University City, Philadelphia — The city tourist needs the right nighttime location to sooth the hustle and bustle of the urban environment.
Visiting the ‘City of Brotherly Love’ meant finding the perfect place to spend non-tourist hours, and on a recent trip, leading to the hip, smart University City and The Hilton Inn At Penn.
After a day of traipsing through the city with traffic, people and the hot concrete letting off the summer sun, retiring to University City was a tremendous respite.
Calling The Inn at Penn home for three nights, we found a property that is fresh, modern, friendly – actually incredibly friendly.
“We take pride in being in Philadelphia and we hire our staff for the surrounding neighborhoods,” said Greg Stafford, General Manager. “Our employees take pride in their work, and in the neighborhood.”
“They bring who they are to work every day and celebrating our tenth anniversary in 2009 I noted that we had many employees who had been with us since day one, and many more that have been with us for quite a long time.
For a hotel, that lack of turnover is important to the guest experience. The people we met, from concierge Bessie Greene, winner of the 2010 Spirit of Hospitality Award given by the Pennsylvania Tourism and Lodging Association, to the ‘young’ man who originally hails from Jamaica but that has lived in Philadelphia for over twenty years and who delivered room service, and everyone in between, the down home friendliness of this staff made us feel that we were truly ‘at home’ if even for just a few nights.
The hotel is located west of the Schuykill Expressway making it an easy cab ride to the Museum Parkway where visitors will find the Philadelphia Museum of Art and The Franklin Institute located less than two miles away. If the goal is the downtown Center City historic district, your journey of less than three miles can be completed by cab, public transportation or your personal car as there are garages and on-street parking aplenty.
However, if you plan to park on street, take lots of quarters and watch your time. Residents and those in the know warned me that the city would ticket and tow my car, even with out of state plates, within moments of the timer running out. As I saw this happen before me on more than one occasion, I believed them.
You have been warned.
During our late August visit, day time temperatures were warm, but not uncomfortably so and in the evening being located in University City, we encountered friendly officers, wearing bright yellow shirts and on bikes, who were there keeping us feeling safe while offering friendly greetings and directions when asked.
The location was more than we could ask for.
Walking through The Inn at Penn one cannot help but notice the museum quality collection of bronzes by Dr. R. Tait McKenzie (1867-1938), from the Lloyd P. Jones Collection, and The Harry Fields Collection of the sculptures of Joe Brown (1909-1985).
The collection largely reflects athletes in motion — running, jumping, hurling, leaping, piling, and moving. The Inn at Penn collection has 135 pieces of sculpture and only 23 do not have athletes as their theme.
These artists captured the human form in classic Greco-Roman poses as well as athletic costumes of the time. Much of McKenzie’s displayed work are bronze reliefs of which “Brothers of the Wind” showing eight speed skaters, I like to think on the Schuykill River, strongly gliding along the ice with incredible muscular definition apparent in the work, is amongst my favorites. The piece is very stylized in the Art Nouveau fashion of the 1920s.
Brown’s work captures images of those who, like himself, had a lineage to Philadelphia. Particularly interesting was Brown’s 1942 Jesse Owens sculpture and ‘The Pieta’ (1944) which shows boxer Gus Dorazio, a heavyweight boxer, after being defeated by Joe Louis in 1941. The pieces shows the “brutally beaten fighter slumped in the referee’s arms.”
A piece of great artistry and grace is Brown’s ‘Ballerina’ (1965).
From McKenzie, ‘The Pole Vaulter ‘(1923) stands out as it captures Nelson B. Sherrill from the University of Pennsylvania as he vaulted over a bar 13’ feet in height in May, 1923. Of that feat, McKeznie is quoted as saying “The world may yet produce an athlete who go higher by another foot.”
Ask Miss Bessie at the Concierge’s Desk for a copy of the collection book.
The hotel is undergoing a working renovation, upgrading rooms to reflect the “Prairie School” vibe found in common areas. Room palettes include black ebony furniture accented by gold and burgundy plum accents. The showers are works of art with white counter tops and a large drain-less shower with large rain head fixture all of which speaks of extreme cleanliness.
The Inn at Penn is stepping forward to being a green leader in the hospitality industry. Linens are made of extremely comfortable to the feel, sustainable and recyclable bamboo. Rooms are lit with energy efficient bulbs and each room features a dual wastebasket – one side for trash, the other recyclables.
Taking things one step further, front desk, and Miss Bessie’s, uniforms are made from recycled plastic which, I was told, washes and presses easily, retaining its shape and color – though as one would imagine, the fabric can be warm in the hotter summer months.
With its sweet University City location, The Inn at Penn is surrounded by dining options – from take out to a great beer and pizza found at Pizza Rustica just around the corner from the property. Pizza is thin crust, generously topped with cheeses and meat preferences with a slightly sweet, robust sauce. Great beer specials are fitting in this college environment and make for a great evening sitting on the restaurant’s outdoor patio.