Alterations and Additions Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia Pennsylvania

The decades immediately following the completion of Haviland's plan were marked by renovations to existing structures and systems and the erection of smaller support buildings. The penitentiary's annual reports provide good documentation of the various projects undertaken to improve conditions on the site during its early years. For example, the heating system was constantly evolving. Frenchmen Demetz and Blouet reported in 1837 that there had been a hot air system with brick cockle stoves located below the cells at the ends of each cellblock. The heated air passed through the vaulted underground tunnels into small flues in the cell floors; similar flues in the cell walls released stale air. Corridors and the Observatory were heated via floor grates located above the furnace.

The ineffective distribution of hot air, the inmates' use of the flue system to communicate with each other, and an accident resulting in the near-asphyxiation of twenty inmates all contributed to the switch to hot water heating beginning in 1838. This system required the use of furnaces or boilers in wood sheds located at the outer end of each cellblock. The cell was heated by twin pipes along the base of its inner wall. By 1850, Eastern State Penitentiary physician Robert A. Given reported that this mode of heating was "exceedingly defective." In 1861, the warden reported on the effective use of steam heat in Cellblock 4, and by mid-decade, Cellblocks 1, 2, 5, and 6 were converted to steam heat with decentralized boilers located in each cellblock.

Ventilation and lighting were also important issues. According to Haviland's original plan, each cell received fresh air via a circular "dead-eye" skylight, a door to the exercise yard, and a slot air vent beneath the sill of that door. Skylights and end windows provided lighting and ventilation for the corridors. The inadequacy of the small "dead-eyes" inspired Haviland to add circular openings above the yard doors in the old cellblocks and to outfit the two-story blocks with narrow rectangular skylights. The ideals of solitary confinement and adequate ventilation were soon compromised: a surge in the inmate population necessitated the conversion of the double-size cells (on the second story of Cellblocks 4-7) into single cells, and the tall exercise yard walls ironically served to prohibit the free entry of air and light into the first-story cells. No later than 1837, daylight was supplemented by the use of iron oil lamps, and gas lighting was in use by 1855.

Toilets and water supply also underwent renovation. Demetz and Blouet described the original sanitary plumbing system with its conical iron water closets on the exterior cell wall and narrow-diameter pipes leading to the yard culvert. This system's problems included its use by prisoners to communicate with one another and the unpleasant odors caused by limiting flushing to two to three times per week. When the Spring Garden District opened its own waterworks on the Schuylkill in 1845, it located its new reservoir behind the penitentiary at Corinthian Avenue and Poplar Street. Buildings system historian David Cornelius notes that the fortuitous location of this new reservoir at a higher elevation than Eastern State "benefitted the Penitentiary greatly by permitting the .... daily flushing of the water closets." Nonetheless, Eastern State continued to use its own reservoir as supplement and back-up for the city water supply. A new sewage culvert was constructed for $1900 in 1853. Each cell was supplied with a cold water tap and a wash basin (until the 20th century when most of the cellblocks were outfitted with sinks). By 1844, prisoners took their weekly baths in ten bathing compartments erected at the north end of Cellblock 4. The bath water was heated by the "daily escape-steam from the steam engine" in the nearby boiler house.

The structure of the penitentiary underwent some renovations, including a general re-roofing campaign. Partially abandoned in 1850 due to the failure of their slate roofs, Cellblocks 1-3 were re-roofed in a superior slate and their corridors "remodeled" in the mid-1850's. In 1861, the wood shingle roofs of Cellblocks 4-7 were replaced with slate shingles, and the annual report recorded a need for the re-roofing of the reservoir, engine house, "wareroom," stable, and perimeter walls. Renovations to the cells included the replacement of decaying plank floors with linseed oil-soaked wood covered with rough carpet.

Also during this period, a number of timber-framed structures appeared on and disappeared from the site to provide temporary shelter for workshops, baths, boilers, and laundry facilities. Some of these "decaying unsightly frames" were eventually replaced with brick buildings like the fireproof paint shed erected at the end of Cellblock 3. Several more substantial buildings rose on the site, including a laundry to replace facilities destroyed by fire earlier that year and a masonry structure housing the kitchen, bakehouse, and brick-lined reservoir.

