Lights out for Philly’s famous Boathouse Row, for now

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The bright lights of Philadelphia’s famous Boathouse Row, one of the city’s top nightlife hotspots, are dimming, at least for now.

Outlining a group of historic boathouses along the Schuylkill River near the Philadelphia Museum of Art, twinkling lights reflect off the water and give definition to each building’s unique architecture. “In a way, it’s our postcard from Philadelphia,” explained Tara Rasheed of the Fairmount Park Conservancy, as indelible as the Liberty Bell or the steps of the art museum in “Rocky.”

However, starting Monday, the lights will be turned off and removed as work progresses on a $2.1 million replacement project. If all goes to plan, a new and updated lighting system should be in place for the winter holiday season.

The buildings store the long, skinny boats used by the rowing crews, and have wide bays similar to garage doors that open onto ramps that descend to the water’s edge. Many have steep roofs or Victorian or Tudor-influenced architecture, which are accentuated by lighting.

String lights were first installed along Boathouse Row in 1979 prior to Pope John Paul II’s visit to Philadelphia. LED replacements arrived in 2005. Since then, weather, climate, and wildlife have taken their toll, leading to regular outages.

“The wholesale replacement with a more robust and durable system made budget sense,” said Rasheed, director of capital projects at the Fairmount Park Conservancy, a nonprofit that works with the city to support the system. public parks.

Boathouse Row traces its history back to the 1800s when Philadelphians flocked to the river for fun and the city emerged as a major center for rowing. It became a National Historic Landmark in 1987.

Bonnie Mueller, Commodore of the Schuylkill Navy, an association of amateur rowing clubs in Philadelphia, said Boathouse Row occupies a unique place in the city, while its buildings are individually maintained by the clubs that own and use them, collectively they form “a very iconic and important public landscape group”.

“We recognize that the Boathouse Row lights mean something to people, and we see it as a gift and a responsibility,” he said. “We are incredibly confident and excited to get the project off the ground and look forward to celebrating its completion by the end of the year.”

The new programmable lighting system will have 6,400 individual LED lights with 16 million color combinations (think Eagles green on game day) mounted on a custom track that will help protect against the elements.

A private donor provided the bulk of the funding for the lighting project, while the City of Philadelphia, which is responsible for maintaining and operating the lights, is contributing $600,000.

While the lights are out, clubs will be able to make building repairs in areas that were previously inaccessible. A club is planning to replace the roof, according to Rasheed,

“It’s very important to Philadelphians and visitors to have this beautiful scenery,” said Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell. “It’s the image we think of when we think of Philadelphia. … We have to be very careful to do our best and make sure that the physical beauty of our city reflects the passions of our residents.”

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