LOVE Park

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LOVE Park with the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the distant background

Love Park (official name: JFK Plaza) is a plaza located in Center City, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The park is nicknamed Love Park for Robert Indiana's Love sculpture which overlooks the plaza.

History[edit]

Love Park is the brainchild of former Philadelphia City Planner Edmund Bacon and architect Vincent G. Kling. The park is across from City Hall and was designed as a terminus for the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The park was built in 1965 and covers an underground parking garage. The main features of the plaza are curved granite steps and a single spout fountain which was added in 1969. What was once the city visitor center was closed down for five years, but opened up in May 2006 as The Fairmount Park Welcome Center. The park was dedicated in 1967 as John F. Kennedy Plaza after President John F. Kennedy.

The park is dedicated to the late United States president John F. Kennedy. A plaque at the park describes the dedication.

A "Love" sculpture, designed by Robert Indiana, was first placed in the plaza in 1976 as part of the United States' Bicentennial celebration. It was removed in 1978, but the sculpture was missed and the chairman of Philadelphia Art Commission, F. Eugene Dixon, Jr., bought the sculpture and permanently placed it in the plaza, in 1978.

The Christmas Village in Philadelphia[edit]

Since construction on City Hall, The Christmas Village in Philadelphia has been relocated to the Robert Indiana-named park. The Christmas Village is modeled after 16th-century German Christmas Markets, the most famous one being in Nuremberg. Running from Thanksgiving to New Year's Eve, the village attracts thousands in Center City and is one of the most popular holiday events in Philadelphia. In 2010, the event was criticized for its name and many called for it to be marketed as a holiday village. Shortly after, Mayor Michael Nutter intervened and the name was restored.

Skateboarding and politics[edit]

Love Park was not originally designed for skateboarding, but the large space, granite ledges, manual pads and stairs made the plaza attractive to skateboarding and in the late 80s early 90s it became a popular location for skateboarders. Ricky Oyola and Roger Browne, Fred Gall and Matt Reason were early Philadelphia skateboard pioneers who began to explore the space.[1] However, Love Park was originally ‘just another spot’ at the disposal of these skaters, as they also skated the municipal building, City Hall and all around the city. During this period, the city of Philadelphia gave skaters leeway to skate at Love Park. Philadelphia and Love Park were seen as ‘untapped’ resources in this period, as they had previously received less coverage in videos and magazines than spots in California. In this way, Ricky Oyola and other Love pioneers had an ethos of “putting Philly on the map,” and realized the strong potential for a redefinition of the space and the creation of a vibrant skateboard community.[1]

A close-up of the LOVE sculpture

In the mid-1990s, Love Park’s sense of community and international reputation as a skateboarding locale had been achieved through the successes of some of its most famous users. Internationally known professional skateboarders like Bam Margera, Stevie Williams, Josh Kalis and Philadelphia native Kerry Getz had substantial portions of their video parts containing footage of them at Love. In this way, their skill was identified with Love Park, which drew more skaters to the Philadelphia scene.[2] The skate scene was so attractive it even drew in a new generation of skaters such as Brian Wenning and Anthony Pappalardo.[2] But not only professionals were attracted to Love. According to Rick Valenzuela, author of the City Paper article "A Eulogy for a Fallen Landmark":[3]

"...LOVE hosted dozens who were content merely to skate there. These were the [skaters] who composed LOVE's core of regulars—kids who rode the El (the Market-Frankford subway) 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 [skateboarding] industry."

People began to consciously recognize the power and strength of this movement and the way in which the space had been redefined. Videographer Rb Umali called this period "One of the best scenes in skateboarding” [2] Videographer Bill Strobeck stated that “We knew that something was going on, and we wanted to keep it going, and we wanted to make it bigger” [2] Love Park became an iconic space for skateboarders, people from all over the world came to Philadelphia just to skate there.

