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In the News Index

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
Date: April 22, 2002
Byline: Linda K. Harris


Skaters won't give up their mecca quietly

They rallied in LOVE Park, which the city is planning to renovate.

Brian Hepburn, twins Phil and Raffie Gordon and four other young New Yorkers got up at 6:30 a.m. yesterday to drive to Philadelphia.

They do it almost every weekend.

They come for the sleek granite ledges ground to the color of charcoal. They come to watch skateboarding stars like Josh Kalis. And they come because it's one of the best places in the world for ollies, lip slides and crooked grinds.

LOVE Park, training ground and showcase for skateboarders around the world, is about to be dismantled and remodeled. But yesterday about 200 people - skaters, supportive parents and pushing-down-the-street superstars - showed up to protest.

"Everybody knows about LOVE Park," said Phil Gordon, 15, of Westchester, N.Y.

"The ledges are all buttery and marbly. They grind really nice," said Hepburn, 18, of Staten Island. Grinding, a basic move, is when you flip your skateboard up on the edge of a ledge and slide.

Yesterday's peaceful protest, which began at noon, was organized after the city announced its plan to move ahead with $1 million in renovations, starting in about two weeks. The redesign of the park would make it less attractive to the increasingly popular sport of skateboarding.

The Street administration said last week that it would come up with new land for a skateboard park and donate the granite slabs and paving stones from LOVE Park. There is no money appropriated for the project, however, and the administration said it would try to find private funding.

All of that was little consolation to the skateboarders who used the day of protest as another skating day in the park.

Yesterday though, after police arrived about 12:30 p.m., the kick flips and tricks stopped for a while. Then word spread that at 2 p.m., with the clock atop City Hall as the official timepiece, the skaters should take to their boards en masse.

And most of them did, sliding across the granite, grinding the ledges and ollie-ing across garbage cans and steps.

Phil Jackson, 15, of Lower Merion, came to the protest with his parents, Lillian Cohn and Larry Jackson.

"We think, as parents, these kids should be able to get someplace convenient to be able to skate," said Lillian Cohn, a Center City internist.

Alexander George, 13, also came to the protest with his parents, David George and Patty Gerrity, of Melrose Park.

"This city has an international attraction. I can't believe they're going to stop it," said Gerrity, an associate dean at MCP Hahnemann University. "If they make this a park, there won't be anybody here at night."

While the protest brought out parents, the day still belonged to the skaters and their tricks.

They careened about everywhere, practicing an innovation or ever-failing creative flip. It's hard to count the number of moves in a skater's repertoire.

Josh Kalis, the 25-year-old professional star who bought a house near Rittenhouse Square to be near LOVE Park, said the number of tricks a skater might do is infinite.

"Nobody knows how many there are," Kalis said.

Once you learn a trick, he said, then you want to learn it in the opposite way, forward and backward.

Skaters are individualistic, said Joshua Nims, a leader of Franklin's Paine, a local skateboard advocacy group.

"Ultimately it's an exercise in individual creativity and discipline," Nims said.

Skaters are also keen on documenting their stylish triumphs. They're constantly filming and taking pictures of the skaters doing the good tricks.

That's why skaters around the world lust for LOVE Park.

"They can tell you who skated on which ledge. They can tell you which trick they did. With videos, the spots get shared all over the world. People see them and want to visit," Nims said.

LOVE Park, officially called JFK Plaza, is one reason Shawn Carboy moved to Philadelphia to attend art school, he said. Skating can make instant friends of strangers.

"People go from city to city and there's, like, this bond," said Carboy, 25, formerly of Linwood, Atlantic County.

Ross Edlund, 14, of Devon, brought his board to LOVE Park yesterday for the protest and for the fun and challenge of skating. He got a ride with his neighbor, Katie Greeley, 12, whose father drove them.

"I'm just trying to learn how to do 180s over the stairs . . . and grind," Edlund said.

Greeley was one of the few girls in what clearly is a guy sport.

Stephen Lassiter Sr., father of the famous LOVE Park alum, Stevie Williams, said the skaters will not be denied.

"They're resilient and determined to skate," Lassiter said. "This skateboarding creates a safe haven where kids can interact from all races, creeds and backgrounds. Any politician should recognize that we should build on our successes. It's a well-known fact that LOVE Park is a mecca."

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