Is Belmont Plateau Still the Place?

It's a famous summertime sexy pickup spot. Some say it's not what it used to be.

By Shahida Muhammad
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 5 | Posted May. 12, 2009

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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.”

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1. Astrotrain said... on Sep 15, 2009 at 03:46PM

“No... trash all over the concession stand / restroom areas. Mens' room is beyond filthy (there were bags of trash in toilets, no working sink to wash your hands, no towels, etc and it wreaked as puddles of who knows what were all over the floor).

Meanwhile you step outside of the mens room, there is broken glass and trash everywhere. Not my idea of a place I wan to take my family, more like someplace you want to avoid.

Parking is also very limited once spots are filled your on your own.

Mayor Nutter needs to spend some money and clean Philadelphia up if he wants tourists to come visit.”

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2. Anonymous said... on Sep 24, 2009 at 04:06PM

“...or maybe people just need to pick up their damn trash. didn't have that problem 10 years ago.”

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3. Anonymous said... on Sep 27, 2010 at 08:35AM

“The plat was the "ish" for me 1986- 1997 is the so called golden era. Sunday afternoon would be off the hook fresh off of a hopeful eagles victory, if they played at 1 o clock, you would head out there about 430. Cars and jeeps would pack up top and down bottom from old school whips to the newest models. Sexy african americans enjoying a lovely sunday afternoon before the work week starts. Summertime is when the plateau really popped , memorial day is usually the unofficial start of the summer but the greek picnic was the unofficial start of the "plateau summer". Folks come from miles around just to get a taste of what will smith was talking about in his song "summertime". Ahhhh the good old days now there are gates that closes the park, cops are always hounding, and the whole theme of the plateau has changed in recent years. To me its boring and dry but my memories linger on for the glory days of the golden era!”

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4. Giantnyc said... on Nov 15, 2010 at 03:41PM

“Sounds like a familiar theme. A great event until certain "elements" get wind; next is lots of inappropriate behavior/illegal activity, the women no longer feel safe and the cops show up. Another one bites the dust. Shame.”

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5. West Philly, born and raised said... on Nov 29, 2013 at 02:47PM

“I read that the mid 80s to mid 90s was the golden era. I was a child of the 60s and 70s. NOTHING beat the early 70s, rocking the afro and the Delfonics playing on WDAS. Like Will Smith's song, Smelling Charcoal grills still sparks up nostalgia for those times... We would run as fast and as far as we could, throw or kick a ball as hard as we could - the space seemed endless! Things always change, and usually for the lesser.”

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