Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Power Station, PA

On Saturday, I got up at 3:00am to make a trip with friends to Pennsylvania to visit an abandoned power station. We met at 5:00am and drove up stopping for breakfast at Pat's in Philladelphia, famous for Philly Cheesesteak sandwiches. We headed for the power station and entered with me hoping that there wouldn't be too much climbing on such a full stomach.

My fears were justified, there was some climbing through broken doors, up ladders and up the coal chute below to access the main building, but my adrenaline was running high and I was eager to get moving.

We ended up on the roof and had fabulous views of the Delaware River. The building itself was built in 1917 and has a lot of art deco aspects. Many want to see it saved as it is one of the last of its kind, representative of that vanished era when Philadelphia was called the Workshop of the World.

As we stepped into the giant turbine hall, the magnitude of the place took our breath away and rendered us speechless. Silently, we looked at each other and smiling, walked up and down the balconies, leaning over and quietly taking photo after photo. These turbines are giant versions of the engines that were used in steamships and at its peak, the boilers that powered these turbines by steam burned 325 tons of coal an hour. The turbines generated enough power to light up most of northeastern Philadelphia.

As we walked around the balcony we came to the control room where the massive control desk sat, hardly damaged despite years of neglect. I couldn't see that any buttons were missing and it seemed that if I gave the area a quick dusting, I'd be able to throw some switches and start up the power. Wish!

On top of the green desk were some blueprints, one of which was dated 1924.

As we walked round, we came to some better lit empty rooms and corridors which had beautiful old doors hanging open. The letters on the wall at the end of the corridor say, 'Psychotherapy', but we never found any evidence in the rooms of this practice.

This room had some smaller generators with many light bulbs thrown around the floor and a wall of heavy duty switches. These weird cone things had me fascinated but other than them being something to do with electricity, I had no idea what they were for.

Down on ground level with the turbines in the main hall, there was a vast boiler room which was exceedingly damp, dark and cold. It was a little scary walking around and even our flashlights seemed to have difficulty penetrating the silent gloom. The icicles hanging from the broken dial above show how cold it was. There were patches of ice on the floor and my frozen fingers were slow to operate my camera.

Despite the cold and damp, it was easy to find beauty in this amazing architectural giant. The nuts and bolts on the turbines above created interesting patterns and the intricate ceiling was fabulous despite missing large pieces. The plant was recently nominated for the historic properties register maintained by the city’s Historical Commission but the nomination failed. It is being left to slowly fall apart under the constant attack of the elements, but we hope that since it has survived since being shut down in 1984, it can stand proud a little longer until someone can save it.

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