A Farewell: LOVE Park, Skateboard Mecca

LOVE Park was an under-utilized public space. Skaters turned it into something great. All Philadelphians should mourn this loss.

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Skateboarders at LOVE Park on Friday, February 12th. Photo | Jeff Fusco

In some ways, it seemed like a mean joke.

Jim Kenney’s announcement that skateboarding was legal at LOVE Park was a great idea. It was well intentioned, too; he certainly didn’t have to open the park to skateboarders before it’s overhauled with a new design. But it’s also kind of hilarious: Yo, skateboarders: You’re finally allowed to skate in LOVE Park … for five days… during the coldest week of winter. I’m surprised John Street and Michael Nutter didn’t come out and break skateboards over their knees at the end of the announcement.

But Philly area skateboarders did not let the cold hold them back. Maybe 50 skaters were there around lunchtime Friday, braving 25-degree temperatures to give it one last go. (See more of Jeff Fusco’s photos here.) They grinded on the granite benches and did kickflips down the stairs. They all attempted to land a serious jump — from the top near the sculpture all the way into the empty fountain. It made me feel like a kid again.

I don’t know how to ride a skateboard. I don’t even know if I ever really tried. But we went downtown a lot in high school, and many of our trips included some time sitting at LOVE Park watching the skateboarders. It was exhilarating: Here was a place for teenagers to go in Center City and feel accepted. These were people like us who others gathered to watch and cheer on in this otherwise-desolate park downtown. Once there would be a skateboarding bulldog. One time we saw Kerry Getz, the skateboard legend and owner of Nocturnal (I didn’t skate, but that place is also a great sneaker and apparel shop). Also, it was funny to watch people fall trying to hit the Love Gap.

It didn’t matter that we were just bystanders watching people in their teens and 20s do tricks. I felt like part of the group. You’d go to LOVE Park and chat up strangers, making friends for an hour or two. The vibe at LOVE Park was always friendly. It was the same today. I saw two dudes grinding around the rim of the fountain who slammed into each other and tumbled to the concrete. They immediately got up and shook hands. There’s something about the cool-guy vibe of skateboarding that seems to make everyone chill. People who crash into each other shake hands. People who fall immediately get up and pretend it didn’t happen. Even guys who land tricks at LOVE Park don’t often celebrate like they scored a touchdown. They just continue riding their boards.

But the draw of LOVE Park was not just that it was a place to hang out. It was a place people knew about Philly. Ads for sneaker companies seemed to always use LOVE Park as a backdrop. The CKY video series, which brought Bam Margera to national fame, featured LOVE Park extensively. (Getz was in these, given the nickname “Hockey Temper” because of his excessive frustration.) LOVE Park even showed up in the video game Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2.

And when the X Games came to down in 2001, it was so surreal and so cool. The town was alive with skateboarders. Getz won gold in street skateboarding at Dilworth Plaza. They held a second X Games here in 2002, but it felt like The Man was encroaching.

Common Court Pleas Judge Richard Klein had attempted to get skateboarders out of LOVE Park in 1995, calling it “the disaster waiting to happen 100 yards from our respective offices” in a letter to Mayor Rendell’s chief of staff David Cohen. “The average person has been taken off the plaza,” he added. “This is a total waste of city money and frankly, gross stupidity.” In 2000, City Council passed a bill banning skateboarding from the park. The park was closed in 2002 — right before the second X Games — for a massive renovation that was supposed to make it “un-skateable.” DC Shoes offered to pay $1 million for 10 years of upkeep of the park if skateboarding was allowed; the city turned the company down.

Obviously, that failed. People have continued to skate at LOVE Park since. But since the park’s reopening it hasn’t been the same, really. Skateboarders have to worry about the police chasing them off, ticketing them or — gasp! — taking their boards. There are other parks — the skatepark at FDR, and the even newer Franklin’s Paine park near the Art Museum. Both are great. But neither has the central location of LOVE Park, and neither is as cool as LOVE Park was: An under-utilized city park turned into something great by skaters. The end of LOVE Park as a skateboarding mecca is something all Philadelphians should mourn.

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