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Eagle Industrial Electric Inc. Refreshes Philadelphia’s Boathouse Row with High-Tech Glow

By Susan DeGrane | Jun 12, 2024
Philadelphia’s iconic Boathouse Row has a new glow, thanks to Eagle Industrial Electric. Photo supplied by Eagle Industrial Electric. Photo Credit: 2024 Photo by Albert Yee for Fairmount Park Conservancy
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Located on the banks of the Schuylkill River and across from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the 15 buildings of Boathouse Row are iconic in Philadelphia. Now, thanks the Eagle Industrial Electric Inc., Boathouse Row is once again aglow, this time with enhanced capabilities as a community attraction.

Located on the banks of the Schuylkill River and across from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the 15 buildings of Boathouse Row are iconic in Philadelphia. The national historic landmark district is home to several rowing clubs and represents an epicenter for rowing in the United States. Competitors ranging from local high school and college amateurs to Olympic champions compete here in several annual regattas.

Since 1979, residents and visitors have marveled at the lights of Boathouse Row reflecting off the water at night. An LED lighting system installed in 2005 enabled changing colors, but it began experiencing regular power outages and significant connectivity challenges.

Now, thanks the Eagle Industrial Electric Inc., Boathouse Row is once again aglow, this time with enhanced capabilities as a community attraction.

“I knew this would be a once-in-a-lifetime project,” said Gerald T. Rothstein III, president of the Essington, Pa.-based contractor. “It’s not often that we become involved with a project that draws interest from the entire Philadelphia community and the world. We focus on projects in the Philadelphia area, and this project interested us from the get-go.”

An Eagle Industrial Electric employee installs new lighting on one of the steep-pitched roofs of Philadelphia’s iconic and historic Boathouse Row. Photo courtesy of Eagle Industrial Electric.

An Eagle Industrial Electric employee installs new lighting on one of the steep-pitched roofs of Philadelphia’s iconic and historic Boathouse Row. Photo courtesy of Eagle Industrial Electric. 

Rothstein and Eagle Industrial Electric’s vice president Matt Stevenson spoke with the local ABC news affiliate to talk about the $2.1 million project, managed by Fairmount Park Conservancy.

Working with a local lighting architect, Eagle Industrial Electric replaced the failing lighting system with 6,400 new LED lights, fiber optic cable and control boxes that now can produce 16 million color combinations in choregraphed sparkling, blinking and fading sequences.

Eagle Industrial Electric bid on the project in April 2022, but work didn’t commence until March 2023, when the old lights were turned off.

About a dozen journeymen and apprentices worked on the project, Rothstein said. “This was challenging, and I really want to thank the electricians at IBEW 98 for their work on this.”

The first step was to produce installment dimension drawings for the new lighting tracks that would follow the rooftops, their many gables and uniquely shaped windows.

“We employed the measure twice, cut once mindset, because just one roofline being a couple of inches off could set everything off,” Stevenson said.

Though some building features, such as the gables, repeated and appeared similar, their actual measurements sometimes varied.

Accessing the tight grassy spaces surrounding the boathouses required different sized lifts, plywood and rubber platforms for stabilization.

A variety of lifts had to be used to install new lighting for Philadelphia’s Boathouse Row due to the narrow grassy spaces between the houses. Photo courtesy of Eagle Industrial Electric.

A variety of lifts had to be used to install new lighting for Philadelphia’s Boathouse Row due to the narrow grassy spaces between the houses. Photo courtesy of Eagle Industrial Electric.

The Sedgeley House, a women’s rowing club featuring a light house, stands close to the water, so scaffolding had to be built over the river to support the electricians.

Lighting strips prefabricated by a lighting manufacturer made assembly easier on-site. But standing on the steeply pitched rooftops in all types of weather posed considerable risk.

“Safety was the biggest, most important consideration,” Stevenson said. “We used tie-offs, safety harnesses and roof kickers to provide flat surfaces for the electricians to stand on.”

The boathouses also function as social clubs and party venues, so they remain open throughout the year.

“People kept asking and wanting to know when the lights were going to come back on,” Stevenson said. “They really missed the lights. This was just not another standard office fit-out. Our guys had to be very respectful and focused on their work.”

In all, 10 boathouses were equipped with programmable lighting, fiber optic cable and control boxes. As a result, authorized personnel employed by the Philadelphia Park District can program the lighting with special colors and patterns for specific observances such as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, or to celebrate local sporting events, holidays, even weddings, anniversaries and birthdays.

An Eagle Industrial Electric employee splices fiber optic cable used for connecting and programming the lights of Philadelphia’s Boathouse Row. Photo supplied by Eagle Industrial Electric.

An Eagle Industrial Electric employee splices fiber optic cable used for connecting and programming the lights of Philadelphia’s Boathouse Row. Photo courtesy of Eagle Industrial Electric.

Corporations, organizations and individuals pay for scheduled lighting displays to the tune of $1,000 up to $6,000. The money goes toward maintaining the boathouses.

Eagle Industrial Electric tested the lights prior to a public demonstration of the lighting system’s many colors and capabilities.

The next evening, March 7, Rothstein, Stevenson, their families and the journeymen and apprentices who worked on the project attended the grand relighting of Boathouse Row. So did thousands of Philadelphians and visitors.

About The Author

DeGrane is a Chicago-based freelance writer. She has covered electrical contracting, renewable energy, senior living and other industries with articles published in the Chicago Tribune, New York Times and trade publications. Reach her at [email protected].

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