Skaters bid farewell to iconic Center City hang-out [photos]

A city-imposed ban prevented at least three generations from skating – legally – at LOVE Park. Last week, this ban was lifted to create an opportunity to “come back for one more spin” till construction commences following President’s Day.

That it was illegal from 1995 on didn’t stop – well eh, all – of the skaters who reunited with old friends to remember ‘those days’ at JFK Plaza this weekend.

“It was cold, but not this cold. Or maybe because I was younger, I did not feel the cold,” said Vernon ‘Vern’ Laird. The first day he ever skated at LOVE Park was December 26, 1988, during his high school Christmas winter break. He was a freshman.

The moment he learned the ban was going to be lifted he instantly booked a flight from Los Angeles, California, where he now lives, to be with his old skater-friends (some of whom now own local skate shops).

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The willingness to come out in wind and snow shows the skaters’ dedication, says James Sinclair. He is one of the skaters trying to keep riding his board despite freezing temperatures and the few flurries that fell on Saturday. He remembers pink planters and trashcans being installed, a decade ago, in an attempt to keep riders out, though skaters tried to sneak in and ride a little bit here and there.

On Saturday, Russell Palermo, now 44, describes scenes in the late eighties. ”Sometimes they were there, sometimes they were not. Depending on the crowd size,” he recalls how Philadelphia Police handled the situation in those days. He now advocates skating by exposing it to his own kids, telling them ‘Go out there and have fun’.

On the east side near North 15th Street, Ryan Gee, 41, hauls a sizable piece of red granite to the trunk of his car. He wants to bring it home as a keepsake. In the nineties Gee documented the scene as he filmed and photographed his skater-friends for ads and magazines. It was good money, he shares.

“The way the park was layed-out, it’s… perfect. It is like more than perfect. The ledges are good to do tricks on, the ground is smooth granite. All the variations, gaps to jump. There is no other place that can replace this,” Gee explains.

Last week at the groundbreaking ceremony for the new LOVE Park Jesse Rendell, Franklin’s Paine Skatepark Fund Board member and son of former Gov. Ed Rendell stated that LOVE Park’s granite will be donated to the fund after the demolition where it will hopefully be used to help develop other skate parks in the city.

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