The Glennland, State College’s first ‘high-rise’ apartment building, will live on as a hotel
This year and next, when the current renters’ leases expire, the five-story Glennland Building on East Beaver Avenue at South Pugh Street will be turned into an upscale “boutique” hotel. It will have a restaurant, a coffee shop, and conference facilities. Its façade is not expected to change nor will, of course, its historic place as State College’s first apartment building and, appropriate then, its first “high-rise.”
For the first time in its 85-year downtown history-making life, the Glennland Building will also go from local to out-of-town ownership.
It’s a tough changeover for the Campbell family, owners a few years after the Glennland opened in 1933.
“The family is sad to make this decision,” says Richard L. Campbell, son of an original purchaser and a State College attorney for many years.
The family had rejected the first sales request, but reversed that decision after both studying needed repairs (the retaining walls and exterior deterioration, elevator service, air conditioning) beyond the $1 million recently spent on electrical and heating systems, and since learning the limitations on physical changes to a National Register of Historic Places structure in the Borough of State College,
“An effort has always been made to make the building a credit to the community,” Campbell says. “The property has been landscaped several times, the last time in 2009,” adds his sister, Nancy Campbell Slagle, the long-time building manager. “The last thing I want to see is the building torn down.”
For 40 years, the Glennland was the tallest building in State College. It brought to town the first public elevator. It was heralded loudest for its impressive underwater-lighted, 40-foot-by-90-foot swimming pool, whose colorful mosaic tiles went on to brighten office spaces there since 1968, after the pool was closed.
Builder and businessman O. W. Houts – partner in the Glennland venture with physician and building namesake Grover Glenn – liked to recall that, during construction, humorist Will Rogers and aviator Wiley Post “were in the area, and came downtown to see the swimming pool we were building.”
Another flier – Sherm Lutz, local aviation pioneer – would live in one of the 40 apartments.
R. Paul Campbell and Henry Elder bought the Glennland, which the latter sold to his partner in 1950. Elder opened his insurance agency in the trim little house next door. A sort of Glennland relative, it contains two extra rental apartments.
Judge R. Paul Campbell, who served Centre County from 1957 to 1977, passed Glennland ownership down to his children and now grandchildren.
While family members would also be renters, one early couple was probably part of a different family: Mac Allen Campbell (and his wife, Marvel), employed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Other renters were Ruth E. Graham, Penn State economics professor; and State College High School English teacher Elizabeth Morrow (I had her in ninth grade). Poet Theodore Roethke was a later tenant.
Early offices had physician Clara B. Owens, Garey Beauty Salon, Hartman & Sellers Electric Appliances, Justice of the Peace William P. Bell; then Glennland Dairy Lunch, Wolf’s Floral Shop, Campus Saddle School (a riding academy, at the back), Physician James M. Campbell Jr. (R. Paul’s brother) came later, and long-term storefronts were occupied by The Music Room and WMAJ radio. Over the years, other tenants have included Dill & Stanton accountants, orthodontist Robert P. Campbell (brother of Dick Campbell and Nancy Slagle), and Justice of the Peace Clifford C. Yorks.
A few years ago, I knew retired people living there. Now, residents are generally Penn State graduate students and some young professionals. In selling, the family feels the most for commercial renters. It’s been “very hard,” says Dick Campbell, “because of the effect it has had on the existing businesses, many of which have occupied offices there for as long as 30 years.”
Thirty-some years was as long as the Glennland Swimming Pool (as it was listed in directories) was here. It was well known by locals, families who’ve been here for some time, and older Penn State graduates. Before Penn State had its own facilities, this was where students swam – men only, at first. Besides the site of swimming meets, students had to pass swimming tests to graduate. The only pool around, families sent their kids there for lessons. There were also “family nights” with open swimming.
The new unnamed Midwest owners who, Campbell says, “have converted numerous other historic buildings into successful hotels throughout the country” will inherit a piece of the pool’s art: “the tile fish mosaics remaining from the old pool.”
Negatives aside, he envisions an important positive for State College. “It should be a wonderful addition to the downtown.”
Nadine Kofman is a native Centre Countian and historian.