Philly skateboarders are frustrated over renovation plans for the area outside the Municipal Services Building. Thomas Paine Plaza is being renovated in favor of more green space and a seating area, according to the city, with the goal of making it more welcoming for public gatherings.
But skaters are fearful the loss of “Muni,” as it’s known, could spell the end for Philadelphia’s rich history of plaza-style street skating, several people told Billy Penn.
They’ve tried to hold on as long as they can, even skating through the initial demolition phase.
“The only place a lot of us ‘fit in’,” skater Dan Eshleman posted on Instagram, where the community is using the hashtag #lastdays to commemorate the end of skating at Muni. “Thankful for the memories. Even more thankful for the people I got to share them with.”
After what happened to Love Park, a former skateboarding mecca flattened during its recent revamp, Philly skaters had asked to be included in the Thomas Paine Plaza redesign. But the city declined to include them, they said.
Pat Heid, a community advocate who works as a sales rep for skater apparel brand Vans, said he talked with officials and managed to secure some of the granite benches from the plaza.
The skateboarding community has plans to use these pieces in a new space — yet to be determined — along with some granite features saved from Love Park, he said.
They’d also like to add some of the “Your Move” giant board game pieces recently removed from the space, but were told the city isn’t comfortable with selling the work or having it used in other places because of safety concerns.
Are these truly the #lastdays?
Before Muni became the main spot for skaters to hang out, there was Love Park. Both spots basically put Philly on the map, skateboarding advocate Heid said.
Love Park in particular became iconic worldwide, was featured in the popular Tony Hawk Pro Skater video game, and gave local skaters a chance to be recognized globally. But when renovations started in 2016, the street skating scene in Philly shrunk, according to several in the community. People moved away, or stopped skating altogether.
Now Muni is the last well-known plaza skate space located in Center City.
The accessibility is important, skaters said, because it facilitates community. It’s a place to meet others and learn from them. Some recalled going to the plaza and getting free boards from older skaters, and many say it helped keep them out of trouble as kids.
Big brands also took notice of who showed out at places like Muni, per local skater Patrice Southerland — key if you want to travel to competitions. “People don’t realize how hard it is to skate on your own dime,” he said.
Because of a trick local skater Jimmy Gorecki landed at Muni in 1999, he said, he got recognized by Pharrell, Jay Z, Meek Mill, and LeBron James.
“Muni changed my life,” Gorecki told Billy Penn. “That trick alone set my whole career up.” He now lives in Los Angeles and has a successful career as a clothing designer.
While there are other skateparks in Philadelphia, they’re not quite the same, local skaters say.
Muni is unique both because it provides a home for plaza-style skating and is so easily accessible, right across the street from City Hall.
FDR Skatepark in South Philly is also popular, but it’s for bowl skating, which attracts a different crowd. There’s also Paine’s Park on the Schuylkill River Boardwalk, which was created after the Love Park renovations. But today’s plaza skaters say it doesn’t work as well as they’d like.
Design flaws contribute to lack of traffic there, said Southerland. For example the aluminum rails clash with the aluminum on the trucks of the skateboard.
What about the ‘Your Move’ artwork?
The giant game board pieces that used to be at Muni — an art installation called “Your Move” — have become iconic in the skate community worldwide. Skaters hoped to salvage some of it not only for the sentiment, but because the sculptures are made of out steel and fiberglass, which is good to skate on.
But the city is adamant on not reselling the pieces or letting them be used in another public space because of deterioration and the cost of upkeep.
“Due to the rusting and poor condition of the pieces, it would not be appropriate to auction them for safety and excessive maintenance reasons,” said city spokesperson Laila Sadat.
That’s not in line with what Renee Petropolous, one of three artists behind “Your Move,” wants to see happen. Acknowledging that “most things don’t last forever” and “one has to be prepared” when creating public art, she wishes there could have been some sort of repurposing of the art, even something to remember it by.
The sculptures, which included game pieces from chess, Sorry, Parcheesi, Monopoly, bingo, dominoes, and checkers, were removed in late May, and will eventually be sent to a local metal recycling site, according to Sadat.
What happens next?
There are still some good parks left in the city, local skaters say.
White Hall skatepark, located in Northeast Philadelphia, was built by skaters — and street skaters actually enjoy skating there, per Southerland. The only problem is that it’s just a bit out the way.
Front Street Skatepark, located in South Philly, is relatively new. It started in 2020 through DIY efforts from local skaters and eventually it was approved for more structures like rails, benches and a wide low quarter pipe.
As for Muni, city plans include redesigning the plaza and installing new artwork, although “there is no set timeline” for the renovation, per spokesperson Sadat, and no concept renderings have been released.
All local skaters know that they’d like to be involved, to keep street skating alive for generations to come.