By 1866, the swelling of the inmate population to 569, twenty-nine more than the single-occupancy cell capacity, caused a reevaluation of the Pennsylvania System. Eastern State Penitentiary responded by pairing prisoners in some cells and considering an expansion of the cellblocks. Overseer Michael Cassidy prepared plans and superintended the construction of a twenty-cell addition to the end of Cellblock 1. In their 1869 Annual Report, the Inspectors described the cells as "the most complete and perfect in construction, for the purpose, yet erected in any Penitentiary."

With larger dimensions (16' long x 8' wide) providing almost fifty percent additional square footage, more convenient wood sliding doors, large skylights, and better integrated service systems, Cassidy's cells did introduce some marked improvements over the early Haviland cells. From a design perspective, however, the new cells are remarkable for their adherence to Haviland's precedent. They repeat the same construction methods and materials and the same basic form with attached exercise yard.61 Also, the Administration Building witnessed some repairs and alterations for the first time since 1829. The warden's apartment was renovated and a new "reception room" constructed probably in the west courtyard.

Pleased with Cassidy's work, the Inspectors engaged him to prepare plans for three new cellblocks and the extension of Cellblock 3, which would be funded by a total of $87,000 in state appropriations. In the wedge-shaped space south of the Observatory were constructed near-symmetrical Cellblocks 8 (1877) and 9 (1877-78) with fifty cells each, observed from the rotunda by means of an invention of Inspector Richard Vaux: two angled mirrors placed in the axial corridor leading to the new cellblocks. Each of these even larger cells (18' x 8' x 12') was outfitted with two skylights, gas burners, and improved ventilators; however, they lacked exercise yards, and their proximity to Cellblocks 1 and 7 must have limited the intake of fresh air and light.

1879 witnessed the completion of Cellblock 10 with its thirty-two cells accessed by a secondary corridor running southeast from Cellblock 2's corridor as well as the completion of the twenty-cell "hospital department" extension to Cellblock 3. These still larger cells (20' x 8' x 12') brought the prison total from 580 to 732. Probably during or soon after this building campaign, Cassidy built for himself and a clerk a bullet-shaped brick office building (now the Catholic chapel) in the space between the corridors of Cellblocks 9 and 1. All this new construction demonstrated the prison officials' embattled faith that solitary confinement was the only way to run a prison. For the Inspectors, the cells themselves performed the work of reforming criminals:

They [the new cells] are intended to stimulate his moral character, by cleanliness and order, and to afford a freedom from many annoying and irritating causes which are injurious, when existing as incident to the treatment enforced on convicts ....

It has been the purpose of the Inspectors, in the construction of these buildings, to make them as perfect as possible. While it is a prison in which individuals are restrained of their personal liberty as the precedent condition to relieve the punishment for crime, yet the Inspectors have been led to the conclusion that the separate places where each convict is to be confined should be, as far as possible, a separate "reformatory," devoted to the treatment of each individual....

It is, therefore, to be observed, as the Inspectors believe to be true, that the prison structures, and their proper application to the purpose of both incarceration and punishment, are important elements in the methods of reformatory prison discipline. As hospitals for the sick, or any buildings for special uses, should be so constructed, as to apply them to their design and enable the curative treatment, or the application of whatever means are necessary, to be most effectively made, so it is believed a prison is no exception to this rule of common sense, and admitted scientific principles.

Although the 1881 report announced that the new structures represented the opening of a new era in prison architecture, they in fact represented a conservative repetition of Haviland's old designs with only minor modifications.

Information about Eastern State's structures and their uses in the 1880s is provided by a large model of the prison made mid-decade and plans in a book published by newly-appointed warden Michael Cassidy. New structures included boiler houses at the ends of Cellblocks 5-7 and near the rotunda entrances to Cellblocks 1-3, a hothouse and a blacksmith shop/stable building between Cellblocks 2 and 3, a carpenter's shop between Cellblocks 3 and 4, a bathhouse at the end of Cellblock 4, the reservoir/grist mill/cistern/bakehouse between Cellblocks 4 and 5, and a washhouse between Cellblocks 5 and 6. Cassidy also noted the location of the resident physician on the ground floor of the west wing of the administration building and identified a gymnasium as well as workshops for coopering, furniture-making and printing in Cellblock 3, a hosiery knitting room in Cellblock 8, shoemaking in Cellblock 9, and chair-caning in Cellblock 1.

