Tom Gola Arena – La Salle Explorers
Photos by Richard Smith, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 2.43
Tom Gola Arena 1900 W. Olney Ave. Philadelphia, PA 19141
Year Opened: 1998
Exploring Tom Gola Arena
La Salle University is a Roman Catholic university located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was named for St. Jean-Baptiste de La Salle. La Salle first admitted women students in 1970, becoming a fully co-educational institution. Nursing and Education are two of the largest majors at La Salle.
Sports teams at La Salle are named the Explorers. The name derives from a 1931 mistake made by a local sportswriter. The writer thought the university was named after the French explorer Sieur de La Salle, when in fact it is named after St. Jean-Baptiste de La Salle. The students loved the mistake so much they adopted it in 1932.
Athletic teams are now part of the Atlantic 10 Conference. The men’s and women’s basketball teams also participate in the Philadelphia Big 5 with the University of Pennsylvania, Saint Joseph’s University, Temple University, and Villanova University.
The men’s basketball program at La Salle has been rated the 53rd “Greatest College Basketball Program of All-Time” by Street & Smith’s magazine and 71st by the ESPN College Basketball Encyclopedia. La Salle has won one National Championship (1954), one National Invitation Tournament Championship, and advanced to two Final Fours.
The Tom Gola Arena opened in 1998. That seems funny as the simple, antiquated design of this facility seems about 20 years earlier in design. That is because they retrofitted the top floor of an existing gym structure to house an arena. These compromises in design certainly show in the many issues that exist here.
Before the opening of the Tom Gola Arena, the team played home games at the Spectrum for a few years, as well as the old Philadelphia Convention Hall and Civic Center. They stopped playing on campus the year after their lone national championship.
Food & Beverage 2
There is a single concession stand that sits on the mezzanine level. It can get very crowded here and is pretty poorly designed. The design is so bad that the condiment table actually is placed in front of trophies and awards, including the National Championship memorabilia.
The good thing is that prices are very good, most items are $3 or less. But eat ahead of time.
There are two stands, one on each sideline. This simple design means that attendees sitting on the top few rows will be far from the action. It also means that fans will bunch and crowd between the doors and the stands. It is a bit of a mess. This is compounded by the fact that the bathrooms are next to the gym floor and add to that bunching and crowding effect. This design is very bad.
This is generally not the greatest atmosphere for college basketball. Fortunately, the level of competition in the Atlantic 10 Conference is very good. You may not totally enjoy the seating and atmosphere but the fine level of play makes up for that in many ways.
There is a band, mascot, and cheerleaders to help out with the atmospherics.
The neighborhood is known as the Logan-Ogontz/Belfield neighborhood. Whatever the name, it is frankly not the best. It is not unsafe or very bad, but it is not 100% great and awesome. If you wander away from campus, just be aware of your surroundings.
There are also not many businesses in the area except for the Explorers Den, which offers a very respectable cheesesteak. There is a small shopping center that offers parking for games at the corner of Chew and Wister. The university owns this shopping center. The Fresh Grocer and Dunkin Donuts in this center are your only other options before games.
Eat before you get to the area is the best advice. Head to center city Philadelphia. Take advantage of options afforded by such a city. I would recommend the Good Dog Bar on 15th Street, close to Rittenhouse Square or Me ‘N’ Mo on South Street. Some of the best cheesesteaks are located at 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.
The fans here are pretty good. The Atlantic 10 offers great competition and the fans respond accordingly. The arena still does let them down a bit.
Access is fair. The university is located not too far from highways such as I-76 and I-95 but far enough that you have to drive through some rough, but not too bad neighborhoods to get there. If you venture too far east the neighborhoods do get worse.
Head for that shopping center at the corner of Chew and Wister for plenty of free parking.
Return on Investment 5
The tickets are in the $15 to $20 range. For a fairly high level of competition, as well as free parking La Salle offers great value for attendees. If you do choose to eat at the games, prices are very good here as well.
It is nice to see the 1954 championship memorabilia, although maybe they can find a better place for condiments.
I will also give Tom Gola Arena credit in that the unique layout and design of the facility, at least in terms of the entrance, is certainly something to see.
I understand that the 1998 design of this arena was a compromise in using an existing building. But it still feels that LaSalle made so many poor design decisions that it seriously compromises the quality of the fan experience. You will still see high-quality basketball, but in less than inviting environment.