Thursday, May 28, 2015

The past (and future) of Philly skate mecca Love Park lives on

In August of 2001, Kerry Getz found himself perched atop a granite ledge in Love Park preparing to frontside 180 then-Mayor John Street. Having recently injured his ankle, Street was rolling around the city on an electric scooter, just begging for a pro skateboarder like Getz to pull some sort of trick over him. After all, the X Games were in town.

The past (and future) of Philly skate mecca Love Park lives on

Josh Nims at Love Park in Philadelphia. (Stephanie Aaronson/Philly.com)
Josh Nims at Love Park in Philadelphia. (Stephanie Aaronson/Philly.com)

In August of 2001, Kerry Getz found himself perched atop a granite ledge in Love Park preparing to frontside 180 then-Mayor John Street. Having recently injured his ankle, Street was rolling around the city on an electric scooter, just begging for a pro skateboarder like Getz to pull some sort of trick over him. After all, the X Games were in town.

Getz landed the trick on the first shot, with ESPN broadcasting the resulting promo video into more than 150 million homes in 18 countries. The city went on to sign a two-year deal with the X Games, netting some $80 million in revenue between 2001 and 2002.  

Getz took home the gold in street skateboarding that first year, plus a whole lot of attention for his skate shop, Nocturnal. The city’s skaters, for their part, left with a pride not only in Love Park as a skateboarding destination, but their city. Skateboarding, it seemed, had finally been accepted, and rumors flew that the X Games was eyeing the city as a permanent home.

“Then they banned it,” Getz says, referring to the up-to-$300 fine for skating at Love that Street began enforcing in 2002. “I was so bummed on my city.”

The X Games ultimately moved on as a result of the ban, taking with them pro skaters and long-time residents like Josh Kalis and Stevie Williams—along with the meat of the sport’s presence in Philadelphia proper. Still, though, skateboarding’s specter still haunts Love, not ready to yet fully give in.

Now, the city’s skateboarders are finally getting another shot at providing skateboarding some life support at Love Park—this time in the form of a built-in skatepark. Councilman Jim Kenney floated the idea back in February, saying that including a skatepark along with Love’s coming makeover “would be a home run.” 

“If you build it, they will come skate it—in droves,” says Josh Nims, who co-founded the Franklin’s Paine Skatepark Fund in 2000. “Paine’s proves that.”

Nims, of course, means Paine’s Park, his year-old, $4.7 million skatepark effort just off the Parkway that attracts skaters in droves. It is, in many ways, the crown jewel of his skateboarding advocacy, and the reason that Franklin’s Paine is currently working out a plan with Kenney’s office for the potential Love Park skatepark. According to Kenney’s office, a panel has been meeting monthly to design and approve plans for the park. 

“We’ve already started to work on some of the recommendations for the redesign of Love that would find where the right place is,” Nims says. “We think it’s over at 15th and Arch. Historically, that’s always been the forgotten corner.” 

Should Nims and Kenney get their way, Philadelphia is looking at a 2,500 square-foot skate spot known in skateboarding-forward cities like Seattle and Vancouver as a “skate dot.” 

Construction could begin as soon as 2015, fitting in Love’s future skatepark among an already-established master plan that hopes to establish a network of skate spots similar in operation to the city’s basketball courts. Ultimately, it would serve as a living testament to the city’s place in skateboarding’s development—an element that plays to the city’s concerns of maintaining the historic fabric of the plaza. 

Skateboarding, after all, has been around for roughly 30 year of Love Park’s near-50 years in existence. As skateboarding equipment evolved from the big, heavy vert and pool boards of the 70s to the light, flip trick-oriented skateboards of the early 90s, Love Park served as the perfect spot to test the sport’s limits in the face of technological advancement. To Nims, that only makes sense.

“When you look at vast geometric spaces like Love, it’s clear nothing reacts with them like a skateboard,” he says. “Skateboarding is what 21st-century architecture has become. Having a plaque that says ‘skateboarding used to happen here’ isn’t going to cut it.”

Largely, it has become that way because of events that occurred at Love Park. Getz’s kickflip over the fountain gap in 1996, Stevie Williams' firecracker trick lines, Josh Kalis 360 flipping a garbage can off a makeshift ramp—all legendary in the skateboarding world, and all events unique to Philadelphia. Essentially, they didn’t happen anywhere else because they couldn’t.

That uniqueness is what brought the X Games to Philadelphia in 2001, and scores of skateboarders from all over the world before that.  It is also what lead to Love being immortalized in 2000’s Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, though it was depicted as being situated next to FDR Park. From those two events alone, an entire generation of people came to view Love Park as the sport’s mecca. Then we closed it to the people who cared about it most.

“Nothing else brings people to Love Park like skateboarding,” Getz says. “And, to me, Love has been destroyed.”

That, however, doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. The chance to host the X Games is gone, sure, but with the love Philadelphia skateboarders have for their city’s iconic spot, the chance to reclaim our place among skateboarding’s legendary havens is still very much real.  And while Paine’s Park is nice, it ultimately isn’t a replacement for Love’s legend—even to its creator.

“Step one was getting skateboarding on the Parkway,” Nims says. “Step two is deciding if it remains part of our nexus between the old city center and the new cultural center we’re reinventing right now. That’s the world we want the Love Park redesign to fit into.”

In many ways, that is a world where skateboarding juts up against high-investment items like skyscrapers and public spaces—and one that continues to become more and more real as skateboarding gains mainstream acceptance. The days of skateboarding being punk rock are soundly over, and that ultimately is a good thing from a public acceptance perspective.

The concern these days, of course, is the unencumbered enjoyment of the skateboarding itself. Philly’s skateboarders aren’t fighting for their rights, but rather growing and changing in size and scope. Councilman Kenney, it seems, is just among the first of our politicians to get the message. To people like Getz and Nims, though, it’s been self-evident for years.

“For me being almost 40, I say put a skatepark there,” Getz says. “Let them skate.”

More coverage
 
Urban Playground: Skateparks in Philadelphia
 
Pop-up teaser at Paine's Park
Philly.com
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