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No need to be a rower to appreciate the history of Boathouse Row in Philadelphia

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STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
bbingaman@21st-centurymedia.com
@brianbingaman on Twitter

Day or night on the Schuylkill Expressway west of Center City, it’s difficult not to notice Boathouse Row.
But have you ever stopped to ponder what makes Boathouse Row a Philadelphia landmark? You don’t need a secret inside source to know. Former Philly newspaper reporter and editor (and rowing enthusiast) Dotty Brown has researched and written Temple University Press’ “Boathouse Row: Waves of Change in the Birthplace of American Rowing.”
Rowing was once the undisputed champion of U.S. spectator sports. Yes, even more popular than baseball or football. Add the sprawling Schuylkill River; the Fairmount Water Works; high school and city college rowing teams and the Dad Vail Regatta; Olympic medal-winners; and celebrities like artist Thomas Eakins and the Kelly family into the mix, and you have narrative that’s deep and wide.
There’s a chapter dedicated to Civil War hero and architect Frank Furness, who got the ball rolling on the Row’s eclectic architecture by designing the balconies, turrets and artsy geometric forms of the Undine Barge Club building in 1882. He’s the same guy that designed the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
There’s also the story how the Boathouse Row buildings got their lights in the 1970s.
“Boathouse Row”’s more than 160 images capture the various colorful fraternal rowing clubs spawned along the river, the struggle of women to participate in “the manly art of rowing,” the Row’s connection to the 1936 Summer Olympics in Nazi Germany, the scary Schuylkill flooding of 2006; and most importantly, offer a guide to what building is what — from Lloyd Hall at 1 Boathouse Row to Sedgeley at 15 Boathouse Row. Believe it or not, not all of them are rowing clubhouses.
The 288-page “Boathouse Row” is available for $35 at www.temple.edu/tempress. Also, visit www.boathouserowthebook.com.

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