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. The University of Pennsylvania basketball team calls this sacred place home and the Quakers have an equally long history with the sport. For decades, Penn dominated the Ivy League and the most successful period came in the 1970s, when the Quakers frequently made the NCAA Tournament. They even had a few deep runs in the tournament, culminating in a Final Four appearance in 1979. Recent times have not been so good however, as the Quakers have seen new Ivy blood like Cornell and Harvard dominate the League. It’s hard to believe that Penn is approaching 10 years since their last Ivy championship.
Of course, the Palestra is not just home to Penn, but it often houses games played between the Philadelphia Big 5. La Salle, Penn, Saint Joseph’s, Temple and Villanova make up five of the area’s six schools that compete annually against each other. Decades ago, all of the games were played in the Palestra and the place was bonkers with a mix of each fan base. Though the Big 5 has lost some luster from its heyday, the games still vitally matter and some games not involving Penn are returning back to The Palestra. The intimacy, acoustics and atmosphere in the building is unmatched and it feels a step back in time inside. The Palestra is college basketball at its finest and any fan should try to make a trip here.
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One of the few drawbacks of this arena is the concessions, as I highly suggest you eat at one of the several great places surrounding the area. The Palestra features just the items you would typically expect: Hot Dogs ($4), Pizza slices ($4) and Cheeseburgers ($7). The recent addition of a Chickie's and Pete's stand for their famous Crab Fries and Tenders is nice, however it is frequently closed. Grabbing a soft pretzel ($4) as a snack is probably the best way to go. Coca-Cola provides various drinks for $4 and there is also coffee and hot chocolate available, though it is hardly ever needed to warm up as the building is usually quite warm.
The Palestra is one of those sports venues that make you stand in the entranceway for a minute with your mouth slightly open, in awe of the building and the history. There are no luxury suites, no clubs, no special seating, just a rectangular seating design of mostly bleachers focused on the court. It certainly is not the most comfortable setting and if there is a big crowd, expect it to be hot and cramped. But once the game gets going, it is all worth it. The Palestra is a remarkably intimate mid-sized arena as the majority of seats feel close to the court.
Perhaps most remarkable is the noise that the building creates. There is something about the design and high-arcing roof that reverberates incredibly. Even with just the pep band playing, it is hard to hear yourself talk. The atmosphere from the crowd can vary quite a bit depending on who Penn is playing. For opponents outside of the Big 5 and Princeton, despite only a few thousand attending, fans are much more into the game than other mid-major schools as the noise of the building still makes for a great event. However if Penn is taking on one of their city rivals, the atmosphere is unmatched. Every basket and big play is met with a roar and the interplay between the fan bases is entertaining. If you attend a game at the Palestra, try to make it one that involves the Big 5, there's no other college basketball game in the country like it.
The Palestra is located in a unique section of Philadelphia called University City. It is not just the University of Pennsylvania located here, but Drexel University actually is right next to Penn. It is quite a sight to see two Division I schools separated by just a street. Penn has a massive campus and the Ivy League school is worth a walk around to see the many historical buildings (check out Locust Walk for the best tour). If you want to touch upon your inner Ivy, stop by the Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, which is right near both The Palestra and Franklin Field on the east side of campus. University City also provides a decent mix of bars and restaurants and the best ones are found along a trendy row of brick buildings on Sansom Street. The New Deck Tavern is a fun, Irish-style pub, while the White Dog Café is a little more upscale with incredibly delicious food using a menu featuring only local ingredients. If you're in the mood for Asian, University City has plenty of options with many different countries represented.
Just a mile or two down Walnut Street is the center of Philadelphia, where there is plenty to check out. Independence National Park includes the Liberty Bell, the National Constitution Center and Independence Hall. Other great museums surround the Park, while in the heart of the city; it is worth seeing City Hall and JFK Plaza, where the famous "LOVE" sign is located. For a cheesesteak, Steve's Prince of Steaks on 16th and Chestnut is a fine choice for an authentic Philly specialty.
