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ARCHIVAL COLLECTIONS

Office of the Treasurer
University Real Estate Title Papers, 1761 - 2006 (bulk 1870 - 2006)

UPH 500

23.5 Cubic ft.
Prepared by J.M. Duffin
October 2007

Access to collections is granted in accordance with the Protocols for the University Archives and Records Center.

PROVENANCE

Transferred from the Office of the Treasurer in 1955, 1971 (1971:23) 1973 (1973:61), 1977 (1977:43), 1982 (1983:12), 2006 (2006:92), 2007 (2007:33). Originally assigned, in part, classification numbers UPH 3.2 nos. 14-18 and UPH 4.1 nos. 27, 108, 179, 222-23.

 

ARRANGEMENT

Organized in two series: Inactive property files, 1761-2000; Active property files, 1812-2006. All the series are arranged numerically by the property file number assigned by the Office of the Treasurer. A geographical and address index to file numbers relating to properties on or close to the University's West Philadelphia campus can be found on-line at Mapping Penn.

1947 real estate appraisal for 2-story brick commercial building at 3657-59 Woodland Avenue

AGENCY HISTORY

The acquisition, sale and management of land have been an integral part of the University of Pennsylvania's history from the purchase of its first property in February 1750 on North Fourth Street, below Arch Street and the acquisition of its first real estate investment in 1761-Thomas Penn's gift of a portion of the Manor of Perkasie in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Being a part of the University's financial assets, the records of University property have been maintained by the Treasurer. Map of University of Pennsylvania in 1879, showing College HallThe number of properties the University owned and managed was relatively small in its early years because of the physical and financial limitations of a campus located in the heart of the going commercial center of a major American city. It was not until late nineteenth century after the University moved to its present campus in West Philadelphia in 1870 that Penn was seriously able to consider acquiring more land for expansion and investment. The financial needs that would support and sustain this growth created the need for active fundraising which not only resulted in gifts of cash, stocks and bonds but also of land, such as the Chestnut Street Opera House from Col. Joseph Bennet and farms in Manchester, Massachusetts from John H. Towne.

It was in the twentieth century that the University of Pennsylvania experienced its largest growth in the number of properties it acquired and managed. In the period between 1919 and 1932, the University purchased a total of 393 properties in 101 transactions just for real estate around its West Philadelphia campus. The demands of managing these properties required the Office of the Treasurer to establish a system for organizing the deeds and related paper work for University property in safety deposit boxes in a fireproof bank vault. After the existing records were inventoried and assigned envelope and deed box numbers, all new properties were given envelope numbers when the University acquired title. This system was in place during the period of greatest growth-the Gaylord P. Harnwell administration-when the University acquired around its campus over 320 properties in 209 transactions. The filing system is still in use by the Office of the Treasurer.

A detailed description of the acquisition of real estate on the University of Pennsylvania's West Philadelphia campus can be found on-line at Mapping Penn.

 

SCOPE AND CONTENT

The University Real Estate Title Papers document the acquisition, management, and sale of almost all real estate owned by the University of Pennsylvania from roughly 1870 to 2006. The files contain the muniments of title, i.e. the documents relating to ownership of land, of University property. These consist primarily of deeds, mortgages, bonds, title insurance policies, and agreements of sale. In addition one can also find appraisals, which often include photographs, plans and surveys, receipts, invoices, and correspondence regarding the acquisition, management and sale of the property in the Inactive Property File series.

The contents of the files generally date from the time when the property was acquired. In some cases, the files may contain the original deeds that predate the University's ownership. Before title insurance companies developed in the late nineteenth century it was common for the purchaser of land in Pennsylvania to receive all the prior original deeds to the property as a means to guarantee and prove his or her legal ownership. In the files for the Chestnut Street Opera, for example, can be found the original deed for the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art's first home on Chestnut Street. In addition to the original deeds, briefs of title were often prepared to document the entire history of ownership back to the original land grants from either the Pennsylvania Proprietors or the Commonwealth. There are several files in this collection that contain briefs of title in both manuscript and printed form.

Though the geographical scope of the collection is primarily focused around the current campus of the University of Pennsylvania, the collection contains files relating to other properties formerly owned by the University, such as the Medico Chirurgical College at 18th and Cherry Streets, the Philadelphia Polyclinic and College for Graduates in Medicine (later known as Graduate Hospital) in the 1800 block of Lombard Street, the Woolman farm in Valley Forge, the New Bolton Farm in Chester County, Pennsylvania and the Town Estate in Manchester, Massachusetts in addition to numerous other properties donated to and later sold by the University.

These files contain some documentation regarding buildings, primarily in the form of plot plans and assessments. One file, the College Boat House, contains floor plans for an addition to the building in the 1920s. There are also a few building specifications and some releases of liens signed by contractors and subcontractors. The latter are from the 1950s and 1960s and relate to new buildings and alterations to existing buildings. These supplement the main body of construction contracts and records which are found in other series of the Office of the Treasurer's records and the Facilities and Real Estate Services records at the University Archives.

Among the supporting documentation for several files are records regarding law suits against the University at the beginning of the twentieth century. The two most notable are that of the Mercantile Library Company vs. the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania in 1908 and the Trustees of the Philadelphia Museums vs. the City of Philadelphia and the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania in 1915. Both were heard before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The former related to the location of a disputed party wall and the latter to the sale of land by the City of Philadelphia to the University in 1910. The Philadelphia Museums case includes extensive printed testimony and depositions with maps and photographs regarding the Philadelphia Commercial Museum and the planned use and development of lands around it for the University.

Researchers should note that the Active Property Files series generally contain only the original deeds or a photocopy and any historical documentation regarding ownership prior to the University's acquisition. All the remaining documentation, such as correspondence and title insurance policies, is still maintained in the current file by the Office of the Treasurer.

Records relating to the University's properties prior to 1870, such as the Manor of Perkasie and ground rents established in the 1780s, can be found in the General Administration Records (UPA 3). The title papers for the Ninth Street Campus are no longer held by the University. When the property was sold the United States in 1870 for the new central post office site, the title papers were turned over to the new owner, federal government, as was the custom at the time. These records can, however, be found at the National Archives (Records of the Public Buildings Service, Records concerning land acquisitions and sales by the United States, Record Group 121.4.1). The title papers for the Fourth Street campus are dispersed through out the General Administration Records.

 

First page of Brief of Title for the original West Philadelphia campus of the University of Pennsylvania
Brief of Title for original West Philadelphia campus of the University of Pennsylvania
Click to view the entire document as a PDF