In today’s episode, we’re exploring one of the most incredible structures ever built for the purpose of power generation. The Port Richmond Generating Station. The plant was built by the Philadelphia Electric Company in 1925 along the bank of the Delaware river. It’s Neoclassical architecture was meant to signal permanence, but it would only operate for 60 years. Since 1984, it’s been sitting idle, and left at the mercy of metal thieves and vandals. Now, we’re venturing inside the rusting behemoth to discover what’s left. I’ve been trying to recover from a cold these past few days and the sponsor of this video, Trade Coffee, really helped me feel better. Trade is an online service to help you find the perfect cup of coffee for your taste and deliver it straight to your door. It’s roasted to order, fresh, premium coffee, so you know you’ll always be enjoying a great tasting cup. The website first asks you a couple questions to figure out what flavors you prefer, and then it will recommend a coffee based on that. Since I’m sick, it’s nice being able to know I’m going to have a great cup of coffee no matter how bad I feel. And you can enjoy a great cup of coffee too, with a great deal. Trade is giving the first 100 people who click the link in the description 30% off their first coffee. Just click the link in the description and use the code, PROPERPEOPLE2. We had previously attempted to access this plant 3 times over the years but every time, we were deterred by the presence of workers near the building. Today, we were determined to make it inside. He’s standing right there. You see him? Yeah I do. He’s right by the passenger door. We’re just gonna have to wait him out, we’re already this far. After a few minutes, the worker drove off, but we didn’t see where he went. They got like a hundred patches on the fence over here, you see that? There’s cameras everywhere. There are. We just gotta go for it. This way?
-Yea. [sigh of relief] It’s scary.
-I know. It’s not that bad once you do it. I know. Just get on this side of the railing. It’s just like that split second of not having your hands on anything. We should pull our cameras out. Is this an elevator car?
-Yes. Wow. Okay, now these were the boilers. Okay. Pretty big. This was pretty cool right here. A lot of water dripping down. Alright, main turbine hall. How should we get there? All I know is we need to keep moving in this direction. I hear stuff above us. Voices… You hear voices?
-Yea. Stick close together. We had heard stories of scrappers stalking and threatening people here, so we were a little uneasy in the dark and tight spaces of the boiler house where someone could be hiding around any corner. You could get some cool long exposures with a tripod in here. [distant bang] Jesus, alright I see the main turbine hall I think. Okay, let’s go.
-Yea. Safety bulletins. Oh crap, look straight up. There’s giant skylights up there. Have to go through. Oh my god. It’s beautiful. It’s full of turbines. It’s absolutely massive. The roof’s almost entirely gone now. It’s really… really decayed in the past few years. Richmond’s turbine hall is truly a sight to behold. Four massive turbines are aligned down the center of the room two of which date back to the plant’s original construction in 1925. Altogether, the plant was capable of producing 600 megawatts of power at it’s peak. The plant was designed by John T. Windrim, a famous Philadelphia architect who designed over 30 buildings for the Philadelphia Electric Company. Some of his other palatial plants include the Chester Waterside Station, and the Delaware Station but both of those have been gutted of their original generating equipment, making Port Richmond one of a kind. You definitely do not want to end up in that water down there. You’ll get some sepsis. There is a dangling chunk of ceiling right above us. Oh, I do see that. This place is extremely dangerous. Ooaah, a fricking huge spider web. Spider check! No, seriously. Do a 360. I did not see any spiders on you. Oh wait- You wanna know why? I walked through this web… Come look at this spider that’s just on the other side of this. It’s on that box. Yeah I see it. It’s huge. This turbine back here is the biggest one. Oh this pit has a lot more machinery in it than the other ones. It looks like they all would’ve been painted green too, but it’s all chipped away. The bare metal is just rusted. The scale of this place doesn’t even come across on camera. There’s a little control panel, just for this generator probably. Look at that giant valve. It’s almost like it’s nautical, where it just looks like a sunken ship. Good luck turning that…
-Yea. This looks like a sunken ship. I mean even if it wasn’t rusted it’d probably take a huge amount of force to turn. Oh this is a really cool panel right here. Reminds me of like a bug-eye or something. Even though Richmond Station is massive, the original plans called for it to be triple the size of what it is today. A lack of anticipated demand is what kept the plant from expanding further. It’s pretty windy out too… which isn’t a good thing when you have pieces of ceiling hanging above your head. Every time I hear a gust of wind I’m ready to look up and dart out of the way. The longer we hung out in the turbine hall, the greater our chance was of getting hit with a giant piece of concrete so we decided it was time to head to the next main attraction, the control room. At Port Richmond the main control room is located inside a building known as the switch house. This area of the plant was responsible for connecting the power plant to the rest of the grid. The switch house itself is an uncommon feature, usually only found in the oldest of power plants. It turns out, just putting the equipment outside in a switchyard was a cheaper and easier solution. Okay here’s stairs, that’ll take us up. And that was an elevator. There’s a car down there too. Gosh, look at this detail. That’s fantastic. Do you wanna go upstairs? Yea I just wanted to take a quick peek at what all this is down here. Main switch- switches, okay. Oh this was like the switch house.
-Distribution.
-Yea. Yea. All emptied out though. Up we go. I wonder if this is gonna have intermediate floors or if it’s just gonna go right up to the control room level. Might just go right up, or at least somewhere near it. Well, here’s an intermediate floor. Oh wait, we might be at the control room already. This looks like the back of a control panel. I don’t think this was a control panel, but it’s something related to it.
-It was a fuse board. These are all fuses.
