Jonathan Tannenwald’s decade-long romance with UPENN’s Palestra

Jonathan Tannenwald
Favorite Spot: The Palestra
Neighborhood: University City
Address: 215 S. 33rd Street

I Am: Writer, producer and editor for Sports
Years in Philly: 10, including four years at Penn. Originally from Washington DC
Current Home: University City


My Love Note:

Dear Palestra,

I know I don’t really need to write a love note to you, because we’ve known each other for quite a while. But I’m doing it anyway, because I’m coming to pay you a visit again soon and I just wanted to say a few things.

I fell for you a decade ago, on the first day I ever made that turn off 33rd Street to walk towards your stately arches. I have boxes worth of tickets, press credentials, rally towels and posters I’ve acquired from when I’ve visited you over the years.

I know you’ve been in relationships with a lot of people. Thousands in one night, sometimes. I get that. I’m even cool with it.

Maybe I’m not any different from anyone else who’s ever told you that they love you. But I hope we’re close enough now that you’ll read this letter, instead of throwing it in the closet with Dan Harrell’s mop and John McAdams’ microphone.

After all, I have slept on you a few times… wait, that sounds kind of awkward. I’ve slept on your floor. That’s better.*

So what things do I love about you? Well, let’s start with your curves… I mean… your ceiling. I love the great sweep of your big steel arches, especially during the day. Some people look better at night, but I think you’re at your prettiest when the sun comes streaming through those big windows in the ceiling. And those banners are so pretty. I miss the now-hidden Big 5 and Ivy League school banners, though. I hope you bring them back, even though I know it must be tough to wear things to big occasions that you’ve had for a long time.

I love your collection of old photos and artifacts on the concourse. To know that I’m walking where so many college basketball legends have walked before is a true honor.

I love the fact that you look good from so many angles. You can be anywhere in the Palestra, from courtside to the back rows of the corners, and there’s not one bad seat. The Wells Fargo Center may have all the glitz and fancy makeup, but I can tell when someone’s being superficial.

You aren’t pretentious, though. You’re real. I know that isn’t easy, given who lives in your neighborhood, but you’ve resisted having a big ego for 85 years now. You aren’t built of fancy materials, for the most part. You’re brick, steel, a bit of glass and a lot of honesty. That’s how it should be.

(But I love that fancy new accessory you got from Shoemaker Green. The grass and trees are so much prettier than the old tennis courts.)

Yeah, I know you have a modern video board now. But people don’t come to you to be distracted by bells and whistles. They come to watch basketball. There’s no overly hyper public announcer, no flashing lights or canned music during play. Just the stands, the court and two basketball teams. I don’t need anything more than that for my relationship with you to be fulfilling.

That doesn’t mean you aren’t passionate, though. I know how you really feel. The action inside you generates noise and color and atmosphere and intensity that has no equal anywhere in Philadelphia, and maybe beyond. Especially for a Big 5 game, when your allegiance is split right down the middle between two teams vying for your affection.

And when that happens… yeah, I’ll say it. You’re hot. Literally. When it’s 20 degrees outside, I wear short sleeves inside. That makes the experience even better.

Now I have to admit something to you. I write about a lot of things, and some of them even help me make a living. But I’m really bad at writing about romance.

I made the effort for you, though. You mean that much to me, and I know you mean that much to a lot of people in Philly and beyond.

So I’ll close with this:

May you always be hot when it’s cold out, may you always be loud when it’s quiet out, and may you always be college basketball’s most historic gym.

Jonathan Tannenwald

(* – It’s true, though. I spent overnights in the Palestra a few times to get Penn basketball season tickets as a student.)







Posted on by Emma Fried-Cassorla in University City 11 Comments

11 Responses to Jonathan Tannenwald’s decade-long romance with UPENN’s Palestra

  1. Kell Yang College 72

    Your style of prose is truly sui generis, as this piece transported me back to winter Ivy weekends when our beloved Quakers battled the Evil Empire.

  2. Ron Pross

    Very nice article. As a student at Penn from 70-74 I rarely missed a home game. These were the years of Coachs Harder and Daly and players Bilsky, Wohl, Calhoun, Morse, Lillipage and others. It was a time most of the Big 5 games were played in the Palestra. Nothing was more exciting than those Big 5 double headers.

  3. Dr. J

    Jonathan, you captured my feelings about the place, (which we have talked about for many years) so perfectly. NIcely done!

  4. Dr. C

    no long waits for tickets anymore. Crowds no longer pack the Palestra for the Penn games as they did in the later 60s, but it’s still a wonderful place, full of history and perhaps the best I’ve ever seen for watching basketball. Thanks for a nice piece.

  5. Murray McComas

    This soliloquy ranks right up there with Dan
    Harrel’s beautiful tribute to the object of our affections. Quakersig

  6. T J Motley

    In typical Quaker fashion, gave the City schools a free ride to fame and fortune on the backs of the Red and Blue!

  7. Walt Lawson

    Really enjoyed your love note to the Palestra. During my years at Penn(1957-1961)it was my favorite place. Had the great honor to be part of the basketball program as a Student Manager while Jack McCloskey was the coach and Dick Harter the Freshman coach. At that time all the big 5 teams played their games in the Palestra and there were about 3 doubleheaders per week. Coaches were Dudey Moore – LaSalle, Al Severance – Villanova, Harry Litwack – Temple, and Jack Ramsey – St. Joseph and they were all characters. Wonderful memories of an earlier time.
    Ramsey – Ramsey – St. Joseph.

  8. Peter Wolf

    Nicely done, Jonathan. There’s no place like the Palestra for hoop.If you haven’t seen Mikaelyn Austin’s wonderful movie, “The Palestra: Cathedral of Basketball,” I highly recommend it. Here’s a trailer. It’s on Netflix. It’ll make your roof leak….

  9. Ed McMerty

    Thanks for the memories, Jonathan!!

    My first game at bthe Palestra (just looked it up) was when I was at West Catholic high school in 1952, LaSalle vs. Penn and 2 local heroes up against each other: Ernie Beck (Penn) and Tom Gola (LaSalle.

    Now in my 7th decade at the “cathedral” just back from a Catholic League championship doubleheader!!!

    Simply the BEST place for hs/college basketball…after all these years!!!

  10. Jonathan Tannenwald

    Thanks to all of you for the kind words.

    Peter, I have seen the movie, and as you point out it’s very good. I actually know Mikaelyn quite well. I covered her as a player when she helped Penn win the Ivy League women’s basketball title in 2004, and we’ve stayed in touch since.

    I never saw the Palestra in its true heyday, but it’s still a wonderful place to spend a winter night – and there are still big moments in the building, as was the case last night for the Catholic League finals.

  11. FOJL

    Tannenwald exceeded expectations here with this love letter. Now if he could only do the same for ………..



Reply to Peter Wolf