A series of repairs and renovations were made by century's close. Perhaps the most innovative of these was the outfitting of the facilities with electric light between 1888 and 1890. The arc lights for exterior spaces and incandescent lights for interiors provided an effective and economical means of lighting the prison. Electric power was generated on site first at the reservoir engine house and later (by 1902) at a new central power plant. Ongoing concern about the swollen inmate population inspired the 1894 decision to build yet another cellblock. The stable/blacksmith building between Cellblocks 2 and 3 was removed and reconstructed elsewhere to make room for thirty-five-cell Cellblock 11, designed by Cassidy and overseer William Johnston. For $11,714.84, Cellblock 11 was erected by prison labor within seven months. This one-story cellblock provided a near mirror image to Cellblock 10 and began at the same secondary connecting point as Cellblocks 2 and 10. Almost three quarters of a century after Haviland's original proposals for Eastern, Cassidy and Johnston devised a cellblock that echoed the early architect's plans and construction for a socially-controlling architecture.

With the deaths of Inspector Vaux and Warden Cassidy in 1895 and 1900 respectively, the Eastern State Penitentiary lost two of the most fervent proponents of the Pennsylvania system. The State of Pennsylvania took a more active role in the affairs of the prison at the beginning of the century. Appropriations just for repairs and support systems in 1900-01 totalled over $35,000. One of the more interesting projects undertaken in 1899 was the enlargement and improved ventilation of cells in Cellblock 3 for the care of tubercular prisoners. In response to the tuberculosis epidemic afflicting Eastern State's inmates at the turn of the century, the new 20' x 17' x 14' high cells had oversized windows and doors and 18' x 18' yards. Other projects underway in the century's first decade included significant renovations of the water, heating, electrical, and drainage systems as well as landscaping and repairs to the cellblocks.

Although convicts continued to be employed as laborers, the state clearly attempted to rationalize construction practice and facility use at Eastern State Penitentiary when it hired architects William S. Vaux (cousin of Richard and brother of current inspector George Vaux) and George S. Morris to survey the site and design several new buildings. The architects erected a series of sturdy masonry buildings that represented the most self-conscious use of applied gothic detail since Haviland's decision to dress the prison's primary facade as a Norman castle. At once, the architects honored Haviland's precedent and as building systems historian David Cornelius put it "deferred to external models ... [with] allusions both to reformatories such as Huntington and (without apparent irony) to the collegiate Gothic of universities and high schools." All constructed between 1901 and 1909, their buildings included a new boiler and engine house (demolished 1950s) between Cellblocks 3 and 4, a storehouse addition to the kitchen, an industrial building between Cellblocks 5 and 6; a shop building (demolished 1950s), and an emergency hospital (demolished 1937) between Cellblocks 2 and 3. Also, the plumbing system underwent modernization in 1907-12 with new fixtures installed, new pipes laid, and the belt line reconstructed.

The intense construction activity on the site during the early 20th century marks a crucial turning point in the operations and governance of Eastern State. At the same moment when the reformatory movement was growing widespread popularity for its emphasis on vocational instruction, there emerges a striking pattern of creating work spaces and work projects for the prisoners at Cherry Hill. This industrialization movement, with its emphasis on congregate work, is demonstrated in several aspects of the 1900-1913 building campaign.

The erection of structures for industrial purposes signalled the decline of craft-oriented work that could be performed in one's cell or exercise yard. Large-scale spaces were specifically designed to house heavy machinery and/or multiple pieces of smaller equipment so as to create a factory environment. Not only was Eastern State Penitentiary creating industrial spaces where the prisoners would work communally, but it was allowing the prisoners to serve as construction laborers and provide the communal labor to create these spaces. The modern technologies put to use in all of these new buildings educated the inmates in contemporary construction technologies and even gave parts of the penitentiary a new look.

