Established in 1787, it is the nation’s oldest medical society, but The College of Physicians of Philadelphia is “still the best-kept secret in Philadelphia,” says Dan Love, co-owner of Catering by Design, the venue’s exclusive caterer for eight years.
The stunning building, the society’s sixth home, was designed to house the impressive collection of 700,000 rare books, including a pocket-sized book that Hippocrates carried in his robe while attending to patients. The building was also intended as the new home of the Mütter Museum, often described as America’s finest medical history museum. The 25,000 items include skulls, bones and wet specimens that are at once fascinating and gruesome (seriously, between Einstein’s brain, the tallest skeleton in America and wax pathological models, you can’t look but then can’t stop looking). As in medicine, times have changed and fellows (of which The College has 1,300, all distinguished professionals in the field of medicine) use the building as a meeting place for cultural and educational sessions. While there are numerous educational sessions held here for fellows, The College is also open to the public as a venue—with no medical degree required. The mansion’s 40,000 square feet are unlike anything else in the city. “Most people rent either the first floor or the second floor, but we have done events for up to 1,200 using the entire building,” says Love.
It all depends on your size and style. There is the Gross Library, a private boardroom for up to 30 that with its dark wood, booklined shelves and leather chairs exudes that clubby intellectual ambiance. Book it with the Hutchinson Parlor for a perfect pre- or post-meeting break space. In stark contrast, Thomson Hall, a gallery featuring rotating art, is light and airy. Of course, the best reason to select Thomson Hall is its access to the garden. With a backdrop of a Gothic church and the gentle singsong of birds, it’s a true urban oasis. Last year it was selected by Bride’s magazine as the seventh best wedding venue in the U.S., but it’s equally adored by meeting planners for its size (up to 400 between the garden and Thomson Hall) and sheer beauty.
Climb the marble staircase to the original reading room, which has been repurposed as Ashhurst Hall, ideal for up to 180 guests. The historic card catalog lines the walls, giving the room a decidedly brainy feel, while large windows showcase city views with the art museum in the distance. Next door is Mitchell Hall, where the judge’s panel for inducting new members serves as an impressive backdrop. It’s best for larger conferences up to 320. It also doubles as the city’s largest dance floor, with 3,400 square feet. From the intricate woodwork to the ornate fireplaces, the details are dazzling. “It’s original, quintessential historic Philadelphia, but without the typically tiny space,” says Love. In addition to the size and variety of the spaces, all events are entitled to private access to the Mütter Museum. Its collection will certainly prove to be an ice breaker for event attendees.