Mark Focht wants Philadelphians and tourists to know that there is plenty to do at The Oval, which is being billed as “the new shape of fun.”
Focht, first deputy commissioner of the city Department of Parks and Recreation, was standing at Eakins Oval, located on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, during a recent news conference outlining fun events scheduled there this summer.
The 8-acre site has been transformed, with the surface area painted into a beach, blanket and boardwalk theme. There are two large sandboxes and four spray-misters, and guests can listen to live music and play chess, checkers, Twister, ping-pong, volleyball, badminton, bocce and miniature golf.
“Everything is free,” said Focht, making the exception for beer and food.
Mayor Michael Nutter, City Council President Darrell Clarke and Councilman Bill Greenlee were also on hand for the announcement, which featured a disc jockey, children’s activities and free ice cream bars.
The elected officials were joined by Kathryn Ott Lovell, executive director of the Fairmount Park Conservancy; Helen Davis Picher, interim president of the William Penn Foundation, which is helping to fund the initiative; and Jane Golden, executive director of the city Mural Arts Program.
Instead of cutting a ceremonial ribbon, the dignitaries used paint rollers on the then-unfinished surface, which had been a parking lot.
“This is a work in progress,” said Michael DiBerardinis, deputy mayor for environment and community resources and commissioner of the parks and recreation department, explaining that he expects the initiative to grow in future years.
The season began with an outdoor showing of the movie E.T. The Extra Terrestrial.
The activities will continue for the next three weeks, Tuesdays through Sundays from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., weather permitting.
Highlights have included a performance by the Ferko String Band and showings of popular mid-1980s movies Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Footloose, The Goonies, Rocky IV and Ghostbusters.
Assuming the initiative is a hit with the public and the funding is available, officials plan to make The Oval an annual event, with an earlier start in 2014.
“This is just the beginning of fun programming,” DiBerardinis said.
DiBerardinis believes The Oval is a perfect fit for an area that has recently seen the Rodin Museum refurbished and the Barnes Museum open.
“This is a wonderful period for the Parkway,” he said.
Nutter described the Parkway as a “beautiful boulevard” that deserves The Oval rather than a blacktop parking lot. The initiative fits in with the city’s goal of making the traffic-heavy Parkway more “park” and less “way.”
The official end to the series of activities is Aug. 18, though there are plans to add so-called “pop-up” programs through September and October.
For an up-to-date schedule of events, call 215-683-3600, visit phila.gov/TheOval or check out TheOvalPHL page on Facebook. ••