Done. It's official. On August 15, 2014, Washington Avenue Pier was opened to the public.
In 2010 when the Washington Avenue Green Park was dedicated, little was known about the adjacent pier. It had been abandoned in 1965 after a massive fire. Its impressive history was known, dating from the very beginnings of Philadelphia, but what was not known was that in the years of disuse, the rotted piers and eroded shoreline had become a nursery for migrating fish and a permanent home for several species of mussels. Both native and non-native plants had taken hold and flourished.
On September 6, 2012, the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (DRWC) awarded a $1.5 million contract for the design and building of a new pier park to Applied Ecological Services, Inc. (AES) — a national firm with local offices in Conshohocken. The AES contract is being paid for with a mix of DRWC capital funds and grants from the William Penn Foundation, the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and the Federal Coastal Zone Management Program. Funding was provided by the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the US Department of Commerce, and administered by the PA Department of Environmental Protection.
AES has managed to reconcile the historical significance of the Pier with its new identity as a wetland park.
Many of the artifacts from the Pier's past functions were incorporated into the design; original timbers and old bricks from the immigration pier have been used as structural elements. Debris washed up on the shoreline has been incorporated along the pathway. Old mulberry trees that had taken over the pier since 1965 have been pruned but allowed to stay. New plantings have been introduced.
The Washington Avenue Pier was a shipbuilding site during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812; a significant port during the Civil War; part of the nation's first Navy Yard; an immigration pier; a municipal pier; and is now a waterfront park.
In a tribute to the Pier's notable history as Pier 53 and as the Ellis Island of Philadelphia, there is a 'land buoy' at the end of the Pier, with a stairway for visitors to look out to the river. At the top of the buoy is a solar-powered light that will be seen at night, both from land and from the river. It was at this place exactly that over a million immigrants entered America between the 1870's and the mid 1920's. Jody Pinto is the artist. In the photo above she is standing at the top of the stairway. Jody's grandparents arrived in Philadelphia from Italy.
And for the first time people will be allowed to explore the beach and actually touch the water and observe the changing tides. There is now a fishing pier, for fishing, walking, and flying kites. Here's the link to the Plan Philly Story.
Under the Central Delaware Master Plan, the area between the Washington Avenue Pier and Pier 70 to the south is planned to include mixed-use developments by private builders. The Pier 53/Washington Avenue Green Park will be the northernmost element in a string of wetland parks that would stretch south to Pier 68 behind the WalMart. Pier 68 and the path connecting Washington Avenue Green will be joined by a trail and series of pocket parks. This plan is in beginning stages.
Ongoing at Washington Avenue Green is the Pier 53 Project—a historical study of the immigrants who arrived at the Pier from 1876 to the 1920's, their stories, and the stories of their descendants. Each story is part of a mosaic that contributes to the history of Philadelphia and its waterfront, and ultimately to the history of immigration in the United States.
Here's the link to the Pier 53 Project page on this site. Pier 53 Project