The Cathedral of College Basketball is a name fitting for one of the oldest college basketball arenas in the country and the place that has hosted the most college basketball games in NCAA history.
The Palestra opened its doors on Jan. 1, 1927. The first match held there saw Penn men's basketball defeat rival Yale 26-15. Since then, in addition to basketball, the arena has hosted college wrestling, volleyball, gymnastics, and even tennis. The Palestra had also been the site of concerts, campaign rallies, and Penn commencement ceremonies, making it a mainstay on Penn's campus for nearly a century.
As its famed nickname suggests, the Palestra is most commonly known for basketball. In addition to being the home of the Quakers, it has hosted a record 48 NCAA tournament games, including Penn’s 1978 first-round victory over Saint Bonaventure and five regional finals. It has seen all 26 of Penn’s Ivy League titles and the greatest basketball players in Penn history. Ernie Beck, Penn’s all time leader in points per game, and AJ Brodeur, highest total scorer in Penn history, have called the Palestra their home.
The Palestra is also the original home of Big 5 basketball competition. Starting in 1954, when it was announced that five Philadelphia's NCAA Division I college basketball teams — Villanova, Penn, St. Joseph’s, La Salle, and Temple — would play against each other, the Palestra became the place to be to witness Big 5 play. While the teams moved to home games for Big 5 competitions in 1986, the Palestra is still considered the home of Big 5 basketball.
To commemorate the historical importance of the arena, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission installed a plaque outside the Palestra. The plaque reads:
Home to the Penn Quakers basketball, volleyball, and wrestling teams. Opened in 1927, it is one of the first steel and concrete arenas in the US, with an arched steel truss system providing unobstructed views of the court. Known as "The Cathedral of College Basketball," it hosted the East Regional of NCAA's first national tournament in 1939, Philadelphia's Big 5 basketball, and as of 2022 more college basketball games than any other arena.
A ceremony was held this past December at the unveiling of the plaque, with remarks from Penn men’s basketball coach Steve Donahue and state senator Tim Kearney.
This plaque is the third of its kind on Penn campus, with one set up in 1995 to honor the Penn relays and another unveiled in 2000 to mark the birthplace of the ENIAC, the first general-purpose digital computer.
The Palestra truly is an iconic site on Penn's campus. It has stood for nearly a century, watching the university evolve and grow over the years, always serving as a place for people to gather and enjoy a game of basketball inside its storied walls. Now it will be honored as such.