Graffiti Pier Offers Mix of Art, Grit, Fish and Swimming


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If you travel up the Delaware past the failed condos south of Sugar House Casino, past Penn Treaty Park, past the PECO power station and the overgrown weed-filled lots to the north, you'll find a grouping of cars parked outside a overgrown single lane road with a chain preventing access. Park there and follow the road. You'll find a wonderfully odd amalgam of grit, grime, graffiti, and groups of people that have claimed a forgotten space as their own.
Conrad Benner through the columns.

Graffiti Pier is a remnant of Philadelphia's industrial past. Huge cement columns stand in regular intervals and support an old rail platform used to load coal on ships once moored in the Delaware. Freight engineering for rail is massive and often so overbuilt that once built, little stands in the way of it sticking around for a long time. Demolition costs are exorbitant and so this old coal pier on waterfront property creates a massive canvas for public art. The arches that support the old railway above are almost a form of brutalism. While walking through these columns and arches towards the end of the pier people seem to pop out in front of you, all there for different reasons. 


I explored this pier with Conrad Benner of the popular Streets Dept photoblog that covers street art in the city. (Check out his photos here) While there we ran into fellow photo fiddlers like ourselves, but also graffiti artists themselves, men fishing, a family picnicking and even some teenagers swimming in the Delaware. This is an unsanctioned, de-facto public space and its informality lends an interest that a curated, highly designed experience cannot. 

Great hide and seek spot.

The space IS included as "Ore Pier" in the Central Delaware Plan, with desire to keep the surrounding land as open space. Port Richmond is just beyond the wall of I-95 that cuts off these large industrial plots from the rest of the city. For now Graffiti Pier is far too north to interest significant investment. So far the only project that's come fairly close is the aborted Wynn bid to build a cookie cutter gambling palace further down the river. In 2007 some Drexel students studied the area and Brad Maule wrote about and snapped some nice photos of the site as well. 

These unsanctioned spaces are rare and quite fun to explore. Long term preservation of at least the pier as an informal lab for graffiti artists to test their meddle would be great. It would continually evolve with each layer of paint and artist who comes after. In a way the pier is a metaphor for the city: a layer of built form that continually adapts to the generations that follow, despite it's original use. Let's hope its massive nature is what preserves it in the meantime. Perhaps one day we'll recognize it's value and write the pier into the park system while redeveloping the massive amount of acres surrounding the site.

Did not expect to see a picnic.

Certainly a nice day for it.

Columns for days.

Plenty of space for fishing.

Tattooed Mom

Some odd birds.

Lots of room for dogs.

A room with a view.


Conrad doin' his thing.

A sumac pokes through.

Linear color.

Meandering the columns.

Dwell in the light.

We climbed up to get a better view.

The platform is still clear, there's not enough soil for trees quite yet.

The next pier over.

Summer days.

A stellar view at the end.

Correction: This originally ran as not being part of the Central Delaware River plan. It is in fact part of the plan that you can find here.


Last Updated: Friday, 08 August 2014 @ 09.00
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geoff's picture Geoff Kees Thompson Founder + Urban Planner Website: About the Author:

Other than time away from Philly studying his masters in Urban Planning in the Netherlands, Geoff has lived here since 2005. He founded This Old City to advocate for better public space as a means to economic development, improved public health, lower crime and a more environmentally sustainable future. He currently sits on the Executive Board of SOSNA and is the head volunteer gardener for Saint Mark's Church at 1625 Locust Street.


He is also Chair of The 5th Square PAC, an organization committed to voter education and the funding of progressive urbanist candidates for Philadelphia's future. 


Follow This Old City on Twitter @thisoldcity and Facebook or Geoff individually @geoffkees

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