Penn typically draws the most fans compared to their Ivy League competitors and while part of that is because they play in by far the league's biggest arena, they also have a loyal base of alumni. Most of the fans attend with their Penn gear on and they provide decent cheers during play. An occasional "Let's Go Quakers" chant will pop up as well. At the end of the game, "The Red and The Blue" is played by the pep band as fans and players sing along.
For Big 5 games, there is a significantly different vibe as every fan's eyes stay on the court. No cell phones and no getting up to go to concessions during play. It is refreshing to see and it is representative of how passionate Philadelphians take their sports. Given the close proximity of the local rivals, fan bases are split close to 50/50 and each small ebb and flow in the game is significantly felt. Student sections at the end of both baskets are nearly full and the banter is terrific. Traditions like the "Rollouts" still live as insulting messages to the other team are rolled out at the top of the student section and then crowd-surfed down to the bottom before they are shredded. Then there are streamers and though they are not thrown on to the court after the first basket like the old days, they are still used after a victory.
The University of Pennsylvania is not difficult to get to, however, parking can be an issue on this urban campus. The Palestra has only a tiny parking lot not worth trying, so the best option is the parking garage at Chestnut and 34th Street. Finding a spot on the nearby streets is a possibility too, otherwise, you likely will have to fork over a harsh $15 in the garage. The Schuylkill Expressway (I-76) is the best way to arrive to campus and for reaching the garage get off I-76 at Exit 345. This brings drivers onto Drexel's adjoining campus, and it is fairly easy to get to the garage from there. The other option to arrive at Penn is by using SEPTA, the mass transit system around Philly. There is a subway line (MFL) that stops right at 34th Street, which is within walking distance to the arena. No matter the mode of transportation, make sure you know where you're going because it is not obvious where the arena is (plus the building blends in with others on campus). Having a smartphone with an app for maps is useful at Penn.
Inside the building, the concourse is very cramped, which should not be a surprise given that The Palestra was built in 1927. Maneuvering around is an issue if there is a decent-sized crowd and the same goes for the bathrooms, which are remarkably old-school.
Everything is more expensive than what is typically seen at an Ivy League team's basketball arena, but when you take everything into context and realize where you are, it is well worth the price and then some. Ticket prices typically are $20 - $25, with a few bucks saved if bought in advance. The more comfortable seats with backs are significantly higher ($40) and don't try to sneak into these sections as they are guarded at each entrance. Big 5 games overall cost even more. Concessions and parking prices run high as well. Again, despite the high price for an Ivy team, the entire experience at The Palestra is well worth the cost.
Nearly fifteen years ago, a renovation was made to The Palestra's concourses, which essentially turned the hallways into a museum. I spent 45 minutes gazing upon the various artifacts, pictures, plaques and informational collages throughout the concourse. This is a wonderful way of displaying and explaining the history of The Palestra. Each hall had themes going into more detail about Penn basketball, the Big 5, Ivy League and players who have played here. It's definitely worth arriving early to check out.
While inside, make sure to look up into the rafters and check out all of those banners. There are a lot of them and most of the ceiling space is taken up by Pennsylvania's 26 Ivy League championships. It is easy to casually not notice the lack of a center-hung scoreboard and that is because it is quite natural for one to be missing here. The two scoreboards on the end wall are appropriately placed. The addition of a high-definition video screen a few years ago was controversial given the age and aura of the building. However, I found the board not obtrusive and it enhances the overall experience.
Finally, there are many that believe The Palestra is haunted. Kyle Whelliston, the terrific writer and creator of the now defunct Mid-Majority website, spent a night sleeping inside the arena and confirmed many of those mystical stories. Haunted or not, there sure has been a lot that has taken place within the walls of this building.
The Palestra represents basketball from a different era and it is refreshing, exciting and special for fans of the sport. People come purely to watch the game and root on their team, whether it is the Quakers or another local school. The Palestra is true Philadelphia and the atmosphere and noise inside is hard to match anywhere else.
Follow all of Sean's journeys at Stadium and Arena Visits.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
3408 Sansom St
Philadelphia, PA 19104
3420 Sansom St
Philadelphia, PA 19104
2628 South St
Philadelphia, PA 19146