Wandering down the alleyways of Center City, Philadelphia, you might happen upon a peculiar building, not totally matching the more modern row houses and apartments that dominate the neighborhood. An inviting facade and “Alice in Wonderland”-like numbering spell out the address—310 South Quince Street—of the Mask and Wig Clubhouse, a building hiding hundreds of years of laughs, groans, and tall tales.
The Mask and Wig Clubhouse began its life in the early 19th century as the home of one of the first African-American Lutheran congregations in the United States. After stints as a stable, a carriage house, and a dissecting room for Jefferson Medical College, the property was purchased by the University of Pennsylvania’s Mask and Wig Club in 1894 and redesigned by noted architect Wilson Eyre to host the collegiate musical comedy troupe’s show rehearsals and social activities.
Caricatures of 131 years of club members cover the walls. The first few were painted by a young Maxfield Parrish in one of his earliest commissions, as were the figures over the stage proscenium (and the “Old King Cole” painting behind the bar, until it was sold and replaced by a reproduction in 1996). The club itself has been home to many a famous figure. Poet William Carlos Williams, songwriter Bobby Troup (writer of “Route 66”), and Chip Zien, the voice of Howard the Duck, have all graced its halls at one time or another. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
The club’s most serious business happens, of course, at its bar, which can be found in the Grille Room on the first floor, surrounded by those caricatures, beer steins, antler chandeliers, a fireplace covered with Mercer ceramic tile, custom-rebuilt 1920s-style wood tables and chairs, a baby grand piano, and plenty of artistically executed dark wood paneling. The levity, on the other hand, happens upstairs in the Ned Rogers Theater, which has been hosting the Mask and Wig’s annual productions since 1961. The original musical comedies are performed entirely by the company of undergraduate Penn students.