Trey Hill got out of bed at 4:30 a.m., hopped into his car, and drove six hours from Virginia to Philadelphia on Thursday, determined to take a last spin on his skateboard in LOVE Park.
"It's important, man," Hill said. "We're all here for the same reason."
Others came from New Jersey and points across Philadelphia, young men - and some older - who ignored the bitter cold to zig, zag, jump, and slide at one of the East Coast's iconic skate spots.
At noon, the crowd was two dozen and growing.
They came because Mayor Kenney showed skaters some unexpected love: On Wednesday, he lifted the skating ban for the next four days, until the park closes for a $20 million renovation.
"I invite all skateboarders who have ever enjoyed recreating here to take advantage of this opportunity," Kenney said at the official groundbreaking. "You are a part of our community and a part of the fabric of LOVE Park."
On Thursday, skaters turned the benches, stairs, and walls of LOVE Park - officially named John F. Kennedy Plaza - into their personal haven.
The famous LOVE statue, usually crowded with tourists, stood alone Thursday, the cold keeping away visitors. A homeless woman spread a blanket at the park's edge, applauding when skaters landed a jump.
When skaters paused to catch their breath, they spoke of LOVE Park's perfection, its angles, spaces, heights, and curves, and of the importance it holds in their lives and its place in the street-skating pantheon.
"My buddies called me this morning - 'Hey, it's open,' " said Russell Muits, 38, who whipped across the bridge from New Jersey so he and his friends could roll across a favorite surface they first traversed in high school. "It attracts every skateboarder. If you're a skateboarder and you're traveling to Philly, you want to see it, even if you don't skate."
The lure is part material and part magic, he said. The park's granite floor is exceptionally smooth, making for easy rides and softer landings.
"You fall down, you just keep sliding," said Sean Croce, who came to skate from Franklinville, Gloucester County.
He first came to LOVE Park when he was 17. Today, he's 40. In between, he said, the park ledges and benches seem to have gotten higher.
But the greatness of LOVE Park hasn't changed, he said. The layout creates natural lanes of travel and space for tricks. Its setting, in the heart of Center City, means skaters can easily find a place to warm up in winter and get a cool drink in summer.
"You say, 'LOVE Park,' " Croce said. "Boom - everybody's there."
The park sits in the shadow of City Hall at 16th Street and JFK Boulevard, the entrance to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Designed by Edmund Bacon, it was built atop an underground parking garage in 1965. The LOVE statue was installed in 1976 to help celebrate the nation's Bicentennial.
"It saved my life," said a 23-year-old skater from Germantown who gave his name as Q Three.
The friends he met at the park, the lessons he learned, kept him out of trouble, he said. At the park he saw drug addicts, fights, the homeless, all races, all cultures, "a whole city in the center of a park," he said.
"This is my heart, right here," Q Three said. "I really appreciate the mayor letting us skate these last days."
Officially, skateboarding was banned more than 20 years ago, the penalties, fines, and supervision enhanced or diminished depending on the views of the administration and City Council in power. Generally the city believed that skaters damaged the park, endangered pedestrians, and could cause liability lawsuits with their high-flying stunts.
Against the ban weighed the park's national standing as the home of several world-class professional skateboarders - and the near-constant effort of skaters to reclaim the park, whatever the rules. In recent years, as the park was slated for renovation and sagged toward disrepair, it again became a skating hub.
The idea for a last-days revival came from Jesse Rendell, a lawyer, skateboarder, and son of former Mayor and Gov. Ed Rendell.
"It's incredibly hard for the lay person to understand, but it is the equivalent to one of the seven wonders of the world to skateboarders," Jesse Rendell said Wednesday.
Construction is set to begin in the spring, the new design intended to flatten the park's stairs and walls and add trees, flower beds, and a new fountain.
On Thursday, no one at the park was thinking of spring. They were thinking of a last time to ride. Some skated with cigarettes dangling from their lips, others with bandannas pulled up over their faces, like Old West desperados.
The 25-degree cold and the wind that stretched flags from their poles were no deterrent.
Through the park echoed the gritty sound of plastic wheels on granite. By early afternoon, it was loud. And it was crowded.
"It's the perfect place to skate," said Anatoly Bitny, 25, of North Philadelphia, who first came to LOVE Park a decade ago.
Hill, who runs a skate shop in Chesapeake, arrived here Thursday morning from his home in Norfolk. He planned to drive home Thursday night, certain that the long, same-day round trip was worth the trouble.
"We heard it was the last days, man," Hill said. "We wanted to be here to grab a piece of the action."