opening day of Washington Avenue Pier

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 included 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. The entire project was 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.

path along Pier

Land buoy at end of pier


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.

Jody Pinto at the top of the sgtairs of her land buoy

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. The pier was designed by Applied Ecological Services (AES), and built by AES and Neshaminy Contractors, and the "land Buoy"
was manufactured bythe Collegeville, Pennsylvania-based company Salter Spiral Stair, who manufactured 48 feet of the structure, including the stairs and spire.

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.

boy exploring pebble on the beach


Coming Soon Sign. Pier 68 cleanup

Next to be developed is Pier 68 to the south, with Pier 53/Washington Avenue Green Pier as the northernmost element in a string of wetland parks joined by a bicycle/pedestrian trail.

On September 29, 2014, there was a massive cleanup of debris and trash. Volunteers collected 133 abandoned shopping carts and over three tons of other trash which included bottles, cans, and paper. Renovations of Pier 68 are scheduled to begin next spring, 2015.

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.

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.

immigration sign at Washington and Delaware Avenue

Here's the link to the Pier 53 Project page on this site. Pier 53 Project 

All photos with the exception of the top middle photo by Frank Crean were taken by Susan McAninley.