- Jared Goodman
The Palestra – Penn Quakers
Photos by Jarod Goodman and Marc Viquez, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.86
The Palestra 235 S 33rd St. Philadelphia, PA 19104
Year Opened: 1927
The Cathedral of College Basketball
Across the Schuylkill River from downtown Philadelphia lies the prestigious University of Pennsylvania, a historic colonial-era Ivy League institution that often receives more acclaim for its academics than for its athletics. But the Penn Quakers have left their mark on the sports world nonetheless, and none has made more of an impression than the men’s basketball program. Penn has fielded a team since 1897, and that team has played since 1927 in one of the most historic sports venues in the entire world: The Palestra.
Food & Beverage 3
Don’t eat at The Palestra. While there’s a modest selection of concession items available, you’re in Philadelphia after all; there are so many incredible dining experiences to be had in the City of Brotherly Love. Additionally, while you’re attending a game at the historic Palestra, you’ll want to explore the place as much as you can and soak in the atmosphere as much as possible. Simply put, just don’t bother standing in line or wasting time getting food at the game.
Should you decide to pop over to one of the concession stands anyway, moderately priced options will greet you. Some main dishes include cheeseburgers ($8), pizza slices ($5), and hot dogs ($4). There’s a variety of snacks available as well, such as nachos, popcorn, pretzels, and peanuts, all priced around $2-$5. The beverage of choice at Penn is Coca-Cola ($5), and bottled water is $4. The one unique stand in the building is the Cookies & Creamery kiosk, where you can grab a cup of ice cream ($5) or some cookies ($3) for a little treat.
The architectural and historical beauty of The Palestra is astounding. The exterior of the gym is eerily similar to a venue that is 13 years its junior, Duke’s Cameron Indoor, but that’s where the similarities end. From the moment you walk inside the door, you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into a time machine and been transported to a bygone era. The exposed brick hallways, the steel archways that support the convex roof, and the high-up window panels that let sunlight flood the court are the main contributors to the Depression-era ambiance.
The majority of the seating in the venue is composed of old wooden benches, though chair-back seats are present in the premium lower bowl. However, none of that matters, as every seat in The Palestra is close to the action due to the intimate design. What makes the arena truly unique are the end zone bleachers; there’s no barrier between the fans in the front row and the activity happening on the hardwood, giving those lucky few an incredible game day experience.
To keep track of the game, two helpful scoreboards are perched high in the end zones. Sitting anywhere near the video board in the east end zone makes it hard to see highlights and replays, but the opposite wall has a handy scoreboard that records a variety of game statistics.
The Penn campus, along with neighboring Drexel University, makes up the hip district known as University City. Just across the Schuylkill River (pronounced skoo-kuhl, if you were wondering) from the business-oriented downtown, both neighborhoods are awash with entertainment and dining choices.
Downtown is by far the most touristy and lively of the two, featuring several significant Revolutionary-era landmarks such as Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. Other attractions of note include Philadelphia’s iconic City Hall, the Museum of Art made famous by the 70s blockbuster Rocky, and the National Constitution Center. Philly also has a rich maritime history as a strategic port on the Delaware River, and this history is on display daily at the Independence Seaport Museum.
Foodies will love Philadelphia for many reasons, but the obvious draw is the iconic cheesesteak. Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steaks, located at 9th and Passyunk, seem to be the main perpetrators in the circulation of the Philly cheesesteak culture. Beefy battles aside, the Reading Terminal Market is also a popular destination with hungry tourists. Dating back to 1893, this gastronomic paradise is home to over one hundred vendors that serve up delectable dishes from pretzels to artisan cheese to fresh produce.
The Palestra is electric during Big 5 games and when Penn takes on their arch-rival Princeton. For these packed-out games, it’s sometimes hard to move around the cramped gym and it can be a bit incommodious at times. But the atmosphere that the student section and the Quaker faithful produce amidst these contests is nothing short of special; it’s something basketball die-hards should experience at least once.
When the Princeton Tigers or a Big 5 team isn’t on the schedule, don’t expect any wild crowds at The Palestra. For any other game on the slate, the arena doesn’t fill up. Sure, the fans that do find their way to the benches are all over the action and pay attention to the entire game, but it pales in comparison to those staple games.
The Palestra, and the University as a whole, are located in a cramped and dated part of Philadelphia, forcing game day visits to become a complicated, multi-step process. For starters, there is extremely limited parking near the gym. The lots in the surrounding area are reserved on basketball game days, but there are two primary garages to choose from. The first is located at 34th and Chestnut Streets, while the second is adjacent to the Penn Museum at South Street and Convention Avenue. Rates for these garages vary; you can also use the Parking Panda app to find a pre-paid parking space, and this is usually your best bet.
Another option would be to take Philadelphia’s mass transit, called SEPTA, to the game. Three modes of SEPTA will drop you off near The Palestra:
Regional Rail – Both the Penn Medicine and 30th Street Stations are within a 10-minute walk.
Subway – The 30th and 34th Street Stations are both along the Market-Frankford Line, though the latter is slightly closer.
Trolley – The 33rd Street stop is only about a 5-minute walk from The Palestra.
Return on Investment 4
Single-game tickets start at $17 and go up from there. Tickets to the annual Princeton game or a Big 5 matchup may cost you more. Concessions, should you choose to grab a bite, are moderately priced and probably won’t run you more than $10 per person. Parking rates vary depending on the location and time but expect to pay anywhere between $5 and $30 for a space.
After everything is said and done, a family of four should look to spend around $130 for a game at Penn. This is well worth the experience at the holy grail of college hoops.
The hallways of The Palestra are a living museum, so plan to arrive plenty early and learn all about the rich history of the Penn Quakers and their glorious home. There are dozens of display cases that feature memorabilia and informative plaques alike, covering all Quaker athletic programs and showcasing their accomplishments by decade. These cases don’t just highlight the University of Pennsylvania either, but rather all of the Philadelphia Big 5 schools.
Speaking of the Big 5, The Palestra has been the home of the basketball teams from Philly’s institutions of higher education for many years. While each university has its home arena, Penn annually hosts St. Joseph’s, Villanova, Temple, and La Salle at their venerable gymnasium.
The Palestra opened on New Year’s Day of 1927 with a win over Yale in front of a capacity crowd of 10,000 – then the largest basketball crowd on the east coast to ever attend a game. (Thirty years earlier, Penn and Yale played in the first-ever basketball game to feature five players on each team.) Since its debut, The Palestra has hosted more games, more visiting teams, and more NCAA tournaments than any other venue in college basketball.
The history that Penn has both written and witnessed at The Palestra is what makes it a venue that should be at the top of your bucket list, college hoops fan or not. Whether the Quakers win or lose, you will not regret seeing a game at The Cathedral.