Penn Athletic Club of Philadelphia papers and photograph albums
Held at: Historical Society of Pennsylvania [Contact Us]1300 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19107
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
Penn Athletic Club was a men's social and recreational club that was organized circa 1922 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania by prominent Philadelphian and Olympic rower, John "Jack" B. Kelly Sr. (1889-1960) and several of his friends. Around 1923 Jack Kelly and others at Penn AC decided they wanted to further promote athletics by sponsoring a rowing club on Boathouse Row. Kelly, a world-class rower, approached his rowing club, Vesper Boat Club and offered to give its rowing program financial support if it changed its name to Penn AC. Vesper Boat Club declined his offer and Kelly then went to the West Philadelphia Boat Club, which had been founded in 1871. West Philadelphia accepted Kelly's offer and changed its name to Penn AC Rowing Association. Kelly also started rowing there and brought the top rowers and rowing coach of the time with him. Kelly set up rowing programs at local high schools to help feed junior rowers into Penn AC. Penn AC Rowing Association became one of the best clubs in the city thanks to Kelly's influence.
The first home of the Penn Athletic Club was at 18th Street and Rittenhouse Square, the site of the former Joseph Harrison Jr. mansion. The Harrison mansion was demolished in 1923 and construction of the Penn AC clubhouse began. The building was known for its ultramodern style and housed a few hundred bedrooms, multiple restaurants, a swimming pool, tennis courts, a bowling alley, and health club facilities. There were separate facilities and a dining room for women. The club embraced its new location and sponsored the first Christmas tree lighting in Rittenhouse Square in 1930. Unfortunately, the Penn AC building was finished just as the Great Depression hit and the club struggled to pay for the extravagant building. Although the building has housed several other organizations and businesses since the 1940s, it is still present in Rittenhouse Square. Penn AC moved to a more "modest" location around 1939: the former Alexander Van Rensselaer mansion at 18th and Walnut streets. The club remained at this location until the mid-1950s.
The Penn Athletic Club of Philadelphia papers and photograph albums, 1922-1945, consists of photograph albums, membership and financial correspondence, and other materials.
The correspondence in the collection dates from 1926 to 1934 with some gap years. The letters are primarily related to membership and finance, showing the group's effort to create a large membership and to maintain that membership during the 1930s, when they were struggling with financing. Bills and other financial records of the club's house committee are also present with the correspondence. Of interest in the collection is a letter documenting when the club's property debt was paid off in 1945.
The photograph albums are portraits of club members, 1925-1945. Not every volume of portraits is in the collection, although researchers can see the rapid decline in membership from the late 1920s, when there were multiple volumes for a single year, to the 1930s when there was frequently only one or two volumes needed for each year. The last member portrait volume from 1945 is numbered with Roman numeral I. It is unclear why the numbering system altered to Roman numerals and started over in 1945. There is also a cuttings scrapbook ("Cuts") in the collection featuring clippings and other copies of images used by the club for advertising, programs, and other printed matter. Also in the collection is a book, "Character Sketches of Romance, Fiction and the Drama Volume III" by the Reverend E. Cobham Brewer and edited by Marion Harland, published in 1892.
Note to researchers: When requesting the member portrait albums, please use the HSP volume number and not the Penn AC volume number as these numbers do not always match.
Gift of Samuel Moyerman.; 1960 acquired
- Historical Society of Pennsylvania
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Sarah Leu.
- Finding Aid Date
- ; 2017.
- This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.