Identification with both the performative act and lifestyle of skateboarding, more generally, became concentrated and strengthened in a small geographical location. Skateboarders have particular ways of viewing and interacting the world that differ from those of mainstream society. For example, skateboarders view urban architecture in a unique way, seeing possibilities that others miss. Handrails are not seen for their aid to those moving up or down stairs, but instead for their potential to be grinded down.[4] Instead of being passive in a space, skateboarders actively interact with it and new ways each time they encounter it.[4] Additionally, skaters in Love Park went against the conventional temporal rhythm of the city.[4] While other citizens passed through the park quickly on the way home from work or during a lunch break, skaters spent the entire day in the park filming tricks and interacting with each other.[2] Skaters view skateboarding as a lifestyle.[4] The act, spaces in which the act is done, and social connections are all themselves are part of a skater’s lifestyle and by extension his identity. These unique meanings and modes of understanding can be understood as a subculture. The urban commentator Iain Borden defines a subculture as “a social world in which self-identifying values and appearances confront conventional codes of behaviour.” (Borden 2001, p. 137) Furthermore, “Subcultures territorialise their places rather than own them, and it is in this way that their modes of belonging and their claims on place find expression” [5]

Visitors wait to take photos in front of the sculpture

These tensions were spatially manifest in the close proximity of Love Park to City Hall.[6] Conflicts arose primarily as the act of skateboarding is damaging to urban environments. Grinding and sliding on waxed benches and ledges creates a series of gouges, scratches, striations and traces of board paint.[4] Many skaters see this as a marking of their definition of space. Thrasher magazine editor Jake Phelps claims that “each notch is evidence of endurance and determination, a message to those would try and deter us. Each scuff is a marking of territory.” (Borden, 2001 p. 210) However, the government and many citizens see these marks as evidence of vandalism. Furthermore, Love Park’s thriving skateboard scene increased public disturbances. Videographer Vern Laird recounts that the scene was so active that people were getting run into coming home from work.[6] The damage and disturbances prompted Councilman Michael Nutter to propose bill 147, which “prohibit[ed] skateboarding on all public property unless otherwise authorized.”[7] The bill was passed into law in 2000.

With the genesis of the X Games in 1995 a new potential market for advertising and branding emerged.[8] Because of the televised nature of the X Games and its ability to reach wide audiences, marketers saw the lucrative potential for branding and commodifying the unique lifestyle of skateboarders.[8] The status of Love Park in international skateboarding culture positioned Philadelphia as an attractive location for the X Games. The city was chosen as a host for the 2001 and 2002 X Games. However, skateboarding competition occurred at City Hall instead of actually inside Love Park.[6] 150 million people in over 18 countries viewed the X Games during this period.[7] In addition, they attracted nearly a half million spectators [7] and generated roughly 80 million dollars for the city.[6]

Skaters thought that the attention created by the X Games would be good for the maintenance of the Philadelphia skate scene and serve to ease tensions between the city and skaters. But this did not prove to be the case, as the positive acceptance of the X Games period was short-lived. Skaters were only allowed to skateboard in Love Park during the weekend of the X Games.[6] As soon as the event was over the antagonistic relationship resumed. In fact, efforts to stop skateboarding in Love Park actually increased. Police began vigorously enforcing the ban on skateboarding in Love Park and would arrest and fine skaters or confiscate their boards. Undercover officers even posed as homeless people to gain unnoticed entry into Love and make arrests.[6] Placing the final nail in Love Park's status as a world renowned skate-spot, Mayor Street ordered the park to undergo an $800,000 remodeling, which added planters to block ledges, covered other areas with grass and flowers and replaced stone benches with wooden ones.[7] Love Park was officially fenced off and closed on April 25, 2002 for renovations.[7] The government perceived skateboarding as acceptable in the commercial context of the X Games, but as soon as this context ceased to exist the same activity became unacceptable.

