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March 15, 2023

Boathouse Row to go dark for 8 months due to light upgrades

When the lights are flipped back on, sometime near the holidays, 16 million color combinations will be possible

Development Boathouse Row
Boathouse row lights Albert Yee/Fairmount Park Conservancy

Starting Monday, the iconic lights of Boathouse Row will go dark for about eight months while a new lighting system is installed.

Boathouse Row is about to undergo an eight-month renovation project that will enable its lights to change color and seemingly dance from boathouse to boathouse. 

The $2.1 million project requires that Boathouse Row go dark, beginning Monday, while a new LED lighting system with 6,400 individual lights is installed. Once it is complete, sometime near the holidays, Boathouse Row will be able to be lit up in 16 million color combinations.

The existing lights have been troubled by power outages and connectivity problems. Rising maintenance costs led to the need for a full overhaul of the lighting system, according to the Fairmount Park Conservancy, which is working with Philadelphia Parks & Recreation to replace the lights. 

The new lighting system is being designed by specialists from The Lighting Practice, which previously was tasked with upgrading the lights on the Benjamin Franklin Bridge and has installed lighting systems in numerous Philadelphia buildings, including the facade to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. 

The project also includes adding durable housing boxes to protect the lights from damage caused by weather and wildlife. It is being funded by the city and the Joanna McNeil Trust, an arts and education foundation that funds projects that restore specialized lighting at historic properties.

Lights first were installed on the exterior of Boathouse Row in 1979. LED lighting was installed in 2006, and the system was last refurbished in 2016. The lights have shone colorfully through the years to honor sports victories and holidays. 

Boathouse Row, nestled along Kelly Drive in Fairmount Park, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. Many of its buildings date back to the 19th century. During the 2020-2021 NBA season, the Sixers occasionally wore black City Edition jerseys that paid homage to Boathouse Row.

The landmark is home to several rowing clubs that belong to the Schuylkill Navy of Philadelphia, the oldest amateur athletic governing body in the U.S. It also serves as the backdrop for prestigious races like the Stotesbury Regatta, the Schuylkill Navy Regatta, the Philadelphia Youth Regatta and the Dad Vail Regatta.

boathouse row lighting upgradeAlbert Yee/Fairmount Park Conservancy

"The light reflected on the Schuylkill River from Boathouse Row is there as we celebrate big moments as a City," Philly Parks & Rec commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell said in a release. "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."

When the project is finished, nonprofit organizations, corporations and institutions will be able to make a request to Parks & Rec to pay for special Boathouse Row lighting. The 12 boathouses are lit as one full row, so individual house requests won't be available.

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