Eastern State Penitentiary is truly one of Philadelphia’s architectural gems, attracting over a quarter-million tourists annually. After serving as a prison between 1829 and 1970, the structure was mostly abandoned for a couple of decades, and faced the possibility of demolition during Frank Rizzo’s administration. By 1994, the building had reopened for tour groups, and its popularity as an attraction has grown tremendously in the years since.

The prison

A notable feature of the building that may go unnoticed by tourists is that it’s surrounded by green space, particularly on the northern and eastern sides. According to Friends of Eastern State Penitentiary Park, these spaces were overgrown, trash-strewn, and extremely unwelcoming in the late 1990s, but have improved tremendously in the years since due to tremendous fundraising and volunteer efforts in the community. Less than ten years ago, a playground was constructed at the corner of 22nd & Brown, across the street from the Bache-Martin School.

In more recent years, the group has turned its attention to the Corinthian side of the prison, and is now early in the process of embarking on a journey to create a space called Corinthian Gardens. Last spring, seventeen new trees were planted in this area. Several additional phases are planned for this green space, which is tentatively expected to open to the public this spring, at least in part.

Looking up Corinthian

Wider shot

Looking over the fence

When completed, Corinthian Gardens will include individual garden plots, relaxation gardens, a kids playscape, a food forest garden, exercise areas, and plenty of new trees. The plan is clearly very well conceived, and will be a major boon to the neighborhood once it’s realized.

View of the future

Interested in volunteering or contributing to the cause? Click here for more information. The next volunteer event at Corinthian Gardens will take place on April 21st, the day before Earth Day. No need to register, just show up and bring a rake or a shovel or a good work ethic, and they’ll put you to work.