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Penn State's Historic Old Main

the original old main

Old Main, opened in 1930, serves as Penn State's administrative hub and is one of its most distinctive landmarks. The building exemplifies the Federal Revival style of reknown architect Charles Z. Klauder, who also designed several other buildings on the University Park campus.

It is actually the second Old Main to occupy the site. The first, designed by Trustee Hugh McAllister of Bellefonte in the 1850s, was a five-story structure built with limestone quarried nearby. The building housed classrooms, labs, a chapel, the President's office, and residential space for up to 400 students. When other campus structures were added in the 1880s the name Main Building came into use, and by the early 1900s Old Main became a common term.

Time and heavy use took their toll on the original Old Main. It was razed in 1929, after architects deemed renovations impractical.

The current Old Main occupies about the same footprint as its predecessor and uses stone from the original edifice. The bell tower clock, a gift of the class of 1904, is the same one that was installed in the first Old Main. The bell displayed near Old Main's southwest corner also came from the original building; its restoration was a gift of the class of 2010.

In addition to containing offices for the President and other administrators, the "new" Old Main was intended to be a student union. It housed a sandwich shop; offices for student organizations, lounges and meeting rooms; and a campus event ticket office. When enrollment grew rapidly after World War II, student offices and services were eventually consolidated in the new (1955) Hetzel Union Building.

The famous Land-Grant Frescoes, a gift of the class of 1932 and supported by several subsequent classes of the 1940s, grace the walls of the upper floor of the lobby, depicting the University's founding and the historical evolution of its land-grant mission of teaching, research, and service. The public may visit the building and view the frescoes during Old Main's regular business hours.

For a more detailed history of Old Main, read "Old Main: The History of a Penn State Landmark," by Michael Bezilla, on the Alumni Library website.