Words by Matt Kruszelnicki
This past weekend, the skateboarding community celebrated the 20th anniversary of the East Coast’s first DIY skatepark, FDR. Located by ‘the lakes’ in Philadelphia, this concrete behemoth rests beside freight tracks and under a portion of I-95. Upon approach, the area itself resembles a rubbled war zone with walls that rise up like an old battered fortress. Continue closer and you start recognizing the sheer size and intimidating power of the park, then you start hearing sounds of hootin’ & hollerin’ amidst heavy music and fireworks. FDR truly is one of the last remaining self-governed and maintained skater strongholds. It’s a sacred place that has absorbed over two decades’ worth of blood, sweat, tears, and beers from thousands of eager and previously idle hands.
Upon approach, the area itself resembles a rubbled war zone with walls that rise up like an old battered fortress
It all started back in 1994/95. The city of Philadelphia threatened to close the iconic LOVE Park because of skateboarders inadvertently damaging and loitering on public property. In hopes of diffusing continuing clashes, the city offered a small piece of outskirt urban wasteland unofficially sanctioned for skaters as trade to keep us away from the city center. There under the interstate littered with garbage, drugs and lingering gang violence, the city park commission paid for and poured the initial concrete flat ground along with a fun box and five-sided box. An unprecedented gesture, but it was far from ideal, since East Coast skateboarding at that time was mainly focused on streets, ledges, stairs and handrails, not just flat concrete with rinky-dink obstacles.
However, the opportunity wasn’t abandoned. That’s when skaters took it upon themselves to continue building and creating the proverbial endless sidewalk. Utilizing the highway pillars, concrete, scrap metal, wood and trash, more obstacles started taking form and giving shape to the park. Throughout that time, they organized parties and fundraisers trying to raise cash for concrete. They even had collection jars in skate shops statewide.
One of the original FDR builders says that the completion of the main bunker wall was a true turning point for the spot. It was the first large-scale effort that took two years of hands-on work to build up, one day of pouring and about $6,000 of raised funds. A standing wave roughly 10′ high by 80′ wide with oververt that encloses the spot from the rest of the city, it was the first of its kind on the East Coast. “There was no stopping us after that,” he says. History was set in stone and the legacy of revisions still continues strongly.
…it was the first of its kind on the East Coast. “There was no stopping us after that”
Saturday’s anniversary was not only an epic all-day/night event, but another fundraiser for the next section of the park which locals are currently in the process of building. Their goal is to build the largest DIY concrete bowl. It’s always amazing to witness the power and influence of the skate community here and in all cities worldwide. Awesome seeing homies come out from neighboring states and far beyond! Huge thank you to everyone involved over the years, far too many heads to name! The day was filled with live performances by Loudini, Beer Me, Trash Knife, Hand of Weed, Kelsey Cork, Satyagraha, Black Mesa and special guest Chuck Treece/MCRAD! Special thanks for the positively symbiotic relationship with the City of Brotherly Love and your boys in blue.
If you haven’t been to FDR yet, do yourself a favor and start your pilgrimage now. You’ll find it’s a rough, unforgiving park thats always accepting blood donors. Follow @fdrskatepark on Instagram for official updates and upcoming events!
Shoutout to Burnside, Oregon for being the first of this kind, now celebrating its 25th year anniversary and having much inspiration and influence in the beginnings of FDR, its bastard stepchild- west to east, east to west and beyond. Thank you skateboarding!