closed, Penn has lost that kind of central unifying location. There are very few places on this campus where students and faculty can dine together in a social atmosphere.
By bringing a meeting place to the ARCH building, students could continue class discussions or simply get to know their professors better.
"It really added something Locust Walk is missing, and that's something other than an academic building," 2004 College alumnus Jason Belinke said.
A restaurant on the Walk made Penn distinct among colleges nationwide. However, some schools have come to understand the benefits of a central social gathering point. Instead of pushing restaurants and meeting points off campus, they are bringing them back.
For them, it's a matter of school pride and spirit.
At the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, officials recently unveiled the End Zone, a two-story sports cafe located on the main walk of campus that connects dorms to academic buildings.
"All the students head over there to watch UNC ... games," UNC sophomore Elisabeth Pascale said.
At Pennsylvania State University, the University Creamery "adds a great sense of home" to the campus, Penn State senior Emily Mahon said.
Does Locust Walk provide a sense of comfort and belonging right now? Possibly, but students are much more likely to think about being pestered by flyers.
As is the case at UNC, a central restaurant would give students the kind of school pride and unity dinings halls cannot. Students could gather to watch Penn beat Princeton or bond over French fries.
Unfortunately for us, only the senior class had the chance to sit on the silver chairs that line the corner of 36th and Locust while eating a hamburger and enjoying a drink.
Yet all is not lost.
With the postal lands overshadowing campus development, the Gutmann administration can make things right. The new administration should use this great redevelopment opportunity to give the buildings on Locust Walk a set of occupants that go beyond academics and student groups.
The well-being of students and faculty should not be pushed aside to make room for facilities that can be located elsewhere.
Fill the ARCH room with more than just tables and chairs that are sat in a few times a day. Bring back a place where students, faculty and administrators can all socialize.
I'd love to talk to you about it in person, but I doubt I'll be seeing you at Smoke's any time soon.
Evan Goldin is a junior history major from Palo Alto, Calif. and editorial page editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. P.A. to Pa. appears on alternate Thursdays.Comments powered by Disqus
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