Mitten Hall

Some History

written and researched by Gerry Wilkinson

1913 North Broad Street
Philadelphia PA 19122-6092
(Located on N. Broad Street and Berks Mall)


Mitten Memorial Hall, the building's official name, had ground breaking on April 29, 1930 with funds totaling a quarter of a million dollars, raised from the Philadelphia Rapid Transit and Yellow Cab Company employees to honor the memory of their former employer, Thomas E. Mitten, who had been a friend and admirer of Dr. Russell Conwell, founder of Temple University. Mitten once gave Dr. Conwell $20,000 to help the University in a time of financial difficulty. The total of cost of construction of Mitten Hall was $600,000.00.

The building's cornerstone was laid on February 5, 1931. Tom Mitten, according to the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, drowned on October 1, 1929 in a lake on his estate in the Pocono Mountains. Two days after Mitten's death, his son, Dr. A.A. Mitten was elected President of his dad's company. Four days later, Dr. Mitten had his father's will declared void with the estate going to him.

Mitten Hall housed student activities and services. It is described by its architect, William H. Lee, as "following the lines of English Collegiate Gothic." At the time, it was hailed as the long-awaited Student Activities Center, housing a cafeteria on the ground floor, lounges on the first floor, and a large auditoriuim. In the third floor auditorium of Mitten Hall the comprehensive theater training program and entertainment projects of Paul "Pops" Randall took place. The auditorium was also used for University dances. Its ornate architecture impressed and served well generations of students. According to a Temple document, "The building was built to serve as a place for students and faculty to gather outside of the classroom, and a place to hold dances, plays and meetings. The idea of a building for this purpose was new to the American college scene as well as to Temple students. Mitten Hall was one of the first buildings of its type in the country."

The original site for Mitten Hall was NOT on Broad Street. The first location considered was the SW corner of Park Avenue and Berks. That's where Sullivan Hall stands today.

It seems that Temple had purchased every property for the site except one. After making several offers, the owner came back with a very high selling price. Dr. Charles Beury, president of the school at the time, refused to pay the amount and quickly bought up several brick houses on the eastern side of Broad Street, just above Berks. That's how Mitten Hall got to be on Broad Street.

FYI...with the depression going full blast in the early thirties, the hold out owner finally sold at a reasonable (though slightly high) price and thus the land became available for the next University building project, Sullivan Hall. In fact, the dedication ceremonies for Sullivan was held in Mitten Hall because it had easier access for President Franklin Roosevelt who came to Philly for the event.

Mitten Hall is a three story structure equal in height to a normal five-story building. During the dedication ceremonies, Dr. Arthur A. Mitten, chairman of Mitten Management, Inc. and son of Thomas Mitten, said that the one cherished ambition his father had was "the breaking down of barriers that separate capital and labor and the institution of a real industrial democracy." He added that the new center might aid in the realization of this ambition. A bronze bas-relief tablet, bearing the likeness of of Tom Mitten was unveiled in the building's lobby.

Mitten Hall was formally opened with a basketball game between Temple and Perdue in the auditorium, which was on the top floor. This area was also used for dramatic productions and mass student meetings. In 1931, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the roof of Mitten Hall was designed so that tennis courts and miniature golf courses could be set up. In that same year, the Bishop Fulton J. Sheen spoke in the building to a convention of Newman Clubs. The next year, 1932, students took part in "a great experiment." There were open-air classes held on the roof of Mitten Hall with pupils sitting in deck chairs.

Many famous people spoke at Mitten Hall. In 1935, famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart addressed 1,500 people. The next year, Poet Carl Sandburg lectured in the building as did Eleanor Roosevelt and President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1937, British novelist spoke at Mitten Hall as did Sinclair Lewis. The next year, Bunny Berigan and his Orchestra played for the sophomore dance. In the mid-thirties, it had become a Temple tradition at Christmas time to carry a yule log to the hearth in the Great Court of the structure.

Before the opening of Mitten Hall, students gathered at various campus luncheonettes, outside classrooms or in the hallways. Dances, plays and large meetings were held downtown. Until 1951, basketball games, wrestling, boxing and fencing matches took place in the third floor auditorium. At one time "the Men's Lounge" (Room 5) was equipped with billards and pool tables and the Women's Lounge has table tennis. In warm weather, the roof of Mitten Hall was used for tennis, handball, track and as a practice area for the baseball team.

In 1944, the auditorium was converted into a temporary barracks for 60 soldiers who were taking pre-dental and pre-medical work under the Army's Specialized Training Program. They remained for two years and found space in the building for a drill area and "mess" hall.

Also during World War II, the Red Cross used the clubroom area for volunteers to roll bandages. In addition, sewing machines were set up in the East Alcove to make cloth articles for the war effort. Part of the auditorium was converted into classroom space and used for several years after WWII. This was in direct violation of the terms of the money donated to build the structure, which stated that the building could never be used for regular classrooms.

