Love has found its way back into the heart of Philadelphia — again. The Robert Indiana iconic LOVE sculpture was returned home to John F. Kennedy Plaza at 15th and JFK Boulevard on Tuesday, just in time for Valentine’s Day.
The sculpture was moved and refurbished while the park itself was being renovated, a $20 million-plus process that’s still ongoing.
LOVE’s road home, however, has been a bit rocky.
There was the embarrassing matter of the colors of LOVE. This gift to the city from philanthropist F. Eugene “Fitz” Dixon was taken out of service for cleanups in 1988 and 1998, and was repainted red, green, and blue. But even though love can make us blue, it just wasn’t the right color for the sculpture. Indiana’s representative told the city so in 2017. It’s supposed to be red, green, and PURPLE. Now, it’s red, green, and purple.
Still lingering is the issue of the LOVE bricks. The city had stamped an image of the LOVE sculpture on pieces cut from the granite slabs of the park’s old steps and walkways. But Indiana’s concerns about copyright infringement continue to hold up the sales. That’s a shame, because there’s a lot of enthusiasm for the bricks. Scores of people lined up to buy them at the park, open briefly for Christmas Village, only to be turned away when the copyright issue emerged.
Indiana should see that his work is getting a lot of good loving in Philadelphia. Residents and visitors take wedding photos under his statue or just goofy pictures to share with their friends. To add to this love-fest, the city paraded the sculpture around town on a flatbed truck Tuesday and stopped at several locations so people could photograph it.
Public art, like the LOVE sculpture, requires public reaction, and Philadelphia has warmly embraced his work. (And it’s nice to have a statue that isn’t polarizing or controversial.) Maybe that will help Indiana resolve the LOVE brick issue.
The statue’s homecoming is just the beginning of the redesigned park’s new life. As the city moves closer to reopening the park this spring, it will decide what to do with the spaceship, a former visitor’s center in the park’s southwest corner, shaped like a flying saucer. Ideas have ranged from a restaurant to a wine bar.
The park will keep its fountain but instead of all that cold, hard granite, there will be more lawns, trees, and seasonal plantings. Benches and food trucks are on the check list too.
As giddy as the park’s comeback makes us, we should remember the park’s recent past. It became a trash magnet with papers and discarded food cluttering the ground. Homeless people, with nowhere else to go, camped there overnight. And, there were muggings, including an assault on a ranger in 2014.
This gateway to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and its museums belongs to the entire region. It has been a showplace for the Eagles parade, the Women’s March, and a long list of successful concerts and festivals. We have a second chance at LOVE Park and should follow the wisdom of the ages: Show the park some R-E-S-P-E-C-T.