Historic Trolley Substation In Germantown Succumbs

February 6, 2012 |  by  |  News  |  , , ,

Described in 1990 as a “beautiful little system [that] has been operating reliably for over 80 years,” Union Traction Company’s trolley substation in Germantown is now being demolished.

Built in 1900 to provide 600 volts direct current to northwest Philadelphia’s trolley system, Substation No. 2 was taken off-line when SEPTA converted the Route 23 trolley to “temporary bus” in 1992. Deferred maintenance (some say demolition by neglect) over the next twenty years allowed the handsome brick building at 123 East Chelten Avenue to deteriorate. With the restoration of trolley service on Route 23 still on indefinite hold, dismantling began late last year and continues at this time.

Union Traction Co Substa No 2

Image: Joel Spivak Collection

In Workshop of the World, Harold E. Spaulding describes Substation No. 2:

It has a classic open-front switchboard of ebony asbestos, with gleaming copper knife switches and Weston meters with cast iron cases. Facing the switchboard are three rotary synchronous convertors, alleged to be among the last station sets in Philadelphia.

The restoration of electric trolley service to Routes 23 and 56 remains on SEPTA’s long-range list of capital improvements. But with each passing year, the infrastructure already in place is allowed to deteriorate, making the eventual restoration more expensive. Recent exceptions to this “not-so benign neglect” are the brand new trolley rails and wires constructed in Germantown and Mt Airy (improvements insisted upon not by SEPTA, but by the City of Philadelphia and paid for by PennDOT).

123 E Chelten Av Substa No 2 rotary converter Feb 2012

123 E Chelten Av Substa No 2 rotary converter Feb 2012

With Substation No. 2 gone, future restoration of electric streetcars to Germantown Avenue will require the installation of new substation equipment. Modern electrical equipment has the capability to run automatically, without personnel assigned to it round-the-clock. That advantage should make future trolley service more cost-effective than what was suspended twenty years ago.

About the author

Mike Szilagyi was born in the Logan neighborhood of Philadelphia, and raised in both Logan and what was the far edge of suburbia near Valley Forge. He found himself deeply intrigued by both the built landscape and by the natural “lay of the land.” Where things really get interesting is the fluid, intricate, multi-layered interface between the two.

Send a message!



1 Comment


  1. NickFromGermantown

    Why was this demolished? I don’t see the purpose. It did not seem to pose imminent danger nor was it negatively affecting the area. If anything, it’s a shame it will not be repurposed. It is a rather handsome building.

Trackbacks

  1. Construction on E Chelten Ave
Recent Posts
Transforming The Schuylkill

Transforming The Schuylkill

December 17, 2014  |  Morning Blend

A re-bridging of sorts for the Central Schuylkill, good news for South Philly ship, Liberty Square work begins, and the lax enforcement of condos’ Christmas tree ban > more

Reanimating The Archives At William Way

Reanimating The Archives At William Way

December 17, 2014  |  News

It's been a long journey home for the William Way Community Center and a bumpy ride for their archives. With a William Penn Foundation grant in hand, they will soon have a proper research facility dedicated to local LGBT history. Erin Bernard takes us into their stacks and down the path that led the community center to Spruce Street > more

On The Dangers Of Ad Hoc Interpretations Of The Zoning Code

On The Dangers Of Ad Hoc Interpretations Of The Zoning Code

December 16, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Just how slippery of a slope are laxer readings of “safety services," Mummers seek a more approachable experience this year, CDC gets $40K reward, and making way for East Market development > more

Trove Of Philly-Centric Books For The Holidays

Trove Of Philly-Centric Books For The Holidays

December 16, 2014  |  Vantage

If you're looking for holiday books with a Philly bent, Nathaniel Popkin has ten new ones--from art to essays to history, biography, and policy--to suit the readers on your list > more

Isaiah Zagar To Preview Magic

Isaiah Zagar To Preview Magic “Cathedral”

December 15, 2014  |  Morning Blend

New mosaic project on Watkins Street, West Philly man to keep art studio, why you ought to visit Glen Foerd, and a singular redevelopment history at 7th & Snyder > more

A North Philly Building's Direct Connection To The Past

A North Philly Building’s Direct Connection To The Past

December 15, 2014  |  The Shadow Knows

You can't keep a good Windrim down. This former Bell building at 17th and Diamond has persevered for over a century, being reused as an undertaker school, Masonic temple, Mennonite church, and community center. We got on the horn with The Shadow to get the scoop on this heavyweight champion of adaptation > more