New Park To Honor Hidden Local History

Just steps from the traffic and big box retailers of Delaware Avenue sits Washington Avenue Green, a small waterfront park whose newly proposed redesign would transform one of the site’s crumbling piers into a public space honoring a hidden chapter of Philadelphia’s immigrant heritage.

 

The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (DRWC) recently released a series of plans for the proposed updates to Washington Avenue Green’s Pier 53 (seen as it is today on the left). When completed in the summer of 2014, the restored pier will pay homage to the site’s former life as the Washington Avenue Immigration Station, which from 1873-1915 served as the main entry point for immigrants arriving in Philadelphia. During that time the station at Pier 53 accepted nearly one million immigrants, mostly from Eastern and Southern Europe, whose labor fueled Philadelphia’s booming industrial economy and whose rich cultural heritage has so deeply shaped the character of our city.

 

While none of the original Washington Avenue Immigration Station remains, the new park will speak to the site’s history thanks to the work of artist Jody Pinto, who has been commissioned to create a piece that evokes Pier 53’s special place in Philadelphia history.

 

Above is a rendering of the new Pier 53 at Washington Avenue Green (image by Applied Ecological Services, Inc.)

 

Just as the plans for the new space celebrate the past of course, they also serve as a very real investment in the social and ecological future of both the project’s surrounding neighborhood and the Delaware River waterfront. Despite its charm and family-friendly streets, Pennsport (where the Washington Avenue Green is located) has limited green space, an issue that this redesign would immediately remedy. Furthermore, other successful riverside parks like Old City’s Race Street Pier and Fishtown’s Penn Treaty Park have shown people’s interest in the industrial and post-industrial spaces along the Delaware River. The redesigned Pier 53 would then add new parkland to Pennsport while also attracting much needed foot and bicycle traffic to the area.

 

Finally, the changes to Pier 53 and Washington Avenue Gardens will have an additional focus on creating a restorative landscape, as the proposal’s longterm goal aims to return much needed wetlands to the Delaware Riverfront. These new riparian spaces will improve the area’s natural beauty, ecological diversity and water quality, brining benefits for years to come.

 

We eagerly await to see how this plan, and its goal of connecting the Delaware Riverfront’s legacy of immigration with its green future, will change a wonderful and deeply historic part of South Philadelphia.