Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park in South Philadelphia offers city-dwellers an opportunity to escape from the concrete jungle into a green setting with all the perks of the countryside.
Many Philadelphians take advantage of the tennis complex, golf course, baseball fields and bike trails as a retreat from the daily urban grind.
But within all that nature is an area that is anything but the picture of tranquility brought to mind by the word “park”: the graffiti-covered jungle within a jungle known as the FDR Skate Park.
To some, the concrete mounds covered in unwanted paint would be an eyesore, but to the skaters who use these features to defy gravity on wheels, it could not be a more beautiful surrounding.
After the city attempted to stop skating in Love Park in Center City, outraged skaters partnered with Philadelphia to construct the skate park under the I-95 bridge in South Philly.
“It followed Burnside Skate Park in Oregon in building underneath a bridge,” said Bryan Lathrop, who has been the unofficial “secretary” of FDR Skate Park since 1997. “This way, there is some protection from the elements.”
The 16,000-square-foot facility is now known as one of the best in the United States. Many of the skaters come from outside the Philadelphia region because of the park’s prominence in the skating community.
“If you can skate here,” Lanthrop said, “you can skate anywhere.”
In 2005, the park was host to the skateboarding finals of the Gravity Games. The skaters were originally concerned that the park would be exploited, but Lanthrop feels the production team made it clear they would leave the park in a better condition than they found it.
Through a $30,000 donation from the Games, the park was able to repair the existing structures and lay new concrete.
“It’s an extremely fun place to ride,” said junior film and media arts major and BMX biker Joe Stakun.
“It’s good to not have to call any of your friends and to just show up knowing a bunch will be there.”
The only time there are problems is when the skaters and bikers clash. “There are exchanges of words, but most of the time it’s a peaceful atmosphere,” Stakum said.
The skate park is almost completely constructed out of concrete, except for the steel-covered vert Ramp and mini-ramp.
The mini-ramp was added in 2002 to give less experienced skaters a place to practice their skills.
“[The park] can be intimidating to some beginners with its advanced setup,” Stakun said. But Lanthrop urged people to come after they learn to skate. “Top world pros don’t have an easy time,” he said.
“FDR is for skaters, by skaters,” Lanthrop said. That feeling is evident in the free, public use of the skate park. “It is ‘do it yourself.'”
Despite the differences between skaters and bikers, there is one thing they can agree on:
“It’s our own piece of heaven,” Lanthrop said.
Ann Acri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.