Visiting Penn State in the 1940s

Pollock Road near Schwab Auditorium and Old Main in the 1940s.

What did the Penn State main campus look like in the 1940s, and how do those same locations look in 2021?

Burrowes Building at Penn State in the 1940s.
Burrowes Building at Penn State in the 1940s.

Recently while going through an album of old family photos from Penn State in the 1940s, I decided it would be interesting to try to recreate some of those same scenes in 2021.

Burrowes Building at Penn State in 2021.
Burrowes Building at Penn State in 2021.

Source of the Old Penn State Photos

My wife’s late grandfather Darl took the black and white photos you’ll see here, while a student at Penn State between 1942 and 1948 (he served in the U.S. Navy from 1944-1946).

Darl Kordes at the Lion Shrine 1942.
Darl Kordes at the Lion Shrine 1942.

I took the current photos over Christmas Break in 2021, using Darl’s great-granddaughter (my daughter) as a model in some of the photos (full disclosure: both my wife and I are also Penn State alumni).

Darl Kordes' great-granddaughter in 2021.
Darl’s great-granddaughter in 2021.

Some of the scenes from the 1940s look remarkably similar to today.

Old Main at Penn State in the 1940s.
Old Main at Penn State in the 1940s.

Old Main, for example, would be instantly recognizable to a time-traveler from the 1940s.

Old Main at Penn State in 2021.
Old Main at Penn State in 2021.

Whereas other structures are simply lost to history, like these beautiful barns.

Ag barns at Penn State in the 1940s.
Ag barns at Penn State in the 1940s.

Whether you’ve attended Penn State, are attending Penn State now, or simply enjoy watching history evolve, I hope you find these then-and-now photos of Penn State as much fun to look at as they were to try and recreate!


Penn State Scenes That Have Changed Very Little

Schwab Auditorium in the 1940s.

Schwab Auditorium at Penn State in the 1940s.
Schwab Auditorium at Penn State in the 1940s.

Schwab Auditorium looking much the same in 2021.

Schwab Auditorium at Penn State in 2021.
Schwab Auditorium at Penn State in 2021.

The Mineral Sciences Building in the 1940s (check out those cars!).

Mineral Science Building at Penn State in the 1940s.
Mineral Science Building at Penn State in the 1940s.

And the same scene in 2021.

Mineral Sciences Building at Penn State in 2021.
Steidle Building at Penn State in 2021.

Pattee Library in the 1940s.

Pattee Library at Penn State in the 1940s.
Pattee Library at Penn State in the 1940s.

Pattee Library in 2021.

Pattee Library at Penn State in 2021.
Pattee Library at Penn State in 2021.

The Nittany Lion Inn in the 1940s.

The Nittany Lion Inn at Penn State in the 1940s.
The Nittany Lion Inn at Penn State in the 1940s.

And the same scene in December 2021.

The Nittany Lion Inn at Penn State in 2021.
The Nittany Lion Inn at Penn State in 2021.

McAllister Building in the 1940s.

McAllister Building at Penn State in the 1940s.
McAllister Building at Penn State in the 1940s.

McAllister Building in 2021.

McAllister Building at Penn State in 2021.
McAllister Building at Penn State in 2021.

West Halls in the 1940s.

West Halls at Penn State in the 1940s.
West Halls at Penn State in the 1940s.

And the same scene in 2021.

West Halls at Penn State in 2021.
West Halls at Penn State in 2021.

Rec Hall in the 1940s.

Rec Hall at Penn State in the 1940s.
Rec Hall at Penn State in the 1940s.

And the same scene in 2021.

Rec Hall at Penn State in 2021.
Rec Hall at Penn State in 2021.

Scenes That No Longer Exist at Penn State

The Armory once stood where Willard Building stands today.

The Armory at Penn State in the 1940s, where Willard Building now stands.
The Armory at Penn State in the 1940s, where Willard Building now stands.

Now a weathered historical marker is the only trace of this once-magnificent building.

Historical marker next to Willard Building at Penn State, where the Armory used to stand.
Historical marker next to Willard Building at Penn State, where the Armory used to stand.

If you look closely at the photo below, you can make out Schwab Auditorium to the left, and the tip of Old Main protruding behind the Armory.

The Armory at Penn State, with Schwab Auditorium visible to the left and the top of Old Main visible in the background.
The Armory at Penn State, with Schwab Auditorium visible to the left and the top of Old Main visible in the background.

New Beaver Field was the home of Penn State football from 1909-1959.

New Beaver Field at Penn State was next to the water tower and the Lion Shrine.
New Beaver Field at Penn State was next to the water tower and the Lion Shrine.

In 2021, the Nittany Parking Deck and Kern Building occupy most of the land where New Beaver Field once stood.

The Nittany Parking Deck where New Beaver Field was located until 1960.
The Nittany Parking Deck where New Beaver Field was located until 1960.

