In the fall of 1933, a series of riots occurred at Eastern State Penitentiary.
What brought about the riots?
Eastern State Penitentiary opened in Philadelphia in 1829 on Fairmount Avenue between 21st and 22nd streets. It was built on a raised site that had been a cherry tree orchard, and as such, the prison was also known as “Cherry Hill.”
ESP was originally designed to hold a couple hundred prisoners at most, but over time, facilities had to be expanded to accommodate more and more inmates. One hundred years later, in the 1920s, the prison held nearly five time as many people as it did during its founding years. By 1926, the facility held 1,700 prisoners, and couple years before, inmates incited incidents over overcrowding. This was one of the main impetuses for riots that would occur later in September and November 1933.
In addition to overcrowding, prisoners also rioted over idleness, due in part to the lack of recreational facilities, as well as the prison’s food. This led a number of inmates to go on a hunger strike during the fall of 1933.
Eastern State Penitentiary remained in operation until January 1970. The building remained abandoned until efforts arose during the 1980s to save the property.