FDR: Skatepark That Defines An Attitude


From FDR Skatepark: A Visual History | Photo: Ryan Gee

Editor’s Note: FDR Skatepark: A Visual History (Schiffer, $34.99) will be released Thursday night at 7PM at Exit Skateshop 825 N. 2nd Street. For the book’s website, click HERE. Yesterday, we caught up with Phil Jackson, the book’s photo editor.

Nathaniel Popkin: There’s a big scene down there in the world of skateboarding but hidden to most of us. How many people skate there and where do they come from?
Phil Jackson: The majority of the people that skate FDR live in Philly, but there are Delaware and Jersey locals too, and people on the road will make a point to stop by and check out the park. I’ve run into skaters from Brazil, Germany, Australia, really all over the globe, who have heard about the place and come to experience it. There’s the annual party on Fourth of July and a few hundred people will come out for that. But there are days where you could be skating with just two or three people all day.

NP: How long did you work photographing down there?
PJ: The book is a compilation of photographs from the park’s 15+ year history. We have contributions from over 25 different photographers, from amateurs with disposable cameras to world renowned professionals. Personally, I first visited the park in 1999, and started skating there exclusively around 2003. I’ve been shooting there since then, but the earliest photos in the book are from the beginning in 1996.

Skateboarder Dan Tag, from FDR Skatepark: A Visual History | Photo: Wallacavage

NP: Is the place changing? Does it draw a certain kind of skateboarder?
PJ: The beauty of FDR is that it is in a constant state of evolution. It has been a labor of love funded almost entirely out of the pockets of local skaters. Much of the park is made up of donated and/or salvaged materials, and so the growth has always been organic.

From FDR Skatepark: A Visual History | Photo: Phil Jackson

As far as skateparks go, it really is not for the tame. There are cracks in some of the ramps due to the constant traffic of I-95 above. Salt runoff has left pockmarks all over some of the cement. And since it has been built in renegade fashion, nothing there is perfect. But that’s also what makes it so special.

FDR is attractive to the scrappiest of skateboarders. The ones who are more concerned with speed and less with flare. Function over fashion types. At least that’s what I think.

Skateboarder Donny Barley, from FDR Skatepark: A Visual History | Photo: Adam Wallacavage

NP: Like LOVE Park, this isn’t a planned skatepark. Is there something more authentic about it–as opposed to a purpose-built park like that being planned by Franklin’s Paine? Or doesn’t it matter?
PJ: Totally. I mean there’s something to be said for skating a perfect park, that has its own appeal and is attractive to a certain kind of skater. But if you want to skate something gritty, raw, spray-painted, cracked, patched, authentic, and unique, FDR defines that attitude and that aesthetic.

Skateboarder Steve Faas from FDR Skatepark: A Visual History | Photo: Jonathan Mehring

About the author

Hidden City co-editor Nathaniel Popkin’s latest book is the novel Lion and Leopard (The Head and The Hand Press). He is also the author of Song of the City (Four Walls Eight Windows/Basic Books) and The Possible City (Camino Books). He is senior writer and script editor of the Emmy-winning documentary series “Philadelphia: The Great Experiment” and the fiction review editor of Cleaver Magazine. His essays and book reviews appear in the Wall Street Journal, Public Books, The Kenyon Review, The Millions, and Fanzine.


  1. Better FDR than letting them vandalize Love Park again. When are they going to pay for all the damage they caused there?

    • fyi Don, the skate industry offered up literally millions of dollars for repair and maintenance of Love park in the interest of keeping it open to skating. The city declined and instead spent millions of taxpayer dollars on skate-stopping features while continuing to neglect repairs.

    • Don, with all due respect, the ignorance in your question is mind-blowing. “Vandalize” Love Park? Are you going to personally bill all the homeless people and drug users that deposti litter and fecal matter, and who cause more damage and strife in that park in one year than all the skateboarders/ bike riders/ inline skaters have ever done? Not to mention the tourists who litter and cause problems while using the park for a whole two minutes while taking their token photo for in front of the Love sign? Or all the people who go there on their lunch break and litter and further pollute the city air when smoking? Oh, wait, now we’re up to every segment of the population that utilizes Love Park. Maybe the segment that actually used the park for a positive outlet, and for more than a fleeting moment, or as a temporary home, or as a crack den, doesn’t seem so bad, now does it? Education is the key to defying ignorance.

  2. A shame “Don” has to start the comments off with his prejudiced attitude. Perhaps he should put a value on the vitality which skateboarding brought to Love Park at a time when the rest of the city left it to the rats and homeless people.

    As for the topic at hand, congratulations to Phil and everyone involved for putting this book together.
    The day will come when the city decides it wants to use that land to sell $50 parking spaces for Eagles games and it will be nice to look back on the pictures and remember what freedom once looked like. And what can be accomplished by disparate groups of people who hold a unified goal of creating something which government could not provide.

  3. Love Park is a place for people to have lunch for about two hours a day during the work week. The rest of the time it’s an unofficial homeless shelter.

    The skateboarders made better use of it and the city could have embraced the popularity of the park and make accommodation so everyone including the skaters could enjoy the park.

    So what did Mayor Street do? Invested over a million dollars in the park to remove all the granite benches, put in skate blocks and made it look like crap.

    Don, it’s been a long time now since the city put a 300.00 fine in place for skateboarding on city owed property. There has been more than just a few arrests over the years and the law is not going away. That is how the skateboarders are unfairly paying back.

    Like there is some kind of organized skateboarding union in the city that could actually pay for anything in one lump sum.

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