It's a famous summertime sexy pickup spot. Some say it's not what it used to be.
On a hot summer day, Fairmount Park’s lush Belmont Plateau—which offers a breathtaking view of the city skyline—is guaranteed to host a plethora of picnickers and people playing pickup football or frisbee. Tourists park their cars in the Plateau’s lot, then traipse off to Belmont Mansion or other park sites. Families hang out at benches and watch their children play.
Then there’s the Plateau as the sun sets, when it becomes a bustling social hangout. On Will Smith’s “Summertime,” our favorite West Philly poster child proclaims: “Out in Philly we be up in the parks/ A place called the Plateau is where everybody go.” And it’s never more true than at night, when the parking lot becomes a de facto party and pickup spot. Guys show off their cars’ booming sound systems and hope to leave with a phone number or two. Girls sit atop trunks, playing hard to get. Friends mingle. Sometimes things get steamy; some couples just stay in the car.
This is the place 33-year-old Teresa Tabourn—an outgoing lifelong resident of West Philly—came for many summers. But she says the Plateau is changing—and not for the better.
On a recent rainy Friday night, there’s only one couple seated on a picnic table near a tree. The guy repeatedly attempts to light a cigarette. The wind picks up and the woman leaves the bagged bottle she was drinking from to run to her car. The guy she’s with throws the faulty lighter on the ground. They drive away without picking up their trash.
For Tabourn, moments like these have ruined the Plateau. “I used to go there all the time with my girlfriends,” she says. “But now it’s always dirty.” She says the area’s “unsightly amount of trash” has caused the Plateau to lose its appeal.
“We’ve always had problems with littering,” says Fairmount Park Chief of Staff Barry Bessler. “We hope that people are respectful of the park. We make sure we stay on top of replacing the trashcan liners and we even hand out trash bags to picnickers to make sure that they clean up. But nonetheless, when you have that many people come out to a particular place, there’s going to be some trash.”
Tabourn, now a mother of four, also cites safety as a concern, even in the daytime. “You have people out there just chillin’ in cars or on the benches smoking and drinking with no concern for the children that are out there playing,” she says.
“It’s not what it used to be,” agrees 24-year-old Ian Long. Also a native of West Philly, Long candidly recalls how he would head up to “the Plat” every summer as a teenager. “The view of the skyline is just beautiful. There were always a lot of young people out having fun,” says Long. “But now it’s a different crowd.”
Bessler can’t say officially if there are fewer people coming to the Plateau, since permit requests are filed only for large-scale events. “I don’t know if it is the same as it was 10 to 15 years ago when the police would have to close traffic on the roads leading to the park on the weekends, just because there were so many people,” he says. But, he points out, the Plateau is still a “pretty popular place.”
Both Long and Tabourn say they’ve noticed changes taking place over the last five years or so. Tabourn now prefers to go to Lemon Hill, which she considers cleaner and safer. Long heads to summer hangouts like South Street or Penn’s Landing. But he still has fond feelings for the Plat.
“I’m from West. The Plat is never going to be played out—ever,” he says. “It was a lot prettier before all the litter, though. I don’t really go up there anymore, but I have a lot of good memories.”