Throughout most of Philadelphia, Locust Street is open to vehicle traffic, but on Penn’s campus, the path is a landscaped walkway that is open to pedestrians and after-hour bikes.
Penn President Harold Stassen announced the plan for a pedestrian-only path through campus in 1948—at the same time he revealed wide-ranging plans for developing and expanding the then-113-acre campus by 35 acres. The plans included new Wharton, Physics, and Library buildings, two additions to the hospital, and turning Locust Street into a wooded mall by closing off vehicular traffic from 36th to 40th streets.
In outlining the sweeping changes, Stassen was quoted in the December 1948 issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette saying the plans would make Penn, “one of the most beautiful metropolitan campuses in the world. The plan will result in a campus that is both utilitarian and beautiful.”
Stassen didn’t offer a timetable for the completion of the project, nor was there an overall cost estimate. He described the proposals as “a plan for a generation.”
Work on converting Locust Street into a pedestrian walkway from 36th to 37th streets began in the summer of 1960, and was completed in October of 1964 through a gift from the Class of 1938, along with a gift from 1923 alum Vernon Stouffer, president of Stouffer Foods Corporation.
The accompanying photo from 1964 shows the walkway’s construction as it was closer to completion. Built primarily of Belgian block, the walkway joined with Woodland Walk, formerly Woodland Avenue, from 34th and Walnut streets, and then intersected with Locust Street to 36th Street.
In 1969, the University began the final phase of Locust Street’s conversion to Locust Walk. The three-year project of the section from 37th to 40th streets included a pedestrian bridge that spanned 38th Street. During the construction, pedestrians had limited access to the street and several fraternities located on Locust Street. Pedestrian access to some other buildings, including St. Mary’s Church near 40th Street, was available only on Spruce Street.
Since the completion of the pedestrian walkway in 1972, thousands of students, faculty, and staff use Locust Walk every day to traverse campus, sit on the benches lining the path, and enjoy College Green.
For more information about this and other historical events at Penn, visit the University Archives online.