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Official Review by Richard Smith, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Opened in 1927, this venue has been referred to as the “Cathedral of College Basketball.” At one time, The Palestra was one of the largest arenas in the world. It was one of the first modern steel-and-concrete arenas in the United States, and also one of the first to be constructed without interior pillars blocking the view.
The facility is the home gym of the University of Pennsylvania Quakers' men's and women's basketball teams, volleyball teams and wrestling teams. It is also the home venue for the Big 5.
The Big 5 is a yearly round-robin tournament, going on since 1955, featuring five of the city's six Division I programs: La Salle, Penn, Saint Joseph's, Temple, and Villanova. Neighbor school Drexel is sometimes included as the unofficial sixth school. Unfortunately, although the Palestra is considered the home of the tournament, many of the games are not played here.
From 1991 to 1999, the Big 5 even started to fall apart after Villanova, and their coach Rollie Massimino, was more interested in playing other games than the Big 5 contests. Luckily, the event still exists, even if all games are not played at its spiritual home.
Since its inception, The Palestra has hosted more games, more visiting teams, and more NCAA Tournaments than any other facility in college basketball.
The Greek term ‘Palaestra’ is how the building got its unique name. It referred to a rectangular venue attached to a gymnasium, where wrestlers would go toe-to-toe in events that allowed them to show off the skills they learned at the gym. The Palestra at Penn just happens to be attached to Hutchinson Gymnasium.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
You are not coming to The Palestra for food options. But there are a few basic food stands located around the concourse area. Hot dogs are $4 and french fries are $4. Sodas are generally $4 all around. That is probably a bit too high.
Local restaurant Chickie's and Pete's has a stand in the concourse, where you can get their famous Crab Fries with a side of cheese sauce for $9. It may not be open for all games.
The arena itself does not seem large. It feels much more intimate than a place with 8,722 seats. It is loud in here -- and not just the loud sounds coming from the PA announcer and their accompanying music. Even a small crowd sounds like a packed venue.
The seats are mostly bleachers, and the corner has plenty of those seats that don't actually face the court. A large crowd would mean you will be packed into uncomfortable seats with sometimes sketchy views. But you are also still likely to love every part of the experience, no matter how uncomfortable you are. It is that special of a place.
The arena also feels warm, even on the coldest of days. It is an old building with an old air system. So expect to be a bit warm.
There is a surprisingly large concourse that surrounds the arena.
You will find plenty of shops and restaurants to satisfy almost any appetite. The best bet for this route is to find a food truck, as they will be plentiful around the campus. I was lucky to find the Insomnia Cookies truck on 33rd Street between Market and Chestnut just as they had some fresh cookies coming out of the oven. There will be a lot less of the food trucks on weekend games, unfortunately.
Also located nearby at Drexel University is a location of Landmark Americana (3333 Market St), which is a great option for post-game eating. This restaurant offers a nice choice of meals and has a large bar, as well. For Saturday games, look out for the $10 all-you-can-eat wings special. They also offer numerous drink specials at the bar. Also nearby is Wahoo Fish Tacos (3180 Chestnut St.), which is primarily a west coast chain, so finding them here is pretty special.
If driving, consider Philip's Steaks at 2234 West Passyunk Avenue for traditional Philly cheesesteaks. This is not one of the more touristy spots, but is still in a safe neighborhood and offers free parking. Philip's also has a surprisingly good cheeseburger for a cheesesteak joint. Just remember you have to buy the drinks and fries at a different window than your main entree, which is a strange and unique Philly tradition.
People come to The Palestra to watch basketball. This is not a venue that you come to for general entertainment. It is a basketball arena and that is all.
Fans here are serious and extremely knowledgeable about the game, no matter which team you are watching. A Big 5 game is one of the most interesting to experience, as the schools are all rivals of each other, so they will go after each other at all opportunities.
Parking is going to be tough at The Palestra. You will have to find a garage around the University City area of Philadelphia and walk to the venue. If you are really lucky, you may find a parking meter space in the area. Expect to pay around $15 for garage parking.
Stations for Amtrak (30th Street Station) and the local SEPTA subway system are all in the area.
Upper Baseline tickets are $14, with Lower Baseline, Standard Chairback and Upper Sideline tickets going for $20. Premium Chairback seats are $35. Some Big 5 games may be at a different price.
Those prices are pretty good considering that you will be watching a game in such a historic venue. And even if you are in an uncomfortable corner seat, you still will have a good time.
Parking is not cheap, but the value for what you get is still very good.
Many of the extras here at Palestra come from the expansive museum that exists throughout the concourses. In each and every hallway and on almost every wall are displays and trophy cases displaying the history of this historic building. One could spend hours looking and reading about the basketball history at The Palestra.
I also love the seats at The Palestra. That sounds funny, but the seats and how they fit into this rectangular building are so old-school.
The Palestra has a very impressive scoreboard. It is a new video-style board that also acts as a general scoreboard. It blends shockingly well into this historic venue.
There are very few places like The Palestra. Age doesn't make a building special. But the age and history of this building makes every basketball game played here a special event.
Member Review by shamus170
The Palestra. For die-hard college basketball fans, those two words mean a lot. Philadelphia's "Cathedral of College Basketball" is as pure as the sport gets and the inside of the arena looks nearly the same today as it did in 1927. Though it is home to the University of Pennsylvania basketball team, games of all varieties have been played here: NCAA and NIT tournaments, conference tournaments and of course, the intra-city Philadelphia Big 5. The arena's intimacy, acoustics and atmosphere are unmatched. When you are inside, it feels like you have taken a step back in time. The Palestra is college basketball at its finest and any fan should try to make a trip here.
Member Review by JVerlin
The City of Brotherly Love is home to a number of modern sports arenas "" Citizens Bank Park for baseball, the still relatively-new Wells Fargo Center for basketball and hockey and, Lincoln Financial Field for football. Yet, a few miles removed from the glitz and glamour of South Broad Street, the Palestra sits on the campus of the University of Penn's campus. While officially the home for the Penn Quakers, the Palestra also serves as home of the Big 5, Philadelphia's yearly round-robin tournament featuring five of the city's six Division I programs: La Salle, Penn, Saint Joseph's, Temple, and Villanova.
Opened in 1927, the Palestra remains, in many ways, the same building that it was when it hosted the first Big 5 games back in 1955, and even in the years preceding. The seats are mostly bleachers, and the building can get uncomfortably hot "" even if the Philadelphia winters are dumping snow outside.
Member Review by profan9 on Mar 17, 2013
I had heard and read that The Palestra was one of those college basketball places that you just must see. It did not disappoint. The atmosphere was unbelievable. The acoustics were absolutely perfect. Only 1/3 full, the place was rocking! I could only imagine what the place would feel and sound like were it full. The historic nature of the building is not lost, and the salute to the Big 5 was pretty cool as well. Definitely a place that should be on every bucket list!
Member Review by BillVol on Apr 04, 2014
I don't think the reviewer mentions that The Palestra is known as "The Cathedral of Basketball." The fact that this list has pro arenas ranked over The Palestra is disturbing. The Palestra could easily be ranked #1 on any list, if not this one. Was talking to my dad about this list, and he said, "When I go to a college arena, I want to 'BREATHE' college basketball." You don't breathe college basketball at the FedEx Forum. I give The Palestra all fives, just to make up for its sad low ranking.
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