Cornelius notes that the Morris and Vaux kitchen addition provides a good example of "contemporary industrial architecture." It has "heavy timber mill construction in the ancillary areas and trussed girders (timber, with iron or steel rods) supporting the raised monitor of the main kitchen space." The use of cast iron connectors, he continues, is "characteristic of good contemporary practice." As employed in the stable (built in 1911, now a garage) and Cellblock 12 (1909-11), reinforced concrete made a relatively early appearance here. The cellblock's smooth surfaces and uniform distribution of windows make a telling illustration of prison as factory.

The fact that only one major cellblock rose between 1895 and 1926 demonstrates that prison officials had decided to abandon the ideal of solitary confinement and to attempt to make the prison work. With its 120 cells on three floors, Cellblock 12 represented a small gesture at upping the number of cells on site despite the gap between cells and prisoners (about 760 cells for 1527 prisoners in 1909) that had widened beyond control. Eastern State Penitentiary was rapidly losing its private spaces. The ongoing conversion of exercise yards and even cells to workrooms and schoolrooms became a particular issue in the 1900's. The Board of Public Charities commented that "We regret to notice the increasing tendency to the removing of cells from the use of the prisoners. Within three years at least sixty cells, formerly occupied by prisoners, have been appropriated to other purposes." Nonetheless, the pattern continued as Cellblock 7 got a new tailor shop, Cellblock 2 was fitted with a laundry, and Cellblock 5 sported a new shoe-making shop. As it doubled up inmates in the private cells, converted its exercise yards, and built new work spaces, the penitentiary physically shed the Pennsylvania system.

On 7 July 1913, Governor John K. Tener signed a bill making Eastern State Penitentiary a congregate prison, but this event did not trigger any major building campaigns on site. In fact, the next four decades were marked by a process of consolidation. With few exceptions, the penitentiary continued to explore the evolving needs that a semi-congregate system of prison governance placed on existing physical fabric.

A less organized process before 1913, the conversion of exercise yards into workshops and classrooms soon became prison policy. The Inspectors' 1919 Annual Report stated that "space afforded the cell yards is being utilized for the construction of rooms to be used in the various services of labor and educational training." The plans drawn up for a 1936 WPA documentation project locate various workshops, classrooms, and offices in exercise yards and cells throughout the complex. Some of the major industries were printing in a new wedgeshaped structure between Cellblocks 1 and 10; weaving in Cellblock 5; dyeing and hosiery manufacture in Cellblock 6; painting and woodworking in Cellblock 7. Also more and more of Cellblock 3 was given over to the infirmary. Cellblock 4's west range and Cellblock 5's northeast range of exercise yards were converted for use as long mess halls in 1924-25.

The reuse of exercise yards logically coincided with the creation of outdoor exercise spaces for congregate use. Paved portions of the inner perimeter wall provided handball courts. Despite the presence of two buildings, the area between Cellblocks 3 and 4 served as a makeshift athletic field. Other congregate activities necessitated the creative reuse of existing buildings. The storeroom on the second floor of the Industrial Building was fitted up as a chapel and auditorium by 1916. This conversion probably caused the installation of benches as well as the decorative stenciling of the room's beams and ceilings.

The most significant new construction of the period between the wars took place not at Eastern State Penitentiary but at its "farm branch" in Graterford. Designed by a Chicago firm, this new prison was built between 1927 and 1933 to supplement the Philadelphia facility; it was governed by the same administrative structure and warden. Convicts from Eastern were bussed over to the site to provide construction labor. Prison critics and officials soon realized Graterford's potential as the successor of Eastern State, which professional penologists labeled in 1944 "hopelessly antiquated" and "one of the worst prisons in any state."

While construction began at the new "farm branch" in Graterford, any new building at the Philadelphia facility was limited to the remaining spaces between, behind, and above the many buildings on the crowded site. A row of ten small punishment cells, each furnished with a radiator, toilet, iron bed, and ventilation hole, was erected adjacent to Cellblock 10. Although its date of erection was not reported, the building was officially known as Cellblock 13 (unofficially called "the hole" or "Klondike"--like the other punishment areas). Its identification as Cellblock 13 suggests that it was constructed after the start of Cellblock 12 (1909) and before the start of Cellblock 14 (1926). Its reinforced concrete walls scored to imitate ashlar are identical to the walls of the solarium constructed atop Cellblock 3 in 1922.

