Whimsical sculpture rises again in North Philly park

    A public sculpture that has been sitting, dismantled, in a Philadelphia warehouse for 13 years is once again seeing the light of day.

    “El Gran Teatro de la Luna,” by celebrated Puerto Rican artist Rafael Ferrar, was commissioned in 1981 to sit atop a small municipal building in Fairhill Square Park in North Philadelphia. It was removed in 1999 when the building, which had become a magnet for crime, was razed.

    Now the sculpture is returning, as a centerpiece of a restoration effort.

    “El Gran Teatro de la Luna” is a parade of cartoonish, cut-metal figures, brightly painted in joyous colors, whimsically leaping and flipping through the air. Instead of a municipal building, it is now perched on top of a steel pergola over a new staging area in the middle of Fairhill Square. The concrete plaza can be programmed with music performances, dance, and markets.

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    “It looks like people ice skating, and a circus, like the acrobats and all that,” said Atayay Robles who took a break from playing on the nearby jungle gym to consider the still-incomplete sculpture behind a chain-link fence.

    Ataya’s grandfather, Miguel Ramos, tried to describe the sculpture, which he saw when it was originally installed in 1982.

    “A basketball, a dancing girl, but my English is not perfect,” said Ramos with a heavy Puerto Rican accent. “I’ve been here for 37 years, and I never went to school.”

    Returning to the park

    Ramos says only a few months ago he would not take any of his seven grandchildren here to play because of all the trash and suspicious people in the park. Broken glass shards and beer-bottle caps are embedded in the packed dirt on its edges.

    The renovation and installation began a few months ago, with heavy equipment and a chain-link fence dominating the center of the park. Ramos says the drinking and loitering have eased up since.

    “Now, it’s going to be better again. Going to be better for the little kids,” said Ramos. “For us, whatever is OK. But for the little kids, is no good. Now it look better.”

    But Ramos worries that as soon as the fence comes down, the park will revert to the mess it had been. He then turned away from the chain-link fence and back to his grandchildren on the playground.

    Shortly afterward, a visibly intoxicated man squeezed through a gap in the fencing and, under a bright 11 a.m. sun, relieved himself on a tree near the sculpture.

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