While the legality of skateboarding is debatable, many argue that what it represents is dangerous. These theorists argue that activities that defy social order display a lack of governmental control over the city and encourage other more serious types of criminal and deviant activity.[9] They argue that spaces emit particular messages, which dictate how the space will be interacted with. For instance, under this theoretical apparatus, skateboarding in Love Park can be seen to signify a loss of control and order over the space. In this way, it is argued that the government must exercise more force over these types of activities in order to diminish criminal activity and maintain social order.[9] Others, like Iain Borden, claim that “legislation directed at skateboarding is perhaps then not so much concerned with a crime as finding ever new ways for the conventionalized operations of the society to be legitimized.” [4]

The closure and remodeling of Love Park was a massive blow to the skateboarding community in Philadelphia. Skaters left the city in great numbers, as their sole reason for being there was Love Park. Josh Kalis has stated that “downtown culture seems dead.” [2] When the park was reopened to the public after the remodeling, it became mainly a space of derelict activity.[2]

Some citizens viewed skateboarding activity differently than the city. A 2003 Philadelphia Daily News survey showed that 69% of people believed skateboarders should be allowed back into the park (daily news.) A citizen of Philadelphia stated “I’d rather see them on a skateboard, than running around trying to stab somebody” [2]

On June 1, 2004, in hopes of reopening Love Park to skateboarders, DC Shoes offered the city of Philadelphia $1 million for the maintenance, security, upkeep and replacement of obstacles to skateboarding in the park.[10] The offer was turned down.

In 2013 along the banks of the Schuylkill River the worlds first mixed use public place and skate park was completed. Paine's Park is a free public plaza that welcomes skateboarding. The plaza is inspired by the skate history of Love Park and also contains benches salvaged from the 2002 renovation.

The Love Fountain[edit]

The LOVE Park fountain in October 2009

The Love Park fountain is often dyed colors throughout the year to commemorate or celebrate events. Regular colors have included:

  • Pink - kickoff for breast cancer awareness month (annually in October)
  • Blue - commemoration of police officer fatalities
  • Green - in honor of the Philadelphia Phillies winning the World Series, Phanatic Green (October 29, 2008)
  • Red - marketing event for Showtime's Dexter television series
  • Purple - Lupus Awareness[11]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 39°57′15″N 75°09′56″W / 39.954276°N 75.165651°W / 39.954276; -75.165651

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Ricky Oyola Epicly Later'd. Prod. Patrick O'dell. Vice, 2011. Web. <http://www.vice.com/epicly-later-d/ricky-oyola-part-2>.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Josh Kalis Epicly Later'd. Prod. Patrick O'dell. Vice, 2012. Web. <http://www.vice.com/epicly-later-d/josh-kalis-part-1>.
  3. ^ Valenzuela, Rick (May 2–8, 2002). "Bye Bye Love: A Eulogy for a Fallen Landmark". Philadelphia City Paper. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Borden, Iain. Skateboarding, Space and the City: Architecture and the Body. Oxford, England: Berg, 2001. Print.
  5. ^ Gelder, Ken. Subcultures: Cultural Histories and Social Practice. London: Routledge, 2007. UBC Library. Web. 2012. p. 3
  6. ^ a b c d e f Love Story: The Saga of a Skate Landmark, On Video. On Video Skateboarding. Vimeo, 2004. Web. 2012. <http://vimeo.com/866431>.
  7. ^ a b c d e "LOVE Park Timeline." UShistory.org. Independence Hall Association, n.d. Web. 31 Oct. 2012. <http://www.ushistory.org/lovepark/timeline.htm>
  8. ^ a b Rinehart, Robert. "Exploiting a New Generation: Corporate Branding and the Co-Optation of Action Sport." Youth Culture and Sport: Identity, Power, and Politics. Ed. Michael D. Giardina and Michele K. Donnelly. New York: Routledge, 2008. 71-91. Print.
  9. ^ a b Herbert, Steve, and Elizabeth Brown. "Conceptions of Space and Crime in the Punitive Neoliberal City." Antipode 38.4 (2006): 755-77. Web.
  10. ^ "Press Release: DC Shoes Gifts $1 Million." Press Release: DC Shoes Gifts $1 Million. USHistory.org, 204. Web. 31 Oct. 2012. <http://www.ushistory.org/lovepark/media/dcshoes.htm>.
  11. ^ http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2011/05/24/famous-philadelphia-fountain-goes-purple-for-lupus-awareness/