Located at the northeast corner of 13th and Mifflin Streets, the Mifflin Substation was built in 1913. It houses large generators which served the electrical needs of the City Transit Division’s trolleys. The Substation still supplies back-up power for the Broad Street Subway. The building is built of brown brick with terra cotta accents and features four large, arched windows on the Mifflin Street side.
In 2008 students from the University of Pennsylvania’s Planning Program conducted a study of East Passyunk Avenue and the surrounding neighborhood. The students worked with community members from the East Passyunk Crossing Civic Association (EPX) to identify potential neighborhood improvements. Their report identified the Substation as a source of blight and noted that “…time and vandalism have taken their toll on the exterior. The terra cotta band near the base of the building has pieces missing. A number of window panes are cracked, and green metal screening that was installed to protect the glass is rusting and hanging haphazardly.” The students suggested that the building could be turned into an attraction through better lighting and some form of “window dressing” to mask the broken glass and rusted screening.
PHASE ONE: The “East Passyunk Passages” Mural Panels
In the fall of 2010, EPX applied for and received a $10,000 grant from the Dept. of Community and Economic Development with the assistance of Senator Larry Farnese. With funding secured, EPX chose neighborhood artist Donna Backues to design the window screens. Titled “East Passyunk Passages – Crossing Through The Ages” the five vignettes depict scenes from the neighborhood’s past and present. The transportation-related function of the building is woven into the artwork, illustrating how people have moved to and through South Philadelphia through the ages. The panels were fabricated and installed by Urban Sign, and the Mural Arts Program provided valuable expertise to help realize the project.
Each window will represents a different century and the people who called the area home at that time.
Window One – Pre-history through 17th-century: Wiccaco
This window depicts the area’s first inhabitants – the Lenni-Lenape who fished and hunted nearby. One of the Lenape’s walking trails developed into what is now Passyunk Avenue.
Window Two – 18th century: New Sweden
Tall-masted ships bring Swedish, Dutch and Finnish settlers to the area which is named Nya Sverige – “New Sweden.”
Window Three – 19th century: Moyamensing and Southwark
Horse-drawn trolleys bring new residents to the rapidly-expanding villages of Moyamensing and Southwark. In 1854 these villages were incorporated into the City of Philadelphia. The steeple of Annunciation BVM Roman Catholic Church, built in 1860, rises in the background.
Window Four – 20th century: South Philly
Electric trolleys and the subway help transport waves of immigrants to their new home in America. South Philadelphia becomes a melting pot of Germans, Irish, French, Jewish, Slavic, Polish, African Americans and others. Italian-Americans make up the largest group in our area.
Window Five – Current Day – East Passyunk Crossing
Buses have replaced trolleys, and new neighborhood names are crafted, but our area – where East Passyunk Avenue crosses the heart of South Philly – continues to welcome a mix of people from around the region and world.
PHASE TWO: The Fifth Window Challenge
The fifth window on the building’s Mifflin Street side presents a problem. This window is part of a bay that projects out from the facade. This opening likely functioned as a doorway through which the equipment installed in the building were loaded.
The opening comes within a few feet of the sidewalk level so there are concerns about vandalism/graffiti.
The material used to produce artwork for this space will need to be durable.
EPX is currently evaluating options and raising funds to complete the next phase of this project.
We welcome donations.
PHASE THREE: Linear Mosaic
A mosaic-covered decorative band is proposed to cover the broken and missing terra cotta at the base of the building’s Mifflin Street and 13th Street sides. This installation could weave together unique three-dimensional elements, such as tiles and other durable objects, representing aspects of the neighborhood’s diverse cultural past such as:
- turtles and bear claws, symbols of the native Lenni Lenape
- the blue & gold flag and heraldic coat of arms of the Swedish, the area’s first European settlers
- various types of fish, representing the Italian Community’s beloved Christmas tradition “Feast of the Seven Fishes”
- other elements representative of the Irish, German, and Jewish communities that once thrived in the area, along with the more recent Mexican and Southeast Asian immigrants