Comedian Marc Maron will be in town on Friday for a live show, but he started getting into the Philadelphia mindset early with an episode of his WTF podcast featuring Philly native Kevin Bacon released Thursday.
Among the topics discussed: Bacon’s past jobs (packing and shipping medical books in Philly), his upcoming I Love Dick series (out Friday on Amazon), and the time his dad, late city planner Edmund Bacon, protested then-Mayor John Street’s ban on skateboarding at LOVE Park way back in 2002 (which was awesome).
Ed Bacon, Kevin’s dad, headed the Philadelphia City Planning Commission from 1949 to 1970, and is credited with a number of features that define modern Philadelphia, such as Independence Mall, Society Hill, and Market East. Another one of those elements is LOVE Park, AKA John F. Kennedy Plaza, which Bacon and late architect Vincent Kling had constructed in 1965.
“It became a mecca for skateboarders,” Bacon told Maron on WTF. “Skaters loved it because they could grind on all these built-in things. Basically, they were kind of like the only ones who were using it.”
That mecca went on to be featured in the video game Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, and drew ESPN’s X-Games to Philadelphia for a two-year hosting run in 2001. A skateboarding culture icon, LOVE was also regularly featured in major video parts and advertisements, and attracted pro skaters from around the world.
Unfortunately, however, then-Mayor John Street and City Council in 2000 passed a law “prohibiting skateboarding on all public property unless otherwise authorized,” threatening skaters at LOVE with $300 fines and confiscation of their skateboards. As Maron put it, “There’s no love there” (a joke pro skater and Nocturnal skate shop owner Kerry Getz made in 2002 with a shirt he wore during that year’s X-Games).
“The city came to them and said, ‘You’re [expletive] up all the furniture, and everything is being destroyed, so we have to kick all the skaters out of LOVE Park,’” Bacon said. “It became illegal to skateboard in LOVE Park."
Street would later close LOVE Park in 2002 for $800,000 in renovations to make it “unskateable,” and later turned down a $1 million donation from DC Shoes in exchange for the city letting skaters use the park. Of course, the renovation failed to keep skaters out — Ed Bacon included, who rode a board at LOVE in protest of the ban in Oct. 2002 at the age of 92.
“He went down and got on a skateboard, tried to get arrested,” Bacon said. “They put a helmet on him and had a couple of people hold him and rolled him around on a skateboard. I think there’s actual video of it. I don’t think the cops actually arrested him, but that was his dream.”
They didn’t arrest Ed Bacon, but one police officer did call for reinforcements after telling Bacon, “don’t do this,” according to Gregory L. Heller’s Ed Bacon: Planning, Politics, and the Building of Modern Philadelphia. Ed Bacon actually engineered the stunt as a media opportunity, teaming up with then-City Paper editor Howard Altman. The longtime city planner even had a speech prepared in which he told Street to “go to Hell” over the ban.
“I make no claim to be a leader, but, by God I am a person and I stand up to Mayor Street and tell him to go to Hell and stay there until he sees the light and changes his ways to going to LOVE Park each day with a smile on his face and a warm, welcoming handshake to greet the skateboarders of the world,” Ed Bacon said in his statement. “And now, in total defiance of Mayor Street, I will skateboard in LOVE Park.”
And he did, for about 25 feet. Cops decided not to arrest him because, as one sergeant put it at the time, “we didn’t want to cause more trouble than it was worth.” Mayoral candidate Sam Katz would later perform a similar stunt in 2003 during his campaign.
Ed Bacon’s protest ultimately didn’t work, and the city most recently closed LOVE Park again for $16.5 million in renovations started back in February 2016. The park is scheduled to reopen in September this year, but judging from the design renderings, the new layout is decidedly skateboarding-unfriendly, which likely signals an end to LOVE’s role as a skateboarding mecca.
Still, though, skaters seem to remember Ed Bacon, as his son told Maron on WTF this week.
“I’ll run into skaters who will say, ‘Oh, your dad was the best. Dude, your dad is such a hero for us, man,’” Bacon told Maron on WTF. “People using spaces, public spaces, was really, really important to him.”