The Rotunda has just been nominated to the Endangered Properties List.
A full history of the Rotunda was found on their website:
“Built in 1911 as a house of worship originally for the First Church of Christ Scientist, it was designed by Carrere and Hastings, the New York-based firm who set the tone of the American classicism of the twentieth century. With its low, tile-roofed narthex, circular main hall (AKA the sanctuary), and oversized windows, The building is of unsurpassed simplicity and elegance recalling Early Christian spaces such as Rome’s Santa Sabina.
The University of Pennsylvania purchased the building in 1996 as a strategic acquisition tied to a large scale community investment strategy known as the West Philadelphia Initiatives. With its prime location at 40th and Walnut, Penn explored several redevelopment options such as retail use, a radio station, and restaurant. While pursuing redevelopment options, Penn’s real estate officials responded to the ideas put forth in a 1998 Urban Studies seminar led by Dr. Ira Harkavy and Dr. Lee Benson at the University, which called for the formation of The Foundation Community Arts Initiative.
By making space available in a portion of the building, the Foundation held their first event in 1999 producing a free, all ages Jazz concert open to the public. Utilizing the programming and performing talents of both students and other West Philadelphia community members, The Foundation, led by an undergraduate student, Andrew Zitcer, quickly began programming weekly events and monthly series, showcasing world music, Jazz, Rock, Experimental, and more, while consciously striving to unite diverse groups of people through arts and culture experiences. By 2002, The Foundation, primarily fueled by dedicated Penn students with the aid of performers, artists, activists, and event organizers from within the surrounding community, acknowledged the need for a full time Director of The Rotunda. The appointment of a venue Director allowed an increase in the frequency of events while strengthening marketing efforts, outreach, and quality of programming. Nowadays, we use the name The Foundation interchangeably with the venue name of The Rotunda. ”
Despite the active use of part of the Rotunda for cultural events, the nominator of this property has lamented that “only about 1/3 of it is used.” The person goes on to explain that “the back room hosts around 200 or 300 arts events every year, usually for free. However, the rest of the building is in serious need of restoration and adaptive reuse. It could be a major venue for local and national arts and culture.”
Furthermore, the building houses a Tiffany chandelier, original wooden pews, and “a pipe organ that rivaled any other in Philadelphia.”
The building is thought to be endangered even though the back area is frequently used because the front part of the church is in very bad condition, in threat of collapse, and not properly taken care of by UPenn, which owns it.