The adoption of the congregate system made the Administration more aware of security issues. A few riots, a series of escape attempts, and the constant threat of large-scale violence inspired a series of security measures in the 1920s and 1930s. The four wood sentry boxes posted in the corners of the yard were reconstructed atop the corner towers. Furnished with high-power searchlights, Krag repeating rifles, and Thompson submachine guns, these new guard stations were intended as serious deterrents to inmate insurrection. Iron gates were installed at the neck of each cellblock corridor so as to prevent prisoners from rushing guards stationed in the Observatory's rotunda room.

At the same time, the Administration Building also underwent a number of security renovations, which all but realized its appearance as a fortified castle. The warden relocated his offices here from the rooms between Cellblocks 1 and 9 where he was under the constant supervision of passing inmates. Similarly equipped as those in the four corner towers, a fifth sentry box was stationed over the main entrance of the Administration Building. A new visiting room was established in the east basement to provide a better environment for the supervision of visitor-inmate interaction. Plans to replace the old wood gates with electric operated metal gates were realized in 1937-38.

This period witnessed the only two significant alterations to the prison's exterior. In the late 1930s, the architectural firm of Henry D. Dagit & Sons erected a boxy one-story storehouse building (later converted into a police substation) adjacent to the exterior of the north perimeter wall and 22nd and Brown Streets. In 1938, a stone entrance portal was erected in front of the original portcullis. Public opinion was mixed on this project. One newspaper ran a photograph captioned "A New Entrance for an Old Landmark." Director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art Fiske Kimball called for the "removal of the wretched barbican added to the entrance under WPA."

In 1926-27, a number of inmates participated in the construction of Cellblock 14 between Cellblocks 3 and 11. Designed by a Harvard-educated convict, the new reinforced concrete cellblock had 117 cells on three floors and cost $56,324.11 to construct. Young first offenders were segregated there. Other new projects included the construction of the Bertillon and parole offices between Cellblocks 8 and 9 in 1940-41 and the creation of a shoe shop (later a printing shop) between Cellblocks 10 and 1. Building systems improvements included the conversion to steam heat, the switch to power generated by the Philadelphia Electric Company, and the renovation of the water supply system.

As the labor force for many of the construction and renovation projects, the inmates were important players in the physical transformation of Eastern State Penitentiary into a modern congregate prison. With trades learned "inside" and skills and knowledge brought from their experiences "outside," the prisoners effected some projects of their own. A small-scale example would be the personal decoration of cells with paint, graffiti, and printed matter, which Dickens had remarked on during his visit in 1842. A more elaborate example is the "beautiful little synagogue" built in Cellblock 7 in 1927-28 with funds provided by two Jewish inmates. The least tolerated type of convict construction project, however, was the architecture of escape. A number of prisoners found that the sewage lines made effective means of egress; others dug their own escape tunnels beneath the cellblocks, under the perimeter walls, and up to the street. Evidence of the most famous of the 1945 tunnel break attempt has survived. Filled with ashes immediately after the incident, the tunnel's terminus can be found on the terrace just outside the prison's south wall and immediately east of the southwest corner tower.

The 1950s and 1960s were marked by a commitment to reorganize and renovate Eastern State amidst increasing pressure to close the institution down. An administrative rehaul of the state prison system effected the establishment of the State Correction Institution at Philadelphia (SCIPHA) and the Eastern Correctional Diagnostic Classification Center (ECDCC) within the perimeter walls in 1954. The Bureau of Corrections of the state Justice Department issued a publication outlining construction projects on site: playing fields, a new two-story cellblock administrative segregation, a new visiting room, a dental laboratory, a two-story machine and tool shop, an extramural administration building and garage, a 400-seat auditorium, and a 175-seat chapel.

