The Palestra – Penn Quakers
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The Birthplace of College Basketball
It’s called the Mecca of college basketball and the birthplace of college basketball, but to many, it is the home of the Pennsylvania Quakers basketball program. Whatever you want to call the historic facility, one thing is for certain, it is the definition of basketball in the City of Brotherly Love.
The Palestra has been home to the Quakers since 1927 and has hosted every Division I basketball program in the nation. The iconic 8,722 seat facility is part basketball arena and part basketball museum; it’s design and aesthetics will never be duplicated and it ranks as one of college’s sports most storied venues.
The arena has also been home to Penn volleyball, high school basketball, and probably one of the better traditions in college basketball, the Philadelphia Big 5. The informal tournament features La Salle, Villanova, St. Joseph’s, Temple, and Penn battle one another in the informal city tournament to crown a champion of Philadelphia. The games were historically played at The Palestra from 1955 to 1991 before games moving to other venues in the city.
Food & Beverage 3
There is a modest selection of food at two concession points in the building. Fans can enjoy the basics that include pizza slices, hot dogs, nachos, pretzels, and popcorn. A bottomless popcorn bucket is a great option for fans with small kids and the price of a hot dog is $4. Coca-Cola products are served throughout the building. If you want a beer, check out the hospitality room outside the main concourse before the game for Yuengling and Yards cans for $8.There is a Chickie’s & Pete’s stand that offers large buckets of fries sprinkled with Old Bay seasoning and a stand with gourmet coffee
The concourse of The Palestra is a museum of Philadelphia basketball, each area is decorated with murals, photographs, paraphernalia, and stories from over a century of basketball. The concourse level itself is only 14 feet wide in most places and there is not one section where one could learn a little something about the university, the Big 5, other university sports programs, and former head coaches and players. The arena has hosted a myriad of basketball talent from Wilt Chamberlin to Kobe Bryant.
There is not a lot of space between the fans and the players on the court, the arena offers perhaps the closest proximity to players in college basketball. The last rows of seats are a few inches from the Penn bench or press row. Those first rows of seats are plastic chair backs that are rolled out for each home game. During high capacity games, fans may have to squeeze in between sections to get to and from their seats.
The rest of the seating throughout the building are permanent bleacher style that is comfortable during less crowded games, but during a Big 5 or Princeton game, it can become somewhat cumbersome–however–the arena comes alive during these types of games and that is when the building comes alive. However, even a half-empty Palestra is still worthy of appreciation.
The arched roof offers unobstructed views of the court, an array of championship banners hang in all four corners of the building, and a centerpiece above the bleachers features banners of all local Big 5 schools that vertically fall to towards the seats. There is a video screen at one end of the arena that offers highlights, scoring, and player stats.
We made our visit during college break and the game was absent of a student section and school band, providing an atmosphere that is essential to any college arena. A few mentioned to that when the place is packed, and it often does during the season, there is no better place to be in the city to watch a game.
There are quite a few spots to grab something to eat near The Palestra. New Deck Tavern offers pub food and plenty of draft beers in a strong college bar setting a few blocks away. Baby Blues BBQ is located nearby that offers its brand of barbecue that includes smoke wings, Brunswick stew, pig candy bacon, and sliced brisket to Philadelphia. The White Dog Cafe serves contemporary cuisine to the area since 1983.
The city is full of rich American history that includes Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, American Revolution Museum, and the National Constitution Center. If you are with the kids, the Franklin Institute and the Please Touch Museums are great interactive places for children. The city does offer a few outliers of attractions that include the Mutter Museum (medical devices) and the Eastern State Pennietentry (a former 19th-century prison) that are worth a visit.
The Reading Terminal Market is the city’s number one destination that is foodies paradise and offers everything from local produce and giant sandwiches to artisanal cheeses and desserts. The DiNic’s roast pork sandwich might not be as famous as the cheesesteak, but it is damn tasty and just as popular by the local populace.
The Quaker fan comes alive during contests against Big 5 schools and Ivy League rival Princeton each season, the student section is loud and their cheers echo throughout the arena. We made our visit on New Year’s Eve when students were off from college and perhaps not seeing what their presence would bring to the building. One could only imagine since the tight confines of the place would make for some loud cacophony.
The Palestra is over 92-years-old and is very cramped in various sections of the building from its seats to the concourse level. There are many games where crowds and access inside is quite comfortable. When the games are near capacity, it can be somewhat cumbersome moving around the concourse during half time and in the seating bowl.
The arena’s location along the city street’s makes for planning a trip recommended. There are many lots surrounding the arena and there is also mass transit available, but more on that in the section below.
Return on Investment 5
The cost of a ticket ranges from $15 to $20 for most home games, an affordable price to enjoy college basketball in one of its holy institutions. Concession prices are nicely priced, a hot dog begins at $4 and a bottomless bucket of popcorn is a bargain at $7.
There are various city lots and garages that offer parking for The Palestra. The prices range from as low as $5 to $25 depending on how close you are to the building. Parking Panda is a great source to use to find a spot that fits your price point. The arena is also accessible via SEPTA Regional Rail, Subway, and Trolley lines.
You are also in Philadelphia and there is quite a bit of entertainment, tourist attractions, and activities taking place throughout the season before and after a game.
The Palestra deserves two points for its history lesson on Philadelphia basketball on its concourse levels. The wall displays include decade by decade accounts of Quaker basketball, Big 5 schools information, athletes who played in the building, coaching legends, and interesting stories from storied Quaker seasons.
The Palestra receives the third point for having some of the closest views in all of NCAA basketball, fans are within inches of reaching out and touching players on the numbers of their jerseys.
The Palestra seating area offers an old-time feel that includes arched roofs, small window openings, arched entrances, and old-school banners hanging from the rafters. Fans today are enjoying basketball the same way they did over 90-years-ago.
The Palestra receives a final point for being the longtime home of the Big Five, a group of five other Philadelphia colleges who compete for the city championship. The round-robin series began in 1955 and all games were originally played at The Palestra. The four other Philly schools who compete are Villanova, St. Joe’s, Temple, and La Salle and create a championship series unlike anything else in the country.
There are not too many buildings like The Palestra left in college basketball and it is nice to know that a building of this kind still exists and hosts basketball. The history of basketball in Philadelphia begins and ends with the arena and one should spend at least one time enjoy hoops inside its hallows hallways.
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