The coming petroleum drosscape: Socony-Vacuum Oil Company ruins as case study


These are ruins of an industrial complex once owned by the Socony-Vacuum Oil Company south of Bartram’s Garden in the vicinity of 56th street. The area is described as Gibson’s Point on a 1923 nautical map in the NOAA archives. The facility was designed to supply tank trucks oil and gas for distribution around Philadelphia. It is unknown whether the fueling station was connected to the Atlantic Refining Company across the river but chances are good that the Socony-Vacuum facility made use of its location within the South Schuylkill refining district that developed in the early 20th century is still a presence today.

Below is a picture from the State Museum’s collection from the defunct Philadelphia Commercial Museum of a refinery — perhaps ARCO — around Point Breeze. Since the establishment of the Gas Works at this location in the mid-19th century, all sorts of refining facilities have grown up in the unpopulated crooks and bends of the Schuylkill. During most of the 19th and early 20th centuries, when South Philadelphia was largely undeveloped and most Americans saw industrial technology as an unalloyed good, these refineries were no nuisance. Now they are environmental thorns in the side of South and Southwest Philadelphia.


In Philadelphia, it is more likely that land associated with the refining and distribution of petroleum products will grow increasingly underused as costs rise and companies look to abandon or combine inefficient facilities. The vast tracts of former industrial land are what Alan Berger calls the drossscape (after the waste product of steelmaking) which tend to “accumulate in the wake of the socio- and spatio-economic processes of deindustrialization, post-Fordism, and technological innovation.” Clearly, reutilization of this type of severely environmentally degraded land, along with the declining population base to support and maintain properties of this scope means that there are no easy solutions in cases of drosscape renewal/reuse.

For issues/technologies used in drossscape remediation:

Here are more shots of the Socony-Vacuum facility:











6 thoughts on “The coming petroleum drosscape: Socony-Vacuum Oil Company ruins as case study

  1. Hi, wow I was just at this site. I was wondering what it was. I was there this past June and most of the buildings are gone. Nice pics do you have a myspace?

  2. I grew up in South Philly during the 60’s while it was still a somewhat industrial city. On the Schuylkill side we had the gas works and on the Delaware side was Publiker’s and a few other distilleries. There were smokestacks all over the place belching out all sorts of effluents into the air. If the air was blowing one way you got the rotten egg smell from the gas works. If it blew the other way you got a pungent odor that emmanated from Publikers. Yes indeed, I grew up amid the water towers, smokestacks, brick factory buildings and railroad sidings. At 7am, 12 noon and 4pm the big steam whistle growled down at the Navy Yard to mark the end of each shift.

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