The Columbus Dispatch

Lights out for Philly’s famous Boathouse Row

- Michael Rubinkam

The bright lights of Philadelph­ia’s famous Boathouse Row – long one of the city’s signature nighttime sights – are going dark, at least for now.

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

Starting Monday, though, the lights will be switched off and taken down as work gets underway on a $2.1 million replacemen­t project.

If all goes to plan, a new, upgraded lighting system should be ready for the winter holiday season.

The buildings store the long, slender boats used by rowing crews, and have wide garage-door-like bays that open onto ramps that slope down to the water’s edge. Many have steep roofs or Tudor or Victorian-influenced architectu­re, which are accentuate­d by the lights.

Strings of lights were first installed along Boathouse Row in 1979 ahead of Pope John Paul II’S visit to Philadelph­ia. LED replacemen­ts arrived in 2005.

Since then, time, weather and wildlife have taken their toll, leading to regular outages.

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

Boathouse Row traces its history to the 1800s as Philadelph­ians flocked to the river for recreation and the city emerged as a major center of 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.”

“We recognize the lights of Boathouse Row mean something to people, and we see that as a gift and a responsibi­lity,” she said. “We are incredibly confident and excited to get the project going and are looking 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 to a custom track that will help protect them against the elements.

A private donor supplied most 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 dark, clubs will be able to do building repairs on areas that were previously inaccessib­le. One club is planning a roof replacemen­t, according to Rasheed.

 ?? MATT ROURKE/AP ?? A crew sets out on the Schuylkill River on Thursday as lights illuminate the outline of structures on the famous Boathouse Row in Philadelph­ia.
MATT ROURKE/AP A crew sets out on the Schuylkill River on Thursday as lights illuminate the outline of structures on the famous Boathouse Row in Philadelph­ia.

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