New Book Highlights the Colorful Legacy of FDR Skatepark
By Caroline Newton
For 15 years, skateboarders have called the area under the South Philly portion of the I-95 overpass their home. What began as a couple city-built pyramids has since morphed into a world-renowned, do-it-yourself skatepark known as FDR.
Three skateboarders in particular are so taken by FDR Skatepark that they decided to produce a book documenting the park’s evolution. After getting the green light from Schiffer Publishing, Phil Jackson, Scott Kmiec and Nicholas Orso spent the next three and a half years sorting through thousands of photos collected from friends and international photographers. The outcome was well worth the wait: FDR Skatepark: A Visual History is a beautiful 168 pages documenting the history of the park and its worshippers. But instead of lengthy photo captions, the book features 17 interviews by contributor Josh Marcinizyn, who transcribed the park locals’ wild stories about their days skating at FDR.
Among the pictures of skateboarding tricks like backside disasters, lean to tails and inverts, we talked to Kmiec about some of the book’s highlights, including a naked skateboarder, a young Bam Margera, lots of booze and lots of blood.
So what about the book took three and a half years to finish?
(Laughs) Um, yeah. Because it was a side project. We all had full time jobs so it was really just working on it when we could, when we had time. Every time [we] got a new archive of photos, it just kept expanding and growing and went through a lot of rounds of how it should be designed. Which is really how we settled on a photo book. Because any time we tried to apply stories to pictures or, as a designer, get too design-y with any of it, it just was not good. It was way better to let the photos speak for themselves and that’s how it became strictly a photo book. It was … the best way to present such a shit-show of a place.
Why did you guys decide to make the book?
I guess for the reason that there has been so many great photographers that we knew had great photos and nothing like this had ever been done before and uh just really pay tribute to a place we really love. And document it properly, and um, I guess that’s really it. There was never any intention for any profit. Any profits from the book are gonna go back into the park for building more, and maintenance. It’s really just a project for the love of it and for the fun of doing it.
What was the biggest challenge in the completion of the book?
Probably for Phil [Jackson, the photographer]. He did a lot of leg work to get those images from the photographers into the files we needed and then also working with the publisher to make sure the colors were correct and the resolution was good on everything. He had an amazing eye for detail through this whole thing. That was probably one of the coolest things: Me and him working together. Photographer and designer. Trying to work out a consistent design template through the book and helping Phil to understand, you know, the rhythm that carries you through the book and the reasons why we’re pairing a lot of things together.
What kind of research did the book take to complete?
It really wasn’t research because we were so close to it. We kind of already knew everything. We definitely learned a lot along the way. Little stories we got from people. Especially some of the original park builders that would give you little tidbits into you know, why this is called a different thing or where things came from. But there wasn’t too much research, I would say it was more just the legwork of collecting all the photos and things like that.
Did you know all the people in the interviews prior to writing the book?
Yes, those are all pretty much the well-known locals down there I would say. Or the people that put in the most time. That’s why we chose to talk to them. We feel like they are a good representation of the voice of the park. And that people who do know the park would appreciate what they have to say.
The book makes it sound like the park locals have beef with other skateboarders about the financial needs of the park. Is that true?
Yeah. Yeah it’s a shame. It’s really just a handful of people. It kind of gets blown up until it’s this really big thing. It’s a lot of misunderstandings and, kind of, clash of cultures. ’Cause you’re talking about dudes who don’t work … versus guys like me who have a career and have a family and … have a life beyond just hanging out underneath the overpass all the time. So their way of getting things done, and our way of getting things done aren’t the same. And we don’t have a problem with that but it seems to clash with their very strict rules of what is the true FDR ethos.
What should people know about FDR?
I think a lot of people could go there and look at it and it’s such a hodgepodge of stuff and some of it’s in really bad condition, and some of it’s really hard to skate and, to some people, they would think you would wanna fix it. But that’s what makes FDR great. I would say the best thing that could be done for FDR is just to totally leave it alone … the skaters maintain it and the skaters build it. They raise the funds for it and that’s really the best way to keep things going.
The book release party is tonight from 7-10 pm at Exit Skateshop in Northern Liberties. Books will be available for purchase ($34.99) and, for the 21-plus crowd, free beer courtesy of Straub Brewery. More info: exitphiladelphia.com