27 December 07: High Tide:
Last Days of the Tidewater Grain Elevator

The Tidewater Grain elevator is no more. The most notable -- and noticeable -- post-industrial relic left in South Philadelphia bit the dust early on Sunday morning. Speaking of which, I must apologize to the folks I suggested watch the implosion from the Platt Bridge. I had no idea they would be closing both it AND the Girard Point Bridge during the implosion. If you went, I sincerely hope you were able to catch the view.

The history and existence of the Tidewater Grain elevator and complex has been well documented; please see Jessica Chiu's April 2004 essay for the Philadelphia Independent and Workshop of the World for the best of the back story. For our purposes, though, we'll look at its final days.

CDoc, the mind behind The Necessity for Ruins, rolled into Johnny Brenda's a couple weeks ago as Matt Johnson, the mind behind Skyscraper Sunset, and I were having a beer and talking about the year 2008. Doc told us he'd heard about the impending implosion of the Tidewater Grain elevator. Matt and I each knew the structure he meant -- anyone who's ever been across I-95 or the Platt Bridge would -- so we were intrigued, but none of us knew too many details about the elevator OR its implosion.

A week later, Doc has us meeting him, two other enthusiasts, and a fellow named Harry with a white F150 at ground zero. Harry is the superintendent of the site now owned by Camden Iron and Metal, whose expansion across the river from their Jersey home necessitated the clearance of the land on which Tidewater Grain's elevator stood. He graciously allowed us to tour the site and structure a mere four days before dynamite would bring it down.

By the time of our arrival, wrecking balls had partially demolished the exteriors of several of the silos built in 1913 to withstand explosions, a problem with mass storage of highly flammable grain. The main tower was still standing, though, and workers from Camden were busy preparing the extremely thick walls for the blast and installing aprons to retain debris and shrapnel. Generally speaking, Harry advised us to not die. I am happy to report that none of us did.

We walked around the perimeter of the site, wrecking ball a-swinging, and into the tower where we had to mind the giant manholes in the floor which no longer had their covers, protruding rods and cords, and lots of loose concrete debris. To get to the upper floors, we were told we'd have to go single file up an old spiral staircase that none of us could immediately find; that's because it was hidden in a tube that looked like the building's support columns. (Matt has some great photos of the stairs on his site HERE.)

A good 150' climb later, we were on the upper floors with more debris, more rods and wires, more manholes, no railing on any of the windows or open walls, and on the top floor -- the one with the single, half-mounted ladder to the rooftop (which also had no railings) -- a whole lot of seagull guano. A little precarious, no doubt.

The following photos, like many of the other photo essays on this site, are a combination of the work in progress and the views along the way. It's a unique perspective, being 245' above an enormous brownfield situated between two major bridges, an oil refinery, a shipyard, and airport, and a cruddy, gritty portion of the same river that just a few miles upstream is the subject of postcards with rowers, bridges, and skyline views.

Don't forget to check out CDoc's photos HERE and Matt's photos HERE. Doc was also on hand to film the implosion, video YouTube'd HERE.

–B Love