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 coordinator 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.”

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