In 1951, during a flu epidemic, the infirmary became so overcrowded that the clubroom was converted into an emergency station to take care of students needing treatment. Several times, Naturalization ceremonies for new citizens were held in Mitten Hall.

For a few weeks in the fall of 1953, Room 5 (the Men's Lounge) was used as a dormitory. The guys nicknamed it "Robert Hall" and the name stuck for many years.

The auditorium served as a registration area at the beginning of each semester

In the March 1957 Alumni Review, it said

Organ recitals every afternoon at four...suits and ties required for men lounging in the Great smoking except in the grille and lounges...this was Mitten Hall in 1931.

An amateur pianist improvising at the fans watching the world series on TV...faculty and students mixing informally at an apple-polishing punch hour.... Mitten Hall in 1956 has changed, just as University student life has changed.

Until 1958, it served as the Student Activities Center. In that year, student activities moved to Wiatt Hall, which previously was a girls' dorm, but with the opening of Peabody Hall, dorm space in Wiatt was no longer needed. Now Mitten Hall hosts many outside events as well as Temple events in the Great Hall.

My question is this.... On March 1, 1926 Tom Mitten as head of the PRT, Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company and forerunner to the PTC and SEPTA, reduced the wages of many of his workers by about 6%. Why would these workers contribute money to erect a building honoring the memory of someone who cut their pay. Especially since it was during the depression and money was tight for everyone. And why would they construct a building on a college campus where their children couldn't afford to attend. A motorman of a PRT Trolley earned less than 74 cents per hour.

The building was dedicated on February 27, 1931. The air-conditioned Annex containing a"quiet room" was dedicated on February 11, 1964 and was used mainly for student reading. Beneath it was a dining area. Built at a cost of $1,500,000, it was financed jointly through a loan from the Federal House and Home Agency and university funds. Its long glass windows can be seen on the Broad Street side of the building. The addition was designed by the Philadelphia architects of Nolen and Swinburne.

Now to the third floor of Mitten Hall. Remember, there was a gym there. Then it was used for dances. In 1966, the ROTC Ball was held there. Well, Temple has done some of its "famous" Acres of Diamonds rehab. It's kind of weird. They just stopped where they were when the budgeted money ran out. They say,"That's it for now." Maybe more rehab later. However, there's plaster falling out the walls and ceiling. Paint is peeling. We've heard that this is great in comparison to what it used to be. The Theater Department moved out when Annenberg Hall was built and the area didn't get much use until now. It's going to be used by the College of Music, at least for the time being. They installed a new carpet but didn't bother to re-do the flooring underneath. When you walk around it, you get sea sick with all the bumps and bulges.

Temple's second President who served from 1926 to 1941, Charles E. Beury, Temple graduate from 1903, once explained the purpose of the student union as a social laboratory:

"Mitten Hall was designed and furnished in an elegant and refined manner in order to entice the student body within its walls and subtly affect their manners and deportment."

When Gerry Wilkinson visited Temple, you could only enter Mitten from the side Berks Mall entrance. The main doors were locked. While Gerry did manage to gain access to the main hall in Mitten, there was nothing there. No pictures, No chairs, NOTHING. Just an empty hall and a few people who said that they were shooting a movie. From the appearance of the setup, it was nothing major.

Photo of Mitten Hall

This picture courtesy of Temple University.

Photo of Mitten Hall to Conwell Hall (from center of Broad St. at night)

This picture, from February of 1998, was taken by Gerry Wilkinson.

There's a stone owl chieseled into the corners of Mitten Hall at Temple. Few students were ever aware of their existence because they are 30 feet above the ground.

Photo of Mitten Hall Owls

This picture is from the January 2, 1966 issue of the Temple University News.

Here's a shot of Broad Street from almost 100 years ago. The photo was taken in 1901 and shows College Hall and Baptist Temple. Notice that to the immediate left of the Baptist Temple is a batch of the old red brick row homes. Thirty years after this photo was taken, those houses would become the site for Mitten Hall.

Photo from 1901of College Hall, Baptist Temple and the future site for Mitten Hall

This picture from 1901 is courtesy of Temple University.

Here's two photos of Mitten Hall taken in 1931. That's the same year as its construction was completed.

Photo #1 from 1931 of Mitten Hall

Photo #2 from 1931 of Mitten Hall

Here's a photo of Mitten Hall taken in 1956. It also shows the row homes that went from just north of Mitten to the corner of Broad and Norris.

Photo of Mitten Hall in 1956

From Mike Biel....I agree that the funding of Mitten Hall looks suspicious, but it is typical of the administration of many universities. They do what they want and the students be damned. They treat a university as a fiefdom. (Do I sound bitter?)