Built in 1915 and opened in 1925, Richmond Generating Station is a neoclassical cathedral to the might of industry. The vaulted, crumbling roof of the main turbine hall soars 130 feet over what were once the largest turbines in the world. This coal burning power plant has festered in its own corrosive chemical stew since 1985, the year it was abandoned. It was later a filming location for 12 Monkeys, Transformers 2, and Avatar: The Last Airbender.
It’s hard to even describe the awe I felt entering the turbine hall at Richmond, back before scrapping and vandalism had made a dent in it. The soaring ceiling, so reminiscent of a fantastic industrial cathedral’s, hung in tatters above me and the soggy chunks of it that lay on the floor and in the basement were a constant reminder to be careful. At one point when I was on the catwalks setting up a shot, I saw a large chunk dislodge and fall in perfect silence until it hit the railing below with a loud crash. I was well aware that if I had been there, I would have had no warning that it was falling, and most likely would have been killed immediately if it hit my head.
Another consideration was that it had been raining and continued to rain periodically throughout the day, so there were numerous pools of water in which wires and transformers lay partially submerged. As the substation outside was still active and some small areas of the power plant were periodically in use, it was a little daunting to have to walk through areas where I couldn’t be entirely sure there wasn’t an electrical current, and then stick my metal tripod into them to set up a shot.
Richmond Generating Station will always be one of my favorite sites and encapsulates what makes larger power plants so enchanting. The scale, the variety in the areas, and the industrial decay are monumental. Taking a break in a control room adorned with a massive defunct clock overlooking the turbine hall, I knew that it would be a day I would remember forever.
Matthew Christopher PA Philadelphia Feb 17, 2022 Abandoned Places Architecture History