Only four projects were realized. The construction of the dental lab was already underway in 1954. The powerhouse and the Vaux and Morris shop building between Cellblocks 3 and 4 were demolished to clear the ground for a baseball field. Two-story Cellblock 15 was erected between 1956 and 1959 with thirty-four cells inheriting the notorious role of those cells in the various designated punishment areas (Cellblock 4 gallery, Cellblock 1, Cellblock 13, the cells beneath Cellblock 14). By 1964, construction was finally initiated on the visiting room and office building which had been designed by the architectural firm of Keast and Hemphill two years earlier.

Several renovation projects were initiated in the early 1950s. Among these were the installation of steel staircases in the four corner towers, renovation of all cellblock shower rooms, a campaign to resurface in cement the tunnels beneath the cellblocks. In 1951, a new steel-framed central tower rose from the top of the Observatory. It featured a "writer's room," record vault, and toilet on its second story and was circumscribed by a metal balcony at its third story. Architectural historian Jeffrey A. Cohen noted that "The image of a new engineered modernity inhabiting the retained old forms, throwing off stolid and aging vestiges, even extended to the clock face, with brightly contrasting arabic numerals in place of the dimmer roman numerals. "

The Administration Building underwent another series of alterations. The guards' facilities were expanded by the construction of their own concrete mess hall in the west courtyard (1956) and the renovation of a guards' lounge in the former visiting room. With hardly a place left to build but up, a concrete block structure housing schoolrooms was erected above the southwest wing of Cellblock 1 in the early 1960s.

After Eastern ceased to be used as a prison, the property received little maintenance. During the 1971-88 period, many of the buildings deteriorated rapidly, and vegetation consumed the site. Photographs from the late 1980s reveal a forest of weeds and trees. Meanwhile, Eastern State became home to urban wildlife such as stray cats, bats, squirrels, pigeons, and hawks.

In 1988, the Eastern State Penitentiary Task Force emerged as an advocate for the sensitive reuse of the property. Members organized a site clean-up during which volunteers could visit Eastern, clear some of the intrusive vegetation, and remove some of the debris that had accumulated there since the early 1970s. Financial commitments from the City and from several granting foundations allowed the Task Force to address some of the site's most immediate physical needs. Much of the early work was done by PHILACOR, a service and manufacturing division of the Philadelphia prison system. Inmates from city prisons cleared vegetation, built wood boxes to protect the cell and corridor skylights, re-roofed part of the Administration Building, and commenced demolition of the concrete block addition atop Cellblock 1. They also made an archaeological reconnaissance of the prison grounds and brought any significant portable artifacts indoors.

In 1994, Eastern State Penitentiary underwent preparations for its first full season of tours. The locksmith recovered a number of the sliding wood doors and metal grates and rehung them in the appropriate cellblocks. The ground floor of the east wing of the Administration Building was readied for use as a visitor's center. Alterations included the reopening of three preexisting doorways: between the corridor and the large tower room, between the corridor and the easternmost small room, and between the two other small rooms. Also, the bathroom fixtures and partition walls in the easternmost small room and the glass partitions in the former visiting room were removed. The three small rooms now serve as an exhibition gallery, the former visiting room as a video screening room, and the large room as a gift shop. In the 1994-95 off-season, grants funded the documentation and conservation treatment of the painted murals in the Catholic chapel between Cellblocks 9 and 1. To protect the murals from future damage, the chapel's roof was replaced and its skylight reglazed.

Other alterations have resulted from alternative uses of the site. In 1995, the production designers for the "12 Monkeys" film rehung the metal doors in the Observatory rotunda, painted the rotunda ceiling white, replaced the skylight above the entrance to Cellblock 2, and installed "antiqued" glazed mirrors over the two empty mirror frames in the corridor between Cellblocks 8 and 9. All other significant evidence of their presence has been removed. To control visitor access to the site during the 1995 "Prison Sentences" exhibit, chain link fences were erected between Cellblock 9 and the Administration Building, Cellblock 3 and the perimeter wall, Cellblock 13 and the greenhouse, and in the corridor between Cellblocks 8 and 9. Also, to discourage vandals' easy access to the site, the Department of Public Property demolished the former storage building outside the north wall (at the corner of Brown and 22nd sts.) in 1994.