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Penn History

“Carriage House” at the Rear of 3905 Spruce Street Part VI: The Carriage House Takes a Life of Its Own, 1959-1960

by Mark Frazier Lloyd, August 2000

A thorough search of the first fifteen years of the International House News (1944-1959) found no reference to the use of the Carriage House until February 1959. Then the News carried its first article on the decision of the Women’s Auxiliary to renovate and convert the Carriage House into a thrift shop, the proceeds of which would be turned over to the House treasury. Several issues of the News in 1959, 1960, and 1961 contained stories on the Carriage House.

The first was the February 1959 issue, which contained the following article:

Added Convenience and Service to Foreign Students and Community

A wealth of ideas and hard work has resulted from a recent coalition of friends of International House, and from this association has emerged the International House Thrift Shop. The Thrift Shop, to be known as “The Barn” because of its location in the old carriage house behind the main International House building, will be open for business on March 16 in its newly renovated quarters.

Service to Students is Prime Objective

Realizing that the exchange of currency does not work in favor of the foreign student, the Committee decided to undertake this important project as an extension of International House aid to the well-being of foreign students and their accompanying families here in Philadelphia. Knowing, also, that the students are not equipped for living in this country, frequently coming from a routinely warm or cold climate into our often changing one and that the expense involved in the initial equippings is prohibitive on their small allotments, it was felt that basic items of clothing, housewares, and other necessities, often impossible to bring into this country, should be featured. This would include clothing for children and newly-arrived babies, bedding, dishes, warm clothing for adults, rainwear, to mention only a few essential daily items. All articles will be clean and in saleable condition, as well as reasonably priced.

A month later, in the March 1959 issue, the following story appeared:


As usual, International House was buzzing with activity several weeks ago when the Barn officially opened for business. On March 16 more than 100 interested sponsors were on hand to cut the ribbon and join in the luncheon festivities. Hundreds of glamorous hats decorated the shop as well as clothing, toys, china, housewares, and foreign arts and crafts. Flower boxes and red shutters adorned the entrance and white Easter bunnies hopped about in their cages, all adding a gay, attractive atmosphere to the sparkling, polished floor and newly-decorated showcases. The Barn is now equipped for comfortable, carefree shopping and includes a new phone with a direct line to the shop, and all inquiries should be directed to BA 2-9856.

Although the shop is open daily between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., consignment articles will be accepted only between 10 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Saleable items are being accepted on a contribution basis as well as on consignment.

Volunteers are still needed to help sort and price merchandise and to handle shopping traffic during business hours. Please call The Barn if you are interested in assisting with this work.

Some humorous highlights livened up the hard work of painting, sorting and pricing which the Committee was doing prior to the opening. The first of these netted laughs for all. The contractor, hard at work installing an upright beam in the center of the garage door to construct the entrance, did not notice that his truck was parked inside the barn. At the end of the day, he and the crew closed up and prepared to go home, but that was not too easy! They discovered their truck was ‘captured’ in the thrift shop. He has not heard the end of that incident either, as the staff was cheering from the I. House windows while scratched his head in amazement and dismay. Thereafter, the truck was parked in the lot.

Mrs. George Fisher, Radnor, provided some laughs for tired, paint-splattered volunteer workers. Doing an expert job of painting, she crawled inside one of the showcases and closed the sliding door. The quick-drying paint became sticky while she was inside, and when she tried to get out the door was shut fast. The volunteers returning from a coffee break found her trapped inside the showcase.

Best wishes from All I.H. Members on the continued success of THE BARN!

In the April issue, “The Barn” was featured on the back cover of the News, with an article and two small, black and white photographs. One of the pictures shows four women standing outside the Carriage House, striking modeling poses for the camera. It is captioned “International beauties model thrift shop hats; additional items for home, children featured.” The other is the smaller of the two, dark, poorly reproduced, and less than three inches square, but it shows the south façade of the Carriage House as it appeared at that time. This picture was captioned “‘The Barn’ – headquarters for nearly-new furniture, clothing.” The text of the article was as follows:


Bring it to “The Barn,” International House’s Thrift Shop and let them sell it for you

Convert no-longer-needed baby and kitchen equipment, clothing, and furniture, other items, into money for your trip home or for equipment and supplies if you plan to remain in the U.S. Bring them to The Barn at the rear of International House, 3905 Spruce Street, Monday to Friday, between 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. We are anxious to help you sell these items and to make them available to new students arriving this summer and fall, who may then purchase them for much less than at the regular department stores. Let us help you stretch your dollars. Buy and sell at the International House Barn.

The October 1959 issue, of course, featured the relocation to larger quarters at 15th and Cherry Streets. There was, however, a three-inch column on the Carriage House, as follows:


After a brief summer vacation, the volunteers from the Women’s Committee are again busily at work at “The Barn,” the International House Thrift Shop, which is located behind the old I.H. location at 3905 Spruce Street. Although International House is no longer located at that address, the “thrift shop” will remain there until further notice. We are pleased to hear that besides the usual week-day hours of 10:00 to 4:00 the shop will be open on Friday evenings from 7:00 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. and also on Saturday from noon until 4:00 p.m. to give students a more convenient opportunity to shop. Profits received from the new and used items sold in the ship will be used by I.H. in its over-all program to aid foreign students. If you have items to donate or would like to consign, please call the shop. The number is BAring 2-9856.

It appears that the Carriage House suffered from inadequate heat during the winter months, as the February 1960 issue of the News (19: 5) had this to say:


The Barn-Thrift Shop of International House is now operating in the old I.H. building at 3905 Spruce Street. Mrs. Joseph Vander Veer, Chairman, announced at the January meeting of the Thrift Shop Committee that 3905 Spruce Street will probably be occupied until permanent disposition is made of it. In the meantime, the Barn staff are pleased to have more attractive and spacious quarters – not to mention a better heating system.

December sales were highest for any month since the Barn opened last Spring, and already several hundred dollars have been returned to the community through consignment sales, and $1,250.00 contributed to the support of International House since September.

Finally, in the March 1960 issue, the News announced that the International House had sold its Spruce Street property to the University:


The University of Pennsylvania agreed to purchase the property of 3905 Spruce Street, ormerly the home of International House, with settlement scheduled within 60 days thereafter. The niversity has not announced its plans for immediate use of the property but ultimately it plans to erect an undergraduate dormitory in the area bounded by 39th and 40th Streets from Spruce to Walnut. It is expected that the Thrift Shop currently using this property will continue its operation in the Barn immediately adjacent to the main building after settlement date.

The money realized from sale of this property will be placed in the endowment fund as a reserve.

In March 1961 the News announced that “The Barn” had found a new home at 4311 Locust Street and two months later it reported that the “Thrift Shop” had moved into its new building in mid-April. This, of course, was the last mention of the Carriage House in the publications of International House.


Printed Sources (Available at the University Archives)

  • International House News (UPM 9165), 1944-1961.