In 1995, Provost Chodorow gave the keys to the house at 3805 Locust Walk to a group of students, faculty and staff who had dreamed of creating a home for writers at Penn. Within weeks, the Writers House, open to all, became the hub for Penn's rich and varied writing community. But maintenance of the building had long been deferred. Help came in the form of a generous donation by alumnus Paul Kelly, who in 1996 gave the house the funds it would need to be completely rehabilitated and enhanced.

Renovations were set in motion by the hub. A Planning Committee was formed to oversee the renovations of the house. With Steinberg and Stevens, Registered Architects, Schaefer and Co. Construction, the Department of English, the Office of Residential Life... they met every Tuesday at 3 pm since renovation began in May.

The completed renovation won the General Building Contractors Association Award in 1999.

Goals of renovation

Taking into consideration the historical value and character of the house, the Planning Committee has drawn out a series of renovations which would accomodate the program we envision. Room by room, we have planned for our various activities, in detail.


In order to provide publishing capabilities, via printing and World Wide Web, the house will have to be re-wired. In conjunction with similar re-wiring of the neighboring fraternities, the house will be provided with Ethernet connections as well.


A few of the rooms on the second floor may have to be reinforced to be able to support larger numbers of people using them. Additionally, we have discussed the possibility of removing a non-supporting wall between the two living rooms on the second floor in order to provide a large enough common room to hold readings to which, on an average, 50-75 people have been attending.


A number of issues motivate proposed renovations. These include the need to limit accessibility (alarming, etc.) in order to protect equiptment, books, etc. and the need to provide fire escapes and possibly sprinkler systems. We will also need to provide some handi-capped accessible areas and restrooms. Finally, the house must meet resident regulations so that a resident coordinator may reside there.


Due to a lack of maintainance over the past several years, the house is in need of some superficial repair- work.

Room by room

Foyer (101)

Entryway with main stair to the second floor. A place to set the tone for new people coming to the house (many pictures, posters). A volunteer or work-study student at the entrance for information/informal security.

Arts Cafe (102)

Wood floor, small tables, many chairs. Possibly a stage for readings and musicians. A good sound system which will accomodate both. A place where spontaneous, more social interaction can flow. Large readings and big audience/more public events take place here.

Reading Room (103, 104)

Carpetted area, big chairs, reading lights (though the rest is fairly dim), quieter.

Dining Room (105)

This room with a 'permanent' table and chairs will be able to double as a meeting room. Coffee will be served in the evenings.

Breakfast Area (106)

Small table with 4 or 6 chairs.

Storage (109)

An unrenovated place with a floor strong enough to support a printing press, which could be used to print broadsides and chapbooks. Also a place for gardening tools.

Lecture Room (202)

A place for more intimate readings. Part of the central pool for creative writing classes.

Publishing Area (203)

Office (204)

A place to hold smaller group meetings.

Library/Cyber Spot

Our computer terminals and our more valuable books are kept here, on the second floor, still easily available for public access but a bit removed from the free-for-all downstairs.

Seminar Room (209)

Equipt to be used for larger group meetings. This room will be open for writers who would like to retreat to a quieter place to do serious studying/concentration/one-on-one work when it is not reserved for use by a particular group.

Lounge (302)

Smaller office-space for exclusive use of the board/coordinator/resident writer to use when it's buzzing downstairs.

Coordinator's Residence (303-305)

A space securable from the rest of the house for the coordinator reteat to.


Kitchen (107) - Renovate later.

Laundry (108) - Ditto.

Women's Room (201) - Close/seal doorway to lecture room. Renovate after the first year of the house.

Storage (205) - Not heated, so it stays as a storage room. A place for filing cabinets or furniture.

Men's Room (207) - Renovate after the first year of the house.

Passage (208) - Filing for now, expansion room for men's room later.

Issues/concerns from Matt Bixler

Life Safety Issues - I did not notice any life safety system in this building (sprinklers/smoke or heat detectors.) The coordinator's private space (rooms 303-305) has two means of egress (escape), so facilities should allow a residence at that location, but I won't guarentee it. I don't know if the building will have to brought up to Philadelphia Building Code. Facilities will have to determine that.

Handicapped Access - The first floor can be made handicapped accessable. I do not forsee a way to make the second floor accessable without installing an elevator ($$$) or a wheel chair lift like is in Gimbel Gym. There is a triple step on the second floor not shown on the floor plan.

Overall, we could have some problems with the building. Physical Plant desires to do some inspection work to determine the condition of the building. It has already been determined that the electric service is below the needs of the house. There is currently 60 amp service, and Physical Plant feels that it should be increased to 200 amps. This is very reasonable considering that this house will need 'clean' electric. The building will probably need re-wired for electric circuit (no grounded outlets). There are concerns of termite and water damage.