Boathouse Row

Lights Out on Boathouse Row. Here's How Long $2.1M Renovation Will Last

The project will begin on March 20 and is projected to last for most of the rest of 2023 -- the hope is to have the lights back on for the holidays. Recent outages and rising maintenance costs have prompted the need for a full replacement of the lights along the Schuylkill River

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What to Know

  • The bright lights of Philadelphia’s famous Boathouse Row are going dark, at least for now.
  • Thousands of lights outline the historic boathouses along the Schuylkill River near the Philadelphia Museum of Art. They form one of the most indelible images of the city. Tara Rasheed of Fairmount Park Conservancy calls it “our postcard shot of Philadelphia.”
  • Starting Monday, the lights will be switched off and taken down as work gets underway on a $2.1 million replacement project expected to last eight months.

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As spring begins, you will be noticing something dark during your nighttime drive on the Schuylkill Expressway.

Starting Monday, March 20, the iconic Boathouse Row -- across the Schuylkill River -- is expected to go dark for eight months while its lighting system is replaced and upgraded.

The project will is projected to last about eight months with the intended relighting in time for the holidays at the end of 2023. Recent outages and rising maintenance costs have prompted the need for a full replacement on the riverside façades.

What's Being Done to Upgrade the Lights on Boathouse Row?

The new lighting system will mount the lights to 15 historic buildings along Boathouse Row. It will include upgraded technology and durable housing boxes to protect the system from weather and wildlife damages.

The $2.1 million project is a collaboration between Fairmount Park Conservancy and Philadelphia Parks and Recreation. It aims to stop outages caused by maintenance issues and reduce future maintenance needs and costs.

The new system will include 6,400 individual LED lights with 16 million color combinations. The lights will be able to change from one color to another or be programmed in a way that makes them look like they are dancing along the boathouses.

If you're interested in learning more about the possibility of customizing lights, you can reach out to Philadelphia Parks and Recreation.

“The light reflected on the Schuylkill River from Boathouse Row is there as we celebrate big moments as a City,” Philadelphia Parks & Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell said. “We are incredibly grateful to the project funders, and our partners at the Schuylkill Navy and Fairmount Park Conservancy, for working tirelessly to preserve and modernize the historic lighting traditions that make Boathouse Row such a cherished public space for all Philadelphians.”

Why the $2.1 Million Upgrade Will Help Sustain a Brighter Boathouse Row

Once the current lighting system is removed, the historic houses will have the opportunity to perform repairs that were previously inaccessible because of the lights. In the long run, the money spent on repairs is expected to protect both the lighting system and the houses.

The houses first switched to LED lighting in 2005 and were last refurbished in 2016. Recently, regular power outages, connectivity challenges and mounting issues have caused the system to fail.

The funds for the project are coming from the Joanna McNeil Trust and the City of Philadelphia.

“Boathouse Row is a Philadelphia icon," Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said. "We are grateful to the Schuylkill Navy and Fairmount Park Conservancy for working tirelessly to maintain this historic stretch of parkland, which holds so much significance to the rowing community locally and nationally. And a tremendous thank you to the Joanna McNeil Trust for its support and commitment to restoring this special landscape."

What's the History of Boathouse Row?

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."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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