More than 300 people showed up at JFK Plaza on Friday looking for LOVE. They left unrequited.
The Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Department had planned to sell 250 chunks of granite from old LOVE Park, etched with a likeness of Robert Indiana's iconic LOVE statue, but city officials found out an hour before the sale that they did not have the rights to the image.
"We incorrectly assumed we had permission to use the likeness because we've been selling stuff for years," Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Jen Crandall said. "We've already applied to use it. We're hoping we can work this out very quickly so people can get them before the holidays."
In an homage to the former design of the park, which is at the end of an 18-month renovation, the city found an artist to create miniature granite bricks to be sold for $50 a piece (limit two per person) with proceeds benefiting parks and more specifically city skate programs.
People loved the idea. More than 300 lined up Friday morning — some said they had proposed in the park, others used to skateboard there. City workers scrambled to figure out what to do with the crowd. Everyone in line before 12:45 p.m. signed up to get on a waiting list for the mementos if the legal issues are resolved.
"We're waiting for rocks," said Shani Ferguson, when asked what the line was for. "We're waiting in line to sign up to pay money to buy rocks."
But Ferguson, of Southwest Center City, was undeterred. "My brother was a skateboarder, we're a Philadelphia family and it seemed like a little piece of Philadelphia we could have."
John Robinson, 57, of Haddon Heights, found the whole scene "a little disorganized and chaotic."
"I would have assumed they would have cleared this ahead of time, and now if there's this legal block, I would hope that whoever gives the licensing right would realize the spirit of what they're trying to do here in terms of a fund-raiser," Robinson said.
Crandall did not know who had notified the city, whether it was Indiana's agent or someone connected with him. She warned that not everyone who signed a form Friday would get a brick, since only 250 were created. The city is looking into making more if permission is granted, Crandall said.
The LOVE sculpture has commercial roots. The image was originally designed as a Christmas card commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art in 1965. Indiana's sculpture came to Philadelphia in 1976. Since then, it has been printed on nearly every object imaginable. Amazon lists 5,994 items with "Philadelphia love sign." The Independence Visitor Center sells a LOVE statue pencil sharpener. Walmart sold "POPE" T-shirts in the design of the LOVE statue during Pope Francis' visit to the United States.
This is the second time this year the city has run up against an issue related to Indiana's design. City officials heard from the artist's representative last month that conservationists had painted the statue the wrong color 30 years ago. They should have used purple, not blue, to go with the red and green lettering.
The 70-plus vendors around the park will be open through Christmas, but the city hasn't given an exact date for when the entire plaza will reopen to the public.
The project was first estimated to cost $16.5 million but increased to $20 million after a final design was selected in winter 2016. Construction issues during excavation hiked the price to $26 million, city officials said this week.
The new design flattened most of the concrete stairs and walls previously surrounding the park and will feature more grass, trees, flower beds, food trucks, and a new fountain. The Welcome Center, still undergoing renovations, will become a restaurant and get a face lift as well as a new piece of public art.
The city also decided to add more lighting to the park to improve the design and safety, which cost more.