Eakins Oval becomes vacation spot for Philly residents

Two sandboxes built inside the parking lot at Eakins Oval, on the Museum end of The Parkway in Philadelphia, contain about 1000 cubic feet of sand — 16 tons worth. Which is a lot of sand, but not nearly enough to make a facsimile of a beach.

So Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation workers spent weeks crafting a conceptual beach. The parking lot is painted over as three distinct areas: a boardwalk with food trucks and tables with umbrellas; a sandy-colored area with those two 16-foot by 16-foot sandboxes and a bank of fans blowing mist across the lot; and a beach blanket area with games including chess and bean bag toss.

This whole beach concept is the first iteration of a three-year plan — “The Oval” — to activate the Parkway. With help from a roster of partnering organizations, the pop-up park will be open every day until Aug. 18, when the Parkway will be given over to the Labor Day weekend “Made In America” concert preparations.

“The Oval” is not an appeal to tourists, according to Mark Focht, deputy commissioner of the parks and recreation department. Rather, it is for the estimated 70,000 residents in the Parkway’s immediate neighborhoods.

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“Historically, the folks in Logan and Fairmount and Spring Garden have looked at the Parkway as the edge of their community — the end,” Focht said. “Instead we want them to see it as the common space, the common park.”

“I sure appreciate that,” said Elizabeth Robb, who has lived in the nearby Fairmount neighborhood for nine years. “As a resident, I sure appreciate that.”

Robb frequently takes her two kids — ages 3 and 5 — on walks along the Parkway, and expects to be using the simulated beach many times during its temporary life. She has been watching the construction of the pop-up park with curiosity.

“The first thing I saw was the orange flags,” said Robb, referring to the 48 towering flags planted in two rows along the former parking lot. “And then we saw the balls in the trees. It looks like there’s a lot to do down there.”

The beach at Eakins Oval costs $200,000, much of which came from the William Penn Foundation and other grants. It will be resurfaced for the “Made in America” concert on Labor Day, and then used for weekend events until October, then return to being a parking lot. In May, it will be reimagined as another pop-up park, not as a beach but as a different concept yet to be determined.

“Right now it looks perfect, and I’m just savoring that,” said Nathan Lee of the Mural Arts Project as he painted a giant chessboard on the parking lot. “It’s going to get some heavy wear and tear. By the time they resurface it,  we’ll all be excited about next year’s project.”

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