The Rittenhouse Square ban: Park memories from those who sat in protest

“It was everyone’s dorm room.”

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Cassie Owens/Billy Penn
Cassie Owens, Reporter/Curator

Be free, Philadelphia. The Rittenhouse Square wall ban is over.

Mayor Jim Kenney tweeted that Philadelphians could sit where they like Saturday, but acknowledged the signs would likely stay up until today, as yesterday was a city holiday. Indeed, the “No Sitting on the Wall Signs” were removed early this morning. And indeed, Sittenhouse, a lunchtime event planned in protest of the ban, still went on.  While conditions in the park were overcast, damp and kinda chilly after a spattering of morning rain, dozens still showed up to sit on the walls in solidarity. Or, this being Philadelphia, show disapproval for wall sitting being banned in first place.

When I was a teen, I’d sit on it as friends asked the big questions (What is God? What is ☄️existence ☄️?). Later, in my 20s, it would be the place I’d slide over after daydrinking at my best friends’ apartment on 21st Street. I can’t count how many times I’ve planted my butt on that wall. I don’t know how many times a new friend has asked me to meet them somewhere, and that where was that park. This spanned folks from new circles and faces I hadn’t seen since high school because this city can feel so damn small.

So, on this day when the ban was officially lifted, and reporters for the Inquirer, NewsWorks, and local TV prowled the walls with notebooks and microphones, I asked some of the “protesters” their favorite memories from the walls of Rittenhouse Square. Some of them couldn’t say; here are the stories from those who could.

Howard Serlick, 64: I can remember my first time being here… coming on a Saturday afternoon, this had to be probably 1970. 

I could just remember sitting near the father end, by the goat, and watching kids climb the goat. And watching everybody.

It’s always been this way.

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Cassie Owens/Billy Penn

Erika Reinhard, 31, Sittenhouse’s organizer: I don’t know if they still have this. They used to have the concerts here in August. (Note: Not for the last two years, anyway.)

Just coming up on the grass and listening to the bands…

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Laila Moslemi, 25: My favorite Rittenhouse wall memory is making out with my first boyfriend in high school.

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Cassie Owens/Billy Penn

Libby Spangler, 27: I used to work three different jobs after I came back from (study abroad at) Temple Rome. I used to come here because my friends lived all over the city. 

This was it. We didn’t have the late night house party. I didn’t have the community I have now in Fishtown, where every friend was a neighbor.

It was always on this wall. It was always a bottle of wine.

It was cooler than sending out the club invite on Facebook. It was more personal. Maybe you got hassled by a homeless person, but that was all part of it.

The only common factor was this wall. That was the meeting point… It was everyone’s dorm room.

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Cassie Owens/Billy Penn

Bob Skiba, 66: When I came down here [before I moved to Philly], I was told if you were going to meet gay people, this was the place to go. This was 1981.

But then there was a sweep to get rid of gay people. They were still trying to get “hippies” out of the park. Hippies and queers.

Philly is both a welcoming city and an exclusionary city.

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Rebecca Nenno, 33: These have been my stomping grounds for years.

[One time,] I think someone had a boom box playing. Someone had the idea that we should do swing dancing. My friend, he thought that he could flip me over his head, you know that move?

It was not successful. He dropped me on my head on the bricks. And he lived in that building right there, where the TD Bank is.

He brought me up to his apartment to put ice on my head. People came up, they were concerned. We wound up hanging out on the roof. There’s a playground up there.

It wasn’t very eventful, as most memories aren’t. It’s just something I’ll always remember. I didn’t have a concussion. 

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Cassie Owens/Billy Penn