Penn Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Penn Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Coordinates: 39°57′13.442″N 75°10′9.8040″W / 39.95373389°N 75.16939°W / 39.95373389; -75.16939

Penn Center in 2006

Penn Center is the heart of Philadelphia's Central Business District. It derives its name from the nearly five million square foot office and retail complex that helped transform it from a gritty industrial and low-rent commercial district into the centerpiece of Philadelphia's business district in the late 20th century. It is located between 15th and 19th Streets, east to west and from John F. Kennedy Boulevard to Market Street, north to south. It is credited with bringing Philadelphia into the era of modern office buildings.


The Chinese Wall

Broad Street Station (demolished 1953), NW corner of Broad & Market Streets, before 1901. Philadelphia architect Frank Furness greatly expanded the station in 1893.
This 1903 photograph shows the train-shed wall on Market Street from 15th Street to 16th Street.

In 1881, the Pennsylvania Railroad brought passenger service into the center of the city, and constructed the first Broad Street Station just west of City Hall. The sea of iron pillars holding up the PRR's elevated trackbed was replaced in the 1890s by a 10-block stone viaduct to the Schuylkill River. This created a block-wide barrier known as The Chinese Wall, cutting the western portion of the city in half and discouraging development there.

At the time, most commercial activity in Center City was east of Broad Street, which is why the SEPTA Market-Frankford Line has no stops between 30th Street Station and 15th Street. (The stations at 19th Street and 22nd Street are served by SEPTA Subway-Surface Trolley Lines.)

Urban renewal

In 1925, the Pennsylvania Railroad announced its intention to leave Broad Street Station, freeing the land for redevelopment. The railroad, which had outgrown the station, would move its operations to the newly constructed 30th Street Station and Suburban Station. Broad Street Station was not completely vacated until 1952, during the term of Mayor Joseph S. Clark. Plans for the demolition of The Chinese Wall and accompanying train station were finalized and both were razed in 1953.

Ed Bacon, the executive director of the City Planning commission, came up with a master plan for a four block area to be cleared. Bacon named the new site Penn Center with the hopes that it would become a business center and model for future development. His plan for the redevelopment of the site included three large office towers, a pedestrian mall, and an underground concourse where retail and business was to be located. The Pennsylvania Railroad wanted to sell the land off in smaller lots for piecemeal development, but Mayor Clark used his political clout to see that Bacon's plan was realized.[1] The plan was implemented with public support, but it would come into criticism later from urban planners, including Jane Jacobs for placing vibrant urban activity underground leaving no use for the above ground promenade, and failing to account for actual human usage of the space. [2]


Throughout the mid- to late 20th century, the city's office sector began to move west into the Penn Center area, thanks to planning efforts. As the office-working population became more suburbanized, convenient access to Suburban Station began to take precedence to city planners over local city transit access.

Today, the Penn Center name is officially attached to 11 mid- and highrise office buildings.

Most of the buildings of the complex are connected to the Suburban Station retail concourse (renovated in 2007) and by extension the Center City Concourse. The buildings share a loading and delivery entrance on Commerce Street which connects to all the buildings underground. Although not part of Penn Center, Comcast Center connects to the concourse and the option is being examined for the proposed American Commerce Center.

The Buildings

Name Height

Feet (meters)
Floors Year Notes
One Penn Center (Suburban Station) 330 feet (101 m) 20 floors 1929 Originally Pennsylvania Railroad Suburban Station. The numbers of the Penn Center buildings generally radiate clockwise around the building. [3]
Two Penn Center 271 feet (83 m) 20 floors 1958 [4]
Three Penn Center (1515 Market Street) 270 feet (82 m) 20 floors 1953 Currently known as 1515 Market Street, this was the first of the modern Penn Center buildings. [5]
Four Penn Center 275 feet (89 m) 20 floors 1964 Completely renovated in 2001. [6]
Five Penn Center (1601 Market Street) 490 feet (149 m) 36 floors 1970 Tallest Penn Center building before the completion of the Mellon Bank Center.[7]
Six Penn Center 18 floors 1988 Now known as The Morgan, Lewis & Bockius Building.


Seven Penn Center 269 feet (82m) 21 floors [9]
Eight Penn Center 284 feet (87 m) 23 floors 1982 Site was originally an ice skating rink. [10]
Nine Penn Center (Mellon Bank Center) 792 feet (241 m) 54 floors 1990 Site was originally Greyhound Bus Terminal. [11]
Ten Penn Center 306 feet (93 m) 28 floors 1980 Lobby completely renovated in 2000. [12]
Eleven Penn Center (1835 Market Street) 425 feet (130 m) 29 floors 1986 An unusual hexagonally shaped building with mansard roof. [13]
Sheraton Penn Center Hotel 27 floors 1957 Demolished; former site of the Public Defender Building and current site of Comcast Center.[14]
Penn Center Inn 22 floors Demolished in 1990 to make way for the second IBX Tower, which was never built. Site remains undeveloped. [15]


  1. ^ Lowe, Jeanne R., Cities in a Race With Time: Progress and Poverty in America's Renewing Citiesp332, Random House, NY 1967.
  2. ^ Johnson, Eleanor and the editors of Fortune, The Exploding Metropolis: A study of the Assault on Urbanism and How Our Cities Can Resist it p 144, Doubleday, 1957.
  3. ^ "Suburban Station". Retrieved 2008-05-08. 
  4. ^ "Two Penn Center". Retrieved 2008-05-08. 
  5. ^ "Three Penn Center". Retrieved 2008-05-08. 
  6. ^ "Four Penn Center". Retrieved 2008-05-08. 
  7. ^ "Five Penn Center". Retrieved 2008-05-08. 
  8. ^ "Six Penn Center". Retrieved 2008-05-08. 
  9. ^ "Seven Penn Center". Retrieved 2008-05-08. 
  10. ^ "Eight Penn Center". Retrieved 2008-05-08. 
  11. ^ "Nine Penn Center". Retrieved 2008-05-08. 
  12. ^ "Ten Penn Center". Retrieved 2008-05-08. 
  13. ^ "Eleven Penn Center". Retrieved 2008-05-08. 
  14. ^ "Sheraton Penn Center Hotel". Retrieved 2008-05-08. 
  15. ^ "Penn Center Inn". Retrieved 2008-05-08. 

External links

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