Point Breeze, 1935



Much of the tidal Schuylkill is scarred by the the remains of an overbuilt petroleum distribution system whose scale is evidenced by the above photograph from National Geographic in 1935.  Perhaps ‘scarred’ isn’t the apt verb to describe the subterrenean impact of this petroleum drosscape: much of the damage affects soil and groundwater.  In retrospect, the calamitous Depression that created these vast sinuous tank centipedes portended the more sustained slowdown that would eventually render virtually all of this Fordist oil-moving infrastructure obsolete.



But in 1935, Philadelphia’s Atlantic Refining Company, later to become Atlantic-Richfield, owned Point Breeze as any industrial firm could claim dominion over a vast swathe of any city.   While in our earlier post we alluded to the constriction of the petroleum refining industry in Philadelphia over time, what strikes anyone about the arcotransformation of land is the relative persistence of refining operations in and among the same parcels of land.  The interation goes something like this:  the two big petroleum landowners Atlantic (later Atlantic-Richfield ARCO) and Gulf were purchased and subsumed into Sunoco and BP, Chevron, and Cumberland Farms respectively.  Regional powerhouse Sunoco snapped up both of these companies’ Philadelphia refining and distribution operations.  Interestingly, while most petroleum companies have adopted post-Fordist transactions based on horizontal networks, flexible production, and saavy brand manipulation–the fact remains that crude must still be refined and “cracked” in vast industrial plants taking up huge amounts of urban land.

While global demand assures endless permutations of brand and ownership arrangments with reductions in physical footprints, these landscapes–with their accumulated waste of defunct companies–of course, still remain.

[Special thanks to Adam Levine for the well-worn National Geographic of July, 1935]


6 thoughts on “Point Breeze, 1935

  1. Get real, as a former evironmental consultant and petroleum geologist, we can look back with 20-20 hindsight, from the perch of our current standard of living, and say “Oh my! What scoundrels our forbearers were, and how uncaring they were of the environment!”. We might have a different outlook just as the people of the 3rd world do today. They would trade more than a little enviromental degredation for a 4 fold increase in their standard of living. We of course can sit on our 1st world perch and wag a knowing finger at their ignorance, all the while driving our BMW’s, living in our centrally heated and air conditioned homes etc. etc. All these things are available to us because our Robber Baron forefathers did what they did to get rich, and by so doing pulled the rest of the population along into the 21st century.

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