Penn State History Lesson: The Pavilion Theatre

Most Penn Staters know about the university’s origins as a college of agricultural science. However, since campus seems to be constantly under construction, the notion that Penn State’s history as an agriculture and farming hub is still prevalent in some buildings on campus may come as a surprise. One of such buildings is the Pavilion Theatre.

When the Commonwealth chartered the university in 1855, the main goal was for the school to apply scientific principles to farming. Although the Morrill Land-Grant Act in 1862 theoretically expanded the curriculum, it wasn’t until the late 1880s under President Atherton that the college truly carried out the mandate.

Over the years, the structures that once housed cows and swine were either moved or repurposed. According to a Daily Collegian article from 1996, what is now known as the Pavilion Theatre was once known as the Stock Pavilion.

Construction of the Stock Pavilion began in 1913 and reached completion in 1914. At the time, the School of Agriculture used it as an arena for judging cattle. The Stock Judging Pavilion held agriculture expositions, sales, shows, and competitions such as the Little International Dairy Exposition. Various classes also took place in the Stock Judging Pavilion, such as lessons in animal husbandry.

The Stock Judging Pavilion, circa 1940s (Photo: Penn State University Archives)
The Stock Judging Pavilion, circa 1940s (Photo: Penn State University Archives)

Eventually, the Stock Judging Pavilion also served as a practice gym for student athletes. It was used as a practice area for baseball and track and field athletes.

In 1962, the Stock Judging Pavilion workers finally refurbished the building into the Pavilion Theatre that Penn Staters know today. Renovations to the interior were extensive, but the outside of the pavilion generally remains the same. Though the building still sits at the corner of Curtin and Shortlidge, the areas immediately surrounding it are almost unrecognizable.
Penn State Centre Stage performing “Titanic” in 2015 (Photo: Patrick Mansell)

The building underwent renovations again in 1988, and it wasn’t finished until 1993. Because of how successful the project was, the Pavilion Theatre won the Award for Excellence in Historical Preservation from the Centre County Historical Society in 1995.

The plaque that hangs in the Pavilion Theatre today.
The plaque that hangs in the Pavilion Theatre today

Students not directly involved in Theatre at Penn State may never enter the Pavilion Theatre; because of this, they may never see the unassuming plaque placed near the top of the stairs. For current students, the plaque serves as a reminder of our university’s roots and humble beginning.

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About the Author

Katie Klodowski

Katie is a senior from Pittsburgh, PA and a retired editor at Onward State. Currently, she works as a staff writer. True to her hometown, she is a fan of Steel City sports but also uses her ballet and music training to be a tough critic of all things artsy. The fastest ways to her heart are through pizza, sushi, and a solid taste in music (this means no Taylor Swift). To be constantly razzle-dazzled, follow her on all social media forms at @KatieKlodowski

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