On Wednesday, Eakins Oval debuted its new summer identity - “The Oval” - wearing a fresh paint pattern and outfitted with temporary features aimed at inviting people to linger and enjoy the Parkway over the next five weeks.
I stopped by The Oval on its opening afternoon to check out the transformation and see if anyone was braving the heat.
The crowd was thin but a steady flow of visitors stopped by while I was there. Teenagers played twister, giant checkers, and ping-pong. College kids goofed with chess pieces, dancing to the tunes being piped throughout the space. Little kids played in the sandboxes. Tourists and couples lingered in Adirondack chairs, enjoying the shade on the hot afternoon.
It’s not a flashy space, but Parks and Rec succeeded in creating an easygoing and inviting environment - something like block party meets super-sized parklet. The painted pavement, done by Mural Arts Program crews, does a good job of making the central asphalt strip feel less like a parking lot. Aquamarine café tables give folks a place to eat under white umbrellas, and the red Adirondack chairs beneath strings of lights and lanterns give the formal allée of trees a distinctly backyard feel.
Wednesday was so hot that the central parking strip – repainted as a “beach, blanket, and boardwalk” – was absolutely blazing. A few folks played chess under an umbrella or took advantage of the fan misters on the “beach” – which were positively refreshing after a long walk on a hot afternoon.
The loveliest feature during the heat of the day was the red Adirondack chairs under the tall trees that flank the repurposed parking lot. People were lingering in the shade, taking a welcome break from the heat of the “beach” and the Parkway beyond.
Most folks I spoke with didn’t know that The Oval was happening, but came over out of pure curiosity, drawn in by the tunes, tangerine flags, giant beach balls placed around the oval like buoys, and hot-colored lanterns hung in the trees.
“We were just going to the Art Museum and we found this. And we needed water,” Brendan Foehr, who was in town visiting a friend who goes to Temple University, taking a break from a giant game of chess.
Nearby Naisha Kemp was standing in the shade, watching her young kids attempt to play ping-pong.
“We were riding through the area and I was taking them to play at [Van Colln Park]. Then I said lemme see what’s going on over there,” Kemp said. Her daughter goes to school nearby so she’d seen crews setting up but had no idea what was happening.
“I just wish more people knew about it,” Kemp said. “I do notice that people walking by are walking in.”
Several groups I spoke with were stopping by The Oval en route to or from the Art Museum.
Two French tourists rested in shaded Adirondack chairs while their kids made sea creature fans at the Mural Arts Program art tent - a welcome reward for their youngsters who had just been especially well behaved during a visit to the Art Museum.
Of the locals I spoke with, most said they’d be back – pending better weather.
Ashley Hahn is an independent writer with a background in historic preservation and city planning. She started Eyes on the Street for PlanPhilly in 2011 and was PlanPhilly's managing editor from 2015-2017. Ashley has lived in 12 zip codes that she can think of, including neighborhoods in Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, and New York. She is a Philadelphian by choice.