Beginning March 20, 2023, the iconic Boathouse Row will go dark for an expected eight months while the lighting system receives a major glow-up. Fairmount Park Conservancy is partnering with Philadelphia Parks & Recreation to replace and upgrade the existing light system, at a cost of $2.1 million. The lights have experienced outages due to ongoing maintenance issues and this new project will completely redo and upgrade the entire system to reduce future maintenance needs and keep Boathouse Row’s lights on for years to come.
Introduced in 1979, the lighting along Boathouse Row has become an iconic feature along the Schuylkill River, where most of the boathouses date back to the 19th century. The site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. The houses moved over to LED lighting in 2005 and were last refurbished in 2016. In recent years, rising maintenance costs have required the need for a full replacement. The $2.1 million project will completely replace the failing system, which struggles with significant connectivity challenges, regular power outages, and mounting issues. Designed by lighting specialists The Lighting Practice, this fully designed system will mount the Row’s iconic lights to 15 historic buildings along Boathouse Row. The project will include upgraded technology and durable housing boxes to protect the system from weather and wildlife damages.
The houses will be dark for what is expected to be eight months, with intended relighting to come at the end of 2023. Following the removal of the existing light system, the boathouses will have an opportunity to address any deferred building repairs that were previously inaccessible because of the lights. In the long term, the time spent on repairs will protect both the lighting system and the houses.
Funds to replace the lights and underwrite the lighting project were provided by the Joanna McNeil Trust and the City of Philadelphia.
“Boathouse Row is a Philadelphia icon. 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,” said Mayor Jim Kenney.
“We are so grateful to Joanna McNeil Lewis for her steadfast support of this project and her unwavering commitment to ensuring its successful completion,” said Maura McCarthy, PhD., Chief Executive Officer of Fairmount Park Conservancy. “To have such a dedicated champion for this Philadelphia landmark is an extraordinary gift for our city. Fairmount Park Conservancy is experienced in managing complex projects, and we are pleased to be entrusted with such a unique and important plan to help the City of Philadelphia shine brighter.”
“The light reflected on the Schuylkill River from Boathouse Row is there as we celebrate big moments as a City,” said Philadelphia Parks & Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell. “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.”
The lighting system, once complete, will have 6,400 individual LED lights, with 16 million color combinations. Lightings will be able to change from one color to another, or be programmed in a way that appears to make them “dance” along the boathouses. If you are interested in learning more about customized lights in the future, click here.