Whitehall skatepark

When it comes to skate parks, Philadelphia gets small
By Joelle Farrell

Inquirer Staff Writer

It has been nearly a decade since city offi­cials booted skate­board­ers from their hal­lowed ground at John F. Kennedy Plaza, where the glossy gran­ite ledges lured enthu­si­asts from around the world and became home to the city’s street-​​skating scene.

LOVE Park’s replace­ment, a skate park along the Schuylkill River Trail called Paine’s Park, is clos­ing in on its $5 mil­lion fund-​​raising goal, but is still a ways off. In the mean­time, com­mu­nity orga­niz­ers and skate­board­ers are pair­ing to build smaller, pocket skate parks across the city.

The suc­cess­ful launch last sum­mer of Pop’s Skatepark, a pint-​​size place built by vol­un­teers who trans­formed a run-​​down block in Kensington into a mag­net for youths and par­ents, attracted notice from com­mu­nity orga­ni­za­tions. Similar parks are now planned for weedy play­ground lots in Southwest and West Philadelphia.

“Pop’s Playground was a recre­ation space that was kind of for­got­ten about, kind of neglected, and peo­ple came together and they put their sweat equity to it,” said Paulette Adams, an out­reach coör­di­na­tor for the People’s Emergency Center, a group hop­ing to bring skate space to the Mantua sec­tion of the city. “It became a totally dif­fer­ent feel, and now it’s a strong com­mu­nity base right there.”

This month, builders plan to rehab the graffiti-​​covered Whitehall Skatepark at Carmella Playground in Northeast Philadelphia, a spot built in 2001 when the city was host to the X Games. Jesse Clayton, the mas­ter­mind behind the design at Pop’s Park, will add two ledges and a half-​​pyramid at the site, and spruce up the half-​​pipe and other obsta­cles already there.

The project, esti­mated to cost about $10,000, will be fully financed by Franklin’s Paine Skatepark Fund, a non­profit orga­ni­za­tion with the goal of expand­ing skate space in the city. Pop’s, a $25,000 project, was funded by a grant from skate­board leg­end Tony Hawk and money cob­bled together by skate­board­ing and com­mu­nity groups.

“I think every­one knows what posi­tion the city’s in: The city’s broke,” said Clayton, 28, of Langhorne. “Their first pri­or­ity shouldn’t be to go around build­ing skate parks. People got to jump in, peo­ple got to see a need for it.”

Franklin’s Paine and local com­mu­nity groups have pro­posed two more pocket parks, one in the Mantua sec­tion of West Philadelphia and another at McCreesh Playground in the Mount Moriah dis­trict of Southwest Philadelphia.

The pro­posed site in Mantua — 37th and Mount Vernon Streets, cur­rently a dilap­i­dated play­ground — may change because a ShopRite gro­cery is look­ing to build at the site, said City Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell. But she and com­mu­nity groups like the People’s Emergency Center still want to see a skate park built in the dense neighborhood.

“I think the skate­boards are great, and I believe this city is big enough for all activ­i­ties,” Blackwell said. “We have to make sure we get a site that every­body agrees to.”

Gloria Guard, the out­go­ing pres­i­dent of People’s Emergency Center, said about 100 peo­ple came out to skate­board at the park’s bas­ket­ball court at a recent skate day event.

“It’s a sport that has taken off. It seems to be much more pop­u­lar with African American youth than it was a decade ago,” she said. “There’s a lot of excite­ment about the skate park.”

Neighbors of McCreesh play­ground have already col­lected about 100 sig­na­tures in sup­port of a plan to trans­form an aging roller hockey rink into a skate park.

The projects are still at least sev­eral months away: They need fund­ing and are expected to cost between $100,000 to $150,000, accord­ing to esti­mates by Franklin’s Paine.

“We have a lot of renewed momen­tum,” said Claire Laver, exec­u­tive direc­tor of Franklin’s Paine. “I think atti­tudes are really shift­ing, and peo­ple are real­iz­ing that skate­board­ing is a com­pletely legit­i­mate expres­sion for youth.”

On any given sum­mer after­noon, Pop’s Park, at Trenton Avenue and Huntingdon Street, is teem­ing with chil­dren learn­ing to grind ledges and pop ollies. On Saturday morn­ing, expe­ri­enced skate­board­ers offer a two-​​hour clinic to teach oth­ers how to do tricks.

“It’s def­i­nitely in a lit­tle bit of a tough pocket. It’s an area of the neigh­bor­hood that prob­a­bly needed some­thing to be proud of,” said Laura Semmelroth, a mem­ber of the New Kensington Community Development Corp., a group that since 1995 has fought to rehab the park. “I think for a lot of peo­ple, the skate space has done that.

“This, whole huge groups of boys use and use it, and it occu­pies their days,” she said. “They’re in there skat­ing and hang­ing out, and they’re tired at the end of the day and not get­ting into trouble.”