An interesting side note about these photos Darl took at the football game – this was the Homecoming game versus Colgate in his freshman year of 1942.

Penn State - Colgate football game at New Beaver Field in 1942.
Penn State – Colgate football game at New Beaver Field in 1942.

Penn State carried the day, winning 13-10.

Final score of the Penn State - Colgate football game at New Beaver Field on October 24, 1942.
Final score of the Penn State – Colgate football game at New Beaver Field on October 24, 1942.

The Blue Band provided halftime entertainment, similar to today.

Blue Band playing at the Penn State - Colgate football game in 1942.
Blue Band playing at the Penn State – Colgate football game in 1942.

And the Nittany Lion mascot was prowling the field.

The Nittany Lion mascot on the football field in 1942.
The Nittany Lion mascot on the football field in 1942.

The historical significance of this particular game is that the Lion Shrine was dedicated this homecoming weekend, having been carved from a 13-ton block of limestone over the summer months.

The Lion Shrine at Penn State in 1942.
The Lion Shrine at Penn State in 1942, next to New Beaver Field.

Since then, the Lion Shrine has gone on to become the second-most photographed spot in Pennsylvania (the Liberty Bell comes in at number one).

The Lion Shrine at Penn State on Christmas Eve 2021.
The Lion Shrine at Penn State on Christmas Eve 2021.

Windcrest Village was a complex of military-surplus trailers set up to house the huge influx of soldiers re-enrolling at Penn State following WWII.

Trailer homes at Penn State in 1947, where South Halls and Eastview Terrace is now located.
Trailer homes at Penn State in 1947, where South Halls is now located.

Located where South Halls stand today, Penn State rented these trailers to married student veterans and their families for $25 a month.

Darl and his young family at Windcrest Village at Penn State in 1947.
Darl and his young family at Windcrest Village at Penn State in 1948.

Darl lived in one of these trailers for 2 years while earning dual degrees in mechanical and industrial engineering.

Darl Kordes in front of his trailer home at Penn State in 1947.
Darl in front of his Windcrest Village trailer home at Penn State in 1947.

Final Thoughts

Some scenes at Penn State have changed considerably over the past 80 years.

Rear of Sparks Building at Penn State in the 1940s.
Rear of Sparks Building at Penn State in the 1940s.

Others have remained steadfastly similar.

Old Main at Penn State sometime in the 1940s.
Old Main at Penn State sometime in the 1940s.

As both a lover of history and a fellow Penn State alumnus, I owe a debt of gratitude to Darl for passing along his memories and these photos, allowing all of us to trace the evolution of Penn State from the 1940s to today.

Darl Kordes and friends at the Lion Shrine on October 24, 1942.
Darl (left) and friends at the Lion Shrine on October 24, 1942.

The Penn State All-Sports Museum at Beaver Stadium honors the history, heritage, and accomplishments of Penn State athletes and Penn State Intercollegiate Athletics.

The Penn State All-SPorts Museum is located on the ground floor of Beaver Stadium.
The Penn State All-Sports Museum at Beaver Stadium.

Centre Furnace Mansion is significant for both its industrial heritage and as the birthplace of Penn State.

Front of Centre Furnace Mansion in State College PA.
Front of Centre Furnace Mansion.

Hiking Mount Nittany Near State College is one of those “bucket list” items that every past and present Penn Stater aspires to do at least once in their life!

Beaver Stadium as viewed from the MIke Lynch Overlook.
Beaver Stadium as viewed from the Mike Lynch Overlook on Mount Nittany.

The Arboretum at Penn State is a fantastic collection of botanic gardens, fountains, ponds, walking trails, and pollinator habitats all located on the north end of the Penn State University Park campus.

Crossing the bridge from Penn State campus towards the Arboretum.
Crossing the bridge from Penn State campus towards the Arboretum.

Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center is a Penn State owned and operated wildlife center and aviary, located just 12 miles outside of State College in rural Huntingdon County.

A bald eagle at Shaver's Creek in Huntingdon County.
A bald eagle at Shaver’s Creek in Huntingdon County.

The Pennsylvania Military Museum in Centre County honors the service of Pennsylvanians in all branches of the military, from colonial times to the present day.

The Pennsylvania Military Museum in Boalsburg, PA.
The Pennsylvania Military Museum in Boalsburg.

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Rusty Glessner is a professional photographer, lifelong Pennsylvanian, and creator of the PA Bucket List travel blog.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Tremendous article and the pictures are fantastic. I’m from nearby Clearfield County and spent a lot of time on the PSU campus. My family has a lot of history at Penn State and it’s great to see the pictures showing the comparison between the way the campus looked then and now.

    • Thanks for the kind words – it was a fun project trying to recreate the old photos, and I’m glad people are enjoying them!

  2. We’ve circulated your article amongst our campus planning and design team here at Penn State and have enjoyed all the photos. We’re used to seeing those in the University’s archives so it’s a real treat to see others from different perspectives. Thanks for sharing!

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