• About a Place: South Philly Bowl

    In the City of Brotherly Love exists a hidden oasis for skaters of all ages: a warehouse-turned-skate park just south of Center City. Take a glimpse into the bowl where sprawling views of the city’s skyline can be seen and get the story of how the place came to be as we sit down with one of the co-founders to discuss what it took to transform an empty building into a destination for skaters everywhere.
    Photos by Bryan Karl Lathrop

    Can you give us some background on yourself?
    I'm Scott Kmiec. I've been living and skating in Philly since I first came to here for college back in the mid '90s. Currently living in Graduate Hospital area with my wife and two boys. I work as an Associate Creative Director at 160over90. I've been skating for 30 years.

    What lead to the idea of creating the South Philly Bowl?
    The bowl got started about 8 years ago. During the winter in Philly, you don't have many option for places to skate. My friends and I used to drive up to Brooklyn to skate the Autumn Bowl, a private indoor space. It's since closed down but it was our inspiration to do what we've done here in Philly. After one trip to Autumn Bowl, I talked with a couple of other skaters about finding a warehouse to do our thing. The next day one of the guys found a space on Craig's list. We went and checked it out and it was perfect for what we wanted to do. But no one wanted to sign the lease and be responsible for it. So after a few restless nights thinking about how bad it could go wrong, I said 'screw it' and went for it. That's how it became my baby.

    How exactly were the designs / blueprints created? Did you have help from architects or anything like that?
    It came together very organically. First we brought in a mini ramp someone had at another space and skated that for awhile. As we raised more money we started adding on to it. Almost everyone involved with building it were locals at FDR skatepark, so that's where the building knowledge came from. Just a whole lot of team work. And basically, the guys who showed up and put in the work got to build what they wanted. Since we all loved FDR, it kind of became an indoor version of that.

    How long did it take to build?
    We worked on it for 9 months. It was a slow process since we needed to raise money for supplies as we went along. So there were lulls when we'd just skate what we had until we could keep building. 

    How often do you have skaters come through?
    People skate it almost every day. Pro teams visiting Philly come through pretty often. In the evening, you can almost always find a session going on.

    What’s the best trick you’ve seen landed here?
    Too many to name. But the best thing I think I've seen was when visiting pro Ben Hatchel did a front blunt on a transition we used to call "The Office Wall" that had about 4 feet of vertical. He did it on his first try. We've since changed that section of the bowl—but it was an insanely gnarly thing to do. 

    Can just anyone come through to skate? How does that all work?
    It's a private spot. You can't just show up and skate. We have about 25 keyholders, and each Keyholder pays an amount towards rent depending on how many people are on their key. That's how we pay rent and utilities.

    Do you guys have parties there ever? How do those usually end up?
    Yeah, we throw an annual Halloween costume party. We get a few kegs from a beer sponsor and our buddy Rory who always comes through with some good home brew. The sessions are always epic. We get some prizes going from sponsors and give out stuff for best trick, best costume, etc. We also did a First Friday art series last summer sponsored by Vans that was a whole lot of fun. 

    What are some other cool skate spots around Philly outside of the warehouse?
    FDR, Grey's Ferry, Paine's Park. I'm not in touch with the street spots. I'm old.

    What’s the best area/city/park you’ve ever personally skated?
    I did a few trips out west to Oregon and Seattle when they started building concrete skateparks like crazy. Everything out there is so good. They're much more liberal about what they build and have less restrictions from the cities. So you get some really big, challenging things to skate. Orcas Island off the coast of Seattle is pretty classic. 

    Is the SPB a constant work in progress? If so, what kind of plans do you have for it in the future?
    No, it's very complete. We've only done one renovation in the 8 years it's been going. As for the future, I can't believe we actually made it this long! With the gentrification that's happening in the area, I wouldn't be surprised if it sold to a developer when our lease is up—it would probably get torn down and turned into housing. But we got a couple more years on our lease, so we're OK for now. That'd take us to 10 years and I'd say that's a pretty good run.

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