Few Philadelphians know that one of the driving forces behind the lights on Boathouse Row was former Mayor Frank Rizzo. He was one of the rare city leaders in the late 1970s to enthusiastically embrace a proposal by lighting architect Ray Grenald to put lights on Boathouse Row, Grenald told me when I interviewed him for Boathouse Row.
Grenald, with offices in Narberth, PA., said he came up with the idea during his travels around the world doing lighting projects. The only images of Philadelphia he would find, he said, were static, “boring” – City Hall, Independence Hall, and the Liberty Bell.
His idea was to outline the 19th century boathouses that make up Boathouse Row with as few strokes as possible. “I call it the negligee effect,” he told me. “A naked woman is not as appealing as one wearing a negligee. I wanted to do that with the lights.”
Back when the lights first came on, they were incandescent– the ones that twinkled –adding even more magic to the Row. Grenald is disappointed by today’s LED lights, now attached to every architectural feature of the houses, with little left to the imagination.
But his vision made Boathouse Row one of the most photographed sites in Philadelphia, giving the city a new and vibrant image both here and abroad.
And that vision went viral last night as the lights began to be lit in blue for the festival of Hanukkah.
Keep an eye on them this week as, like the candles of the holiday, an additional boathouse is lit in blue each night.