Here’s why Boathouse Row is going dark

Boathouse Row
Boathouse Row will go dark this Monday, March 20 for 8 months.

Boathouse Row is iconic in Philadelphia, mainly for being lit up at night with different colors depending on what time of year it is. What Philadelphians will be wondering for most of 2023 however, is why this iconic locale is so dark—and no, the electric bill was not forgotten.

Beginning Monday, March 20, Boathouse Row will go unlit for an expected eight months while the lighting system receives a major glow-up. 

As a release states, 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.

Boathouse Row

“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 in a statement. 

It’s not the first time this very-Philly fixture has undergone some changes. Boathouse Row has been around since the 19th century, and the lighting was introduced in 1979. A few years later in 1987, the site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. LED lighting was then introduced in 2005, and then refurbished in 2016. 

As a release states, designed by lighting specialists The Lighting Practice, this fully designed system will mount the Row’s 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.

Funds to replace the lights and underwrite the lighting project were provided by the Joanna McNeil Trust and the City of Philadelphia, and the relighting will happen later this year. When it’s complete, Boathouse Row 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.

Boathouse Row
The view looking across Schuylkill River at BoathousesProvided

“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 in a statement. “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.”

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