-There’s a chalkboard over there too. I think the control room is just right above us.
-Yea these are all fuses. And look, all the pipes go up one floor, so this is like a sub-floor of the control room. I think so. Wiring diagram.
-Wow, yea. Here there’s stairs back here. Here it is! Wow. Imagine the graffiti’s not there, and it’s amazing. All the dials are missing too. People probably stole them as souvenirs.
-I’m sure. Look how many there were. It’s pretty scrapped.
-Yea. What is this material? Is that like some kind of marble too? Yea it’s rock. They built a control panel out of marble, or some kind of rock. That is crazy.
-Yea. This is rock.
-Holy cow.
-They built the controls right through it. You can see just how thick it is too. And this newer unit you can see they replaced it just with metal. Yup. Do you see that teal thing on the wall there? Yea. That looks exactly like the ones we saw at the 50s Art Deco power plant. They probably added that one. And that one probably went with the turbine that looks newer too. And these metal things over here are newer too.
-Yea. You can see the gauges are completely different. Watch your step here. Now this is a view. Oh wow that’s interesting. They didn’t call it the control room, they called it the operating room. We’re looking for the part of the building right now that was used as the set for the movie 12 Monkeys. They made part of this look like an asylum. I think there’s even a stretcher left. Come on, find the window, it’s lower. Wanna just go down one of these? Sure. What if it’s one hallway over… These doors really look like asylum doors though. That’s why they chose them.
-Yea. Wanna just cut across? Yea. This has to be it. Psychotherapy. Is that really all there is to it? There’s just a bed and psychotherapy on the wall, or is there more parts to the set still here?
-That’s it I guess. But like the bed is barely even… a thing anymore, it’s falling apart.
-Yea. And it’s funny because literally anyone can just spray paint psychotherapy on there.
-Yea. It’s just a stencil. This looks like it was a set piece in here.
-They built a room out of this doorway. They quite literally have built a room out of the doorway. That’s a nice view. I think this might be the one shot that like actually makes the scale of this place come across. You look like an ant. This part is all reinforced concrete so I don’t think it’s in danger of collapse. Well, those metal grates aren’t. Yea I know. But I don’t see any portions of this walkway that have collapse.
-The center point is right in front of that metal grate which you’re at.
-Yea. It’s pretty crazy to imagine how something like this even got built, but… back then I guess it could happen. But can you just imagine getting a bunch of- Well back when this was built, electricity was pretty much new.
-Mhmm. And it was a marvel, and everyone was like, amazed by it. So of course, the thing that makes this amazing electricity, they’d make it look beautiful, that way people like looked up to it like this great thing. Yea. And that leads to buildings that look like this, which nowadays… a power plant’s a warehouse with some generators in it.
-Mhmm. Now this, this is art. But it’s still kind of crazy, because it’s not like a public accessible building. Y’know the public can see it from the outside, but no one’s really gonna see it from the inside, but… back then they could justify it. I mean they didn’t really know how to build buildings any differently back then, they only knew how to go all out. This was from the 20s so… Yea. right at like the peak of like modern, ornate buildings. But like the actual style of architecture goes all the way back to ancient Roman…
-Yea, mhmm. architecture, I think they said they modeled it after an ancient Roman bathhouse. Which is kind of funny too, cause, the idea of using that classical kind of architecture is to create something that, y’know, gives a vibe that it’s gonna be there forever, like this style of architecture has been around forever so this is a permanent building that’s gonna last forever and, Well physically it lasted.
-It didn’t even last a century. Physically it lasted. Debatably
-Except the ceiling.
-Yea. But yea.
-If it was kept up it could’ve lasted much longer. These look like pretty old-fashioned crane controls. All mechanical. How do I fire this bad boy up? Oh sheet. This has like a very satisfying mechanical feel to it. There’s a lot of barricaded doors which makes getting around here kind of annoying.
-It is. A lot of natural light comes in up here though where these skylights are. The floor here is different. It’s all grate, that’s what it is. And the grate doesn’t look too good. The grate doesn’t look great? No. This looks kind of cool though. You wanna go on this? Um…
-I mean it feels okay.
-I’m just gonna peek in. This is pretty cool. These tubes… While we were at the top of the boiler house, a light rainstorm came through. Let’s take a moment to enjoy the ambiance. One reason I love this power plant is because there’s no reason it HAD to be built with all these intricate details and grandiose architecture. It’s just a power plant after all. All it had to do was create electricity. I think that demonstrates a fundamental change in philosophy of the way we construct the world around us. To me, the world is feeling more and more disposable. Everything is created as cheaply as possible and is simply a means to an end. But, when Port Richmond Station was built, the builders thought they were constructing something that would serve future generations for centuries. And when we’re creating something permanent, it’s only natural for us to want to inject art, creativity, and craftsmanship into it. It’s what makes us human, and that’s what’s lacking from so much of what we build today. Am I saying we should start building giant palatial power plants again? No, obviously it’s better to put that money towards creating cleaner and more environmentally friendly energy. But, I do think there’s something we can learn from this building. The architecture around us has the power to control how we feel. When you stand in that turbine hall, you don’t just see the artistry and craftsmanship, you feel it. You feel the pride of the hundreds of designers, builders, and engineers involved in it’s making. You feel the message, that this is a shrine to electricity and the promises of the future it brings with it. I think I’d wanna live in a world with more of these types of buildings, not less. Trade Coffee, the sponsor of today’s video, is giving the first 100 people who click the link the description 30% off their first coffee. Just click the link in the description and use the code ‘PROPERPEOPLE2’.