Published on August 15 2014

On Friday, August 15, the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (DRWC) and Mayor Michael A. Nutter opened Washington Avenue Pier, a new pier park in Pennsport, as a next step in the implementation of the Master Plan for the Central Delaware.  The former Pier 53, once the site of the city’s immigration station and the nation’s first Navy Yard, adds to the first dedicated waterfront public space in South Philadelphia, Washington Avenue Green, which was created in 2010.

The design of the park honors its evolving role on the waterfront from shipbuilding center to port-of-entry to naturalized finger pier, providing the following features to visitors:

  • Panoramic views of the Delaware River, Center City and the Benjamin Franklin and Walt Whitman bridges
  • An on-grade path allowing visitors to reach the tip of the pier and touch the water
  • An elevated boardwalk allowing visitors to pass over wetland habitat below
  • “Land Buoy.” a striking 55’ spire by artist Jody Pinto that allows visitors to climb a 16’ spiral staircase to a platform that allows for views up and down the river. The Land Buoy also emits a soft blue light, acting as a beacon and an invitation, and recalling the pier’s history as Philadelphia’s immigration station.
  • Ecological enhancements including intertidal and riparian plantings, and innovative stabilization methods
  • Sensitivity to the historical context by repurposing some of the materials of the site (both natural and man-made) into new park elements, including furnishings and a gateway marker at the intersection of Columbus Boulevard and Washington Avenue announcing the entry point to the park.
  • Interpretive signage relating the site’s history as the nation’s first navy yard and an immigration station where over 1 million entered the US.

“Washington Avenue Pier is a beautiful addition to the city’s cultural heritage and natural green spaces,” said Mayor Michael A. Nutter.  “Its completion is an important next step in providing high-quality public access all along the Delaware River waterfront.  Just as the Race Street Pier has become one of Philadelphian’s favorite places, we expect Washington Avenue Pier to be yet another iconic place to enjoy the river.”

Washington Avenue Pier was designed by Applied Ecological Services (AES) and built by AES and Neshaminy Contractors following several rounds of civic engagement.  The pier serves as the northern anchor of a wetlands park and recreational trail system which will run south to Pier 68, another pier park currently under construction and expected to open in 2015.  Washington Avenue Pier will benefit from the existing stewardship group, the Friends of Washington Avenue Green, which focuses on maintaining and expanding the park.  The $2.15 million pier park was funded through support from the William Penn Foundation, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and DRWC capital funds.

 “We are pleased to partner in this project because it welcomes Philadelphians to enjoy a beautiful new green space at the river’s edge,” said William Penn Foundation Executive Director Laura Sparks. “In doing so, The Washington Avenue Pier reminds all of us that the Delaware River is a vital resource that provides clean drinking water to millions of people and inspires more people to become stewards of this precious resource.”

Washington Avenue Pier is near the site of the nation’s first Navy Yard, where the USS Philadelphia, the frigate captured and burned in the country’s first international conflict, the First Barbary War, was constructed.  The Pier is also the site of Philadelphia’s immigration station, which welcomed over 1 million new Americans from the 1870’s through the First World War. 

Thomas Corcoran, President of DRWC, said, “With the opening of Washington Avenue Pier, we’ve made an important initial investment in high-quality public space to kick-off the creation of the beautiful wetlands park recommended by the Master Plan for the Central Delaware.  This park will spur development on nearby parcels at the southern end of the Central Delaware and provide much-needed permanent public access and greenspace in South Philadelphia.  We’re pressing full-speed-ahead to develop Pier 68 as a southern trailhead with connections to the nearby neighborhoods, as well as complete a permanent trail between the two parks to provide an important segment of the Delaware River trail and the Circuit. ”