The 108-year-old University Club, once the social center of State College, is now just a memory.
The historic social club — a four-story building on West College Avenue that predates The Tavern by 34 years — was finally demolished Friday, about seven months after the university purchased the property for $4.07 million. Built in 1914, the club once hosted white-glove affairs with dancing university presidents, saw 27th U.S. President William H. Taft visit after his presidency and housed Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Theodore Roethke (on the fourth floor).
“We’re losing a treasure, and people on campus do not understand that,” club member Marilyn Haugh, in her 80s, told the CDT in March. “The only people who understand it are the people who are members now, and who have been members for a long time, and remember the glorious times that that we have had at the University Club.”
Penn State originally sold the 0.64-acre property to the University Club for $1 in 1913. But over the years, the 501(c)(7) social club fell on hard times, coming to a head recently with both the pandemic and progress, which made outdated rooms without private bathrooms less desired. Fewer events were hosted as the years progressed, and the town’s former gem lost its luster. Members eventually voted to sell the property back to the university.
During a board of trustees meeting in February, when the purchase was publicly discussed, one university official explained renovations would prove too costly. Demolition was expected to cost just shy of $1 million, while renovation was anticipated to start at a “couple million.”
The purchase was considered a key one for the university, as it completed Penn State’s ownership of all the parcels on the northern side of College Avenue. It is not yet known what, if any, future plans the university has for the property.
“After professionally assessing its current condition, the university determined the facility is beyond its useful life and unable to meet university needs,” university spokesperson Wyatt DuBois said Friday afternoon. “The estimated work to repair the facility, comply with current codes, and provide modernized systems far exceeds that of estimated demolition and site restoration costs.
“The university has not made any final decisions regarding the future plans for the site. For now, the site will be restored with a combination of gravel, grass and select landscaping.”
The University Club once provided housing for grad students and staff, in addition to offering banquet facilities along with rooms for visiting professors and others. The club itself was founded between 1908 and 1910, and The University Club was built in 1914.
Officials from the University Club previously said they wanted to continue at a future location (without housing), although no official announcements yet appear on the club’s website.
The historic building is rubble now. The memories remain — but the building that hosted orchestras 12 years before Joe Paterno was born is no more.