Sculpture honoring immigrants a focal point of new park

Posted: August 17, 2014

Standing on her 55-foot-tall sculpture at the tip of a spit of land on the Delaware at Washington Avenue, artist Jody Pinto peered down the river and thought of her father and grandparents arriving at the same spot from Italy nearly a century ago.

The sculpture, entitled Land Buoy, a silver spire with a spiral staircase wrapped around it, is the focal point of Washington Avenue Pier, a new park, which opened Friday morning where a million European immigrants arrived between 1870 and 1915. The location also was the site of the nation's first Navy Yard, officials said.

"I feel privileged to have been able to do this," Pinto said of the sculpture, "because, in ways, it's speaking to my father and grandparents who came to Philadelphia here."

The park, on less than an acre behind the Sheet Metal Workers Local 19 headquarters on Columbus Boulevard, features panoramic views of the river, Center City and the Ben Franklin and Walt Whitman Bridges.

Visitors can use an elevated boardwalk to view wetland habitats on the river. The park also has an on-grade path that allows people to walk to the end of the pier and touch the water.

The $2.15 million project, designed by Applied Ecological Services and built by AES and Neshaminy Contractors, was funded by the William Penn Foundation, the State of Pennsylvania and the Delaware River Waterfront Corp.

Lizzie Woods, DRWC planner and project manager, said many of the materials used in park, including wood and bricks, came from existing structures.

DRWC president Thomas Corcoran said the park was part of a plan to build parks on every half mile of a six-mile length of the waterfront.

Washington Avenue Pier is the second permanent park on the stretch. The first permanent park on the stretch was the Race Street Pier built in 2011. A third park at Pier 68, about a half-mile to the south, is being planned for next year, officials said.

Mayor Nutter, who cut the ribbon to open the park, said the facility was a "beautiful addition to the city's cultural heritage and an important step in providing high-quality public access" to the Delaware River waterfront.

Nutter described the park as "our city's own Ellis Island."

"This was the site of Philadelphia's immigration station," Nutter said. "This pier was the first step on American soil for more than a million people from 1870 through World War I."

Pinto, a faculty member at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, noted that her sculpture has a lighted blue tip, which can be seen from across and along the river.

She said artwork conjures the image of a ship's crow's nest.

"A crow's nest is on a ship and it's meant to sight land. Here, it is a crow's nest on land for sighting ships," Pinto said.

After walking from the top of the sculpture, Nutter hailed the panoramic view from the spire.

"It opens things up so people can see the beauty of the Delaware," Nutter said. "It's about experiencing the waterfront in very different way."

Allison Dean, a Fishtown resident who attended the opening with her two sons, an infant and a toddler, said the park is a nice place for her sons to visit.

"They need to run and play in the city, so I love additional green spaces," Dean said. "This is a great place for them to come and just be part of nature."


vclark@phillynews.com215-854-5717

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