Monday, September 21, 2015

Repurposed Pier

Philadelphia Coast Guard Station adjacent to Pier 53; central Philadelphia in background
Late Thursday afternoon, September 17, Kali and I drove to central Philadelphia to bid adieu to a friend and colleague of 20 years who has decided to return to his native New England later this month.  Before we went to his farewell dinner, though, we stopped at Pier 53 (also known as the Washington Avenue Pier) along the Delaware River to review a restoration project developed by a mutual colleague.  Pier 53 was the location where most immigrants to the United States who entered through Philadelphia came ashore.  The remains of the immigration entrance station vanished long ago, but the pier's concrete pilings were still in place, and the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (a waterfront renewal organization) wanted to develop a project that would honor the immigrants, help improve water quality, and provide a recreational amenity for the city.
Overview of the pier restoration project
The image above (poorly lit because the sun was setting in the west) is an overview of the restored pier taken from the far river-ward end of the pier looking back toward the city.  The project features a gravel path and significant native plantings.  The large trees had established themselves and grown between the time the pier was abandoned and the time the project was initiated.
The far end of the pier; Camden, New Jersey is across the river
The original structure is gone, but the concrete pilings provided a stable foundation on which to rebuild some land.  In the image above, it is possible to see wooden walls backfilled with soil connecting the concrete pilings on the left.  On the right is a wooden walkway extending out over the river.  And, on the far left, is a sculpture/observation platform called the "Land Buoy" commissioned to commemorate the pier's heritage as the immigration station.
Kali atop the "Land Buoy"
View upriver; Benjamin Franklin Bridge (U.S. 30)
View downriver; Walt Whitman Bridge (I-76)
Cormorants on pilings
One of our colleagues who joined us at the pier project said that the site is a very popular gathering spot and is often crowded, even in the winter.  I found that hard to believe because it's really obscure and tucked away.  And, frankly, I don't think it would be all that attractive to the average visitor; the plantings are weedy and the native plants don't provide the show of color found in an annual garden planting.  Perhaps it's the attraction of the "Land Buoy" sculpture/overlook. 
Entrance to pier project
One of the more interesting design features of the site is its landward entrance at the back of a parking lot.  Instead of completely removing the asphalt, the designers cut sinuous channels out of the asphalt down to the soil below, and then they planted native grasses in these channels.  They wanted to simulate and stimulate the natural breakup of asphalt that occurs over time in all unmaintained parking lots.
The sendoff for Michael (second from right; dark shirt)
After our tour of the pier, our group of restorationists went to the Moonshine restaurant in south Philadelphia for a send-off dinner for our colleague, Michael.  The breeze was blowing, the night was pleasantly warm, and the food was really good.  Michael's got a lot more friends and colleagues than those who showed up, but, alas, we were the only ones who could make it. 


robin andrea said...

Looks like a very nice farewell gathering for your colleague. I am impressed by the work and effort that goes into these restorations. Your photos always make Philadelphia look quite beautiful. Makes me wish I had visited more often when I lived so close by.

Scott said...

Robin Andrea: Kali and I think frequently about how much we'll miss Philadelphia when we move in 2-1/2 years. At most times, the city is beautiful and I get a "buzz" when I go downtown. But the traffic is horrendous--we won't miss that. Philadelphia may not have been just a "happening" place when you lived nearby, so don't regret it too much. With regard to the restoration project, I don't think the return justified the cost (in my mind).

packrat said...

Excellent photos, Scott. Cool shot of Kali on the Land Buoy. As a person whose Italian grandparents immigrated to America (via New York, though) I really like the Philadelphia restoration project. I only wish more of our politicians would honor immigrants rather than disparage them all the time: after all, we are predominantly a country of immigrants.

Scott said...

Ain't it the truth, Packrat? Kali's father (and grandfather) immigrated from Sicily via NYC (as a child); we've got the ship's manifest from the Ellis Island Foundation. Kali's mother's "people" are English and German; some of her mother's relatives were members of the DAR. I'm a mongrel (mostly eastern European), but fortunately I've got a pronounceable Scottish surname.