In a city full of intriguing people, few were more so than Ed Bacon, the tall, lanky, one-eyed, then 92-year-old retired Philadelphia city planner who once called me with a plan to get arrested.
His plan: skateboarding in Philadelphia's iconic LOVE Park, which he helped create.
It was a reaction to then-Mayor John Street's move to close off the park and prohibit skateboarders from doing shreds and ollies and all manner of other skatepunk maneuvers.
"I want to protest what the mayor has done to LOVE Park," Ed Bacon told me 15 years ago in his excitable, raspy voice. "And I want you to cover it."
It was a bold and audacious move by a guy who had a lifetime full of them in pursuit of his passions and fame, including making the cover of Time magazine in 1964.
His son? You may have heard of him, too. His name is Kevin Bacon.
• • •
Ever since the LOVE Park escapade, I have wanted to ask Bacon about his dad. His new series gave me an excuse.
Bacon's latest effort is a TV series about an antagonistic art-world icon who is deified by both a wife and her husband at an annoyingly hip Texas arts enclave. This Amazon Prime series, I Love Dick, is strangely intriguing. And it makes perfect sense for Kevin Bacon, who comes from an intriguing family, to co-executive produce and star in it.
Not that I know much about Bacon. But I did know his dad, from my days covering Philadelphia for the now-defunct Philadelphia City Paper.
Every so often, a video pops up on the internet of City Paper's art director Brian Hogan and me propping up a gleeful Ed Bacon as he scoots about 25 feet before getting off and proclaiming that "my whole damn life has been worth it just for this moment."
The scene, which has become legend in Philly, even appears in a documentary about Ed Bacon's amazing life.
I had come to know Ed Bacon in his retirement, and he was still feisty as hell about his urban design passions, which elevated the pedestrian-friendly ways of a city over suburban sprawl.
Hence his umbrage at the mayor's plans to make LOVE Park safe from skaters, including posting police who spent a good deal of time shooing them away. In pure John Street style, the mayor made the decision to "improve" LOVE Park even though the X-Games pumped tens of millions of dollars into the local economy.
I always smile at the memories and made a mental note to one day grill Bacon about his dad. During a recent publicity tour, he was asked about his dad's wheeled protest on Marc Maron's WTF. A friend from Philly sent me a link to a story about it in the Inquirer. And I knew it was finally time.
• • •
Getting Bacon on the phone was relatively easy. If he isn't normally loquacious, he was more than happy to talk about his late father, which no doubt helped me nail the interview.
Ed Bacon trained as an architect at Cornell University and then at Cranbrook Academy of Art under Eliel Saarinen, father of Eero, with whom Ed Bacon also later worked. This is according to a biography by Greg Heller, who helped put the skateboarding scenario into motion.
After a brief tenure working on planning in Flint, Mich., Ed Bacon returned to his native Philadelphia. He helped found the City Planning Commission in the 1940s and served as its director from 1949 to 1970.
Kevin Bacon told me that growing up with such a well-known father was a tremendous motivating factor.
"I got this notion of celebrity and fame and the desire to have that from my dad," Bacon said. "A lot of people really liked him and would stop him on the street. That was powerful for me as a little boy."
Bacon didn't want to grow up and be just like his dad. He wanted to be better.
"In some ways, we take our father down, do better or whatever it is," Bacon said. "That is a pretty common quality in young men. I think for me, it was — not to get too psychoanalytical — my way was to become more famous than my father."
It is a plan, said Bacon, that seems to have worked. Everywhere but Philadelphia.
"After I was well-known, I would go back to Philadelphia, walk up the streets together and I would hear someone go, 'Mr. Bacon! Mr. Bacon!' and I would turn around thinking it was a fan. But they were talking to my dad."
If the elder, skateboarding Bacon, who died in 2005, was put off by his son's competitive streak, he never showed it.
And, if he were still alive, he probably would have really liked I Love Dick.
"My dad and mother were incredibly supportive of any piece of junk I would do," says Bacon. "They would have been thrilled with I Love Dick, because it was good. They have not all been stellar."
• • •
Bacon chuckles at the thought of his old man on a skateboard.
"I've got to tell you, it was not that much of a surprise," Bacon said. "That was kind of the way he was. He was very happy to be in the spotlight. He was also happy to make waves. He was kind of a contentious figure, especially as he got older. He had no problem stirring things up that he believed strongly about."
I remember what I felt strongly about as I helped prop up Ed Bacon, first in my office to see if it was even feasible, then later in LOVE Park.
Don't drop him. The last thing I need is the Bacon Brothers on my case.
Contact Howard Altman at [email protected] or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.