Future for East Park Canoe House uncertain after Temple cut crew

An unexpected casualty in the fallout from Temple University’s decision to cut seven athletic teams, including men’s and women’s crew, is the historic East Park Canoe House.

Temple was considering partnering with the city to restore and re-occupy the Canoe House as home for its rowing teams. 

Temple’s decision to cut crew was “a complete surprise to us,” said Mark Focht, First Deputy Commissioner of Philadelphia Parks & Recreation. “We had been going back and forth with Temple about their possible reuse of the East Park Canoe House… but things had been quiet for the last few months.”

Temple was the primary tenant of the Canoe House for 41 years, until the building was closed in 2008 when the Department of Licenses and Inspections found structural issues and code violations. Temple floated the idea to build a new boathouse on the river, between the Canoe House and the Strawberry Mansion Bridge, but withdrew that plan this spring saying it would take more time to consider its options. New buildings are not permitted to be built in Fairmount Park without a trade of comparable land that would result in no net loss of parkland. That proved a hard bargain for Temple, so instead they had offered $1.5 million toward restoring the Canoe House.

“We may have cut our own throat, pushing for a new boathouse,” Temple’s rowing coach Gavin White told the Inquirer last week. “I think when they saw the cost of property in the park and everything else, they might have said, ‘Whoa.’ “

For much of this year Temple had a team of architects reviewing the city’s restoration plans to see if the building could accommodate the University’s teams.

“We knew nothing about [Temple’s] internal discussions and were as taken by surprise as anybody,” Focht said. “We were literally just waiting to hear from them.”

Parks and Recreation has been working toward the Canoe House’s restoration for years. SMP Architects developed a complete reuse plan of the Canoe House as a rowing facility, with public restrooms and a small refreshment stand. SMP’s construction documents are almost 100% complete, and Focht said the projected cost of the restoration project is about $5 million.

Temple’s interest in reusing the Canoe House had given focus to the restoration project, and offered an opportunity for the city to share costs for the restoration.

“We haven’t waivered from our commitment to restoring the building,” said Focht. But to move forward the city needs a tenant or tenants in place.

Before closing the Canoe House was also used by North Catholic, Father Judge, and La Salle high schools. North Catholic no longer exists and Father Judge and La Salle have found other boathouses to use. The Philadelphia Police Marine Unit still stores a boat in the Canoe House so it can have river access above the dam.

Temple rowers past and present, decorated with medals and trophies, will rally at the Canoe House at 11am on December 14 to protest the University’s decision to cut the rowing programs.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal