Source: Philadelphia City Paper
Date: May 2-8, 2002
Byline: Rick Valenzuela
Bye Bye Love: A eulogy for a fallen landmark
It’s doubtless that history will remember Mayor John Street as the hangman who killed Love Park. To be sure, he had accomplices before his term. Former Managing Director Joe Martz crafted the first bill banning skating from the Municipal Services Building in 1994. Two years ago, Councilman Michael Nutter banned skating from all public property. But it was the mayor’s own foolish decision to expedite the death of an icon recognized ’round the world as the last great public plaza for skateboarding.
Lacking the foresight that is taught to most through a children's fable about a goose, the mayor blindly took a route of time-honored Philadelphia tradition in destroying a source of pride and fame hard-earned by its own citizens. In what his press secretary, Frank Keel, has said is an effort to widen the park's accessibility to the general public, the mayor pushed to reconfigure a design recognizable not only from numerous appearances in skate videos and magazines, not only through its re-creation in the world's second-most popular home video game, but also through the city's own publicity campaign, in which 150 million households in 18 countries saw the park during last year's X Games coverage.
True, this city square may have been underused by the majority of Philadelphians, and it's also true that its main users could be called vandals. But those skaters, actual criminals to the city, had pushed the decrepit plot into the consciousness of the world -- something that our public works has yet to do. Sadly, though, Street's backwater brilliance has ended that. He never warmed to the brash, forward-thinking ideas that called for embracing the city's good fortune. Instead he raised his cane to cast away the devils that gathered for no good. But who could blame him, with the new Phoenix luxury apartments opening across the street? The announcement of those apartments immediately preceded initial news of Love's redesigns. Could the city be catering its plans to the Phoenix by landscaping the park with two plots of grass and wooden benches to replace the granite ones?
Through its own local users, Love was raised to a celebrated landmark. In the past decade, what was first and foremost to its daily users a place to meet and skate also became a career-maker. From its tiles and ledges graduated Philadelphia's first professional skateboarder in 1993, Ricky Oyola, who, now a veteran at 30, used the Love insignia for his debut signature board. Oyola led a succession of several professionals, up until Anthony Pappalardo, a young transplant from Long Island, unknowingly would become the last daily park user to enter such ranks with his first signature board last February.
But aside from pros, and their media counterparts, Love hosted dozens who were content merely to skate there. These were the heads who composed Love's core of regulars -- kids who rode the El from the Northeast and Frankford, skated downhill on Market Street from West Philly, through the neighborhoods of South Philly, Center City residents who moved specifically to skate nearby Love. It's these folks whose daylong sessions generated the murmur that would eventually spread throughout the East Coast and to the industry. The ones who shoveled snow for a 1993 contest. The ones who befriended the other park users, mainly drug addicts and drug sellers, sometimes playing "bum football" with them. Or those who brought beer for the Fourth of July fireworks -- or that keg a couple years back.
Roger Browne was one of the first well-known Love regulars. He was sponsored by Spike's Skates, the city's first skateboard shop, opened in 1985. "We always knew Love would be famous," he says now from his home in Brooklyn. "But we didn't know it would be this crazy."
DJ Cosmo Baker was another mid-'80s pioneer in skating Love. The son of Spike's owner, Eileen Baker, he remembers skating Love vividly. "I have beautiful memories of skating till the sun sets. The sun shoots down the Parkway, giving a surreal lighting. That's a special thing. It strikes just great, and you'd be delirious from skating all day, surrounded by the sounds of boards rolling on the tiles, the clacks of boards. It was really peaceful."
Nearly everybody interviewed talks about the former uninterrupted sessions. "The cops have always been cool," says Oyola. "One of the coolest things I used to say to people in other cities was that skating in Philadelphia was hassle-free. ŚYeah, our cops have better things to do.' ... Skating in Philadelphia was much happier when Rendell was in office."
DJ Cosmo recalls a specific contest at Love -- after he stopped skating. "I felt things came full circle DJing a contest at Love in 1994. Here I was, I used to skate here. I had found my thing, which is DJing, and I'm DJing this contest. I'm doing what I love for these kids, who were doing what they love. But at the same time I could see how far skating had come, and how far I had come. After the contest, we kept DJing and skating; it was great. Only in the city. Something like that could only happen at Love Park."
Most skateboarders are also quick to mention the hypocrisy of the city landing the X Games contract with popularity built by skateboarders. Even worse, Browne shakes his head that the mayor stooped so low as to condone and acknowledge its fame in promoting the events, such as his photo shoot at Love Park with local pro Kerry Getz. "It's so underhanded, [Mayor Street] there at the X Games and have Kerry ollie over you."
As for the park's demise, Browne is realistic: "It's kinda sad, but everything has a life expectancy. But they're over skating City Hall or Municipal right now. Skaters are like pigeons. Shoo 'em away and they'll come back."
Granted, Love Park is still skateable, and it may yet be featured in videos for years to come. But to the family of people who went there daily, the old haunt is gone.
In the long view of skateboarding, a young sport whose history has only been taken seriously in the past few years, Love Park will hold a significant place as one of three urban plazas that fostered a community of incredible skaters and memories. San Francisco's Embarcadero and Washington, D.C.'s Pulaski Park ended before skateboarding was wholly absorbed in the mainstream. But only because of the mayor's fear of doing something innovative and new, of trailblazing a route no other city has yet taken but by all accounts woud have been a fortuitous key to a demographic he can't reach, Philadelphia has lost its Love.
As for the future of the park, Oyola says, "I see us throwing snowballs at all the people walking their dogs in the wintertime, because we have nothing to do, no place to skate."
In keeping with the tradition of skateboard articles ending with shout-outs, this goes out to all the regulars who held it down and made Love what it is today.