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The Trail is Illuminated!

Light Columns Unveiled at Columbia & Girard as a Beacon for Penn Treaty Park

If you have driven down Girard Avenue over the past couple weeks, you may have noticed that something is different. At first, it may just be something out of the corner of your eye, a flash that makes you ask yourself, “What has changed here?” If you are walking down the avenue, you will definitely notice the change. The corners of Columbia and Girard have suddenly been illuminated.

On Tuesday, June 19, 2012, The New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC) held a public unveiling of two light columns at the intersection of Girard and Columbia Avenues as part of the “Take Me to the River” gateway project. Neighbors and local business people who attended the event shared ideas and refreshments as they discussed the progress of a plan to connect the local community to the Delaware River. This past year, community meetings have been packed with neighbors wanting to know about the plans to better utilize Columbia Avenue, Marlborough Street, and Shackamaxon Street as connecting corridors to the river. Across the board, the project proposes to incorporate increased lighting and public art.

The purpose of the light columns at Columbia Avenue is to guide neighbors to Penn Treaty Park, giving them a key gateway to the historic site that much of our city has been built around. The columns were designed by Studio Bryan Hanes. Hanes’ firm developed the designs in conjunction with local businesses and stakeholders. If you study the columns up close, you will see that they pay homage to the neighborhood’s local history, specifically that of William Penn’s Treaty with the Native Americans, and the trail of the Lenni Lenape tribe who once settled in this very region.

Studio Bryan Hanes worked closely with a steering committee comprised of representatives from SEPTA, the Streets Dept, Mural Arts Program, Pennsylvania Horticulture Society, Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, Friends of Penn Treaty Park, Fishtown Neighbors Association, Fishtown Area Business Association and local business owners (John Connors, Century 21 Leibovitz Realtors, Milk Crate Café, Brotherhood Mission and Central Pizza). The committee gave Hanes’ studio the feedback needed to flesh out designs that would highlight the historic qualities of the area, helping to create a welcoming gateway to the waterfront and the park.

The column outside the Brotherhood Mission shows a map following the trail of the Lenni Lenape tribe. Cattycorner to the Mission, on the corner where the unveiling ceremony was held, you will find another light column with artwork depicting Penn’s Treaty with a reproduction of text from the Treaty and Penn’s signature. At night, when illuminated, the columns stand as a beacon that directs drivers and pedestrians to Penn Treaty Park.

Tuesday’s unveiling ceremony also provided neighbors an opportunity to see the final images of the I-95 underpasses at Columbia, Shackamaxon, and Marlborough, including new walls, designs, and lighting fixtures. Representatives of the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation took time to discuss future improvements to the neighborhood.

NKCDC’s “Take Me to the River” is a community-driven plan that was set into motion over a year ago. Even though great strides have been made in that year, there is still a long way to go before the plan comes to full fruition. Community members have been coordinating with architects, city planners, and local agencies and organizations to develop the riverfront. The overall goal is to make the Delaware River more publicly accessible, safe and vibrant, and reconnect local residents to the river. This plan works hand-in-hand with the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation’s Master Plan for the Central Delaware Waterfront.

NKCDC’s Executive Director Sandy Salzman cited that these columns were part of a long-running project to use Columbia Avenue as a greener passageway from Shissler Recreation Center all the way to the Delaware River. Salzman listed a great deal of work that has been done over the past few years, from revitalizing the neighborhood’s ball fields – to planting trees – to illuminating the Avenue.

Salzman stated, “The light columns are another remarkable piece of art work to grace the neighborhood.  People should take a little time to really look them over because they talk about our early history, the treaty with the Indians and show how they moved West.  We are grateful to the funders of this project, the Historic Preservation and the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, without their support it would not have been possible.  Also, thanks to John Connors and Ken Milano for their help in getting the history just right. We also want to thank the Brotherhood Mission, Century 21 Leibovitz, Central Pizza and Milk Crate for agreeing to keep an eye on the light columns.”

“I think about the connectivity of Columbia Avenue to the river and Fishtown and all the things that are going on Frankford Avenue and Girard Avenue. It’s just really great to see all of these things happening here. Congratulations to all of you and to the staff of New Kensington,” said Patrick Haunk, the Preservation Alliance’s Director of Neighborhood Preservation Program.

Salzman added, “The light columns are something that we really need to be able to maintain.” She also made a request to attendees for donations to maintain the light columns. Since NKCDC took on this project, the agency is responsible that the columns stay lit and graffiti-free. Salzman announced that the Brotherhood Mission also committed to share the responsibility of keeping the columns free of graffiti. To make a donation to NKCDC for maintenance of the light columns, you can visit their website: www.nkcdc.org/get-involved/donations.

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