Stu Bykofsky: Is it really illegal to take a peek at Eagles practice?

Michael Henkel of South Philadelphia peers through the fence outside the Eagles practice field on Pattison Avenue. The grass and sidewalk are public property, but the Birds' security guards try to prevent people from peering in.
Michael Henkel of South Philadelphia peers through the fence outside the Eagles practice field on Pattison Avenue. The grass and sidewalk are public property, but the Birds' security guards try to prevent people from peering in. (YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: September 05, 2012

IS IT really trespassing to stand outside the Eagles Novacare practice field on Pattison Avenue to sneak a peek at the team practicing in pads?

Michael Henkel didn't think so and put his beliefs to the test a couple of weeks ago after a private security guard saw Henkel peering through the fence and the view-obscuring bushes and told him to move on.

"Off a public sidewalk?" Henkel protested, standing his ground. Some mutual lip was exchanged.

The next actor to arrive was an officer from the 1st Police District, telling Henkel he had to move.

The 54-year-old Henkel listened up because he is a law-abiding citizen. He better be - he supervises writ-servers for Philadelphia's Family Court.

Henkel asked the officer to write up the incident, and the cop obliged. Now he had paperwork! Next stop was the Daily News. His heat gauge was somewhere between annoyance and outrage.

A lifelong South Philadelphian, Henkel says many people peer through the bars of the fence to get an up-close look at their heroes. Henkel is a huge Birds fan - he owns a $350 official team jersey and spent an extra $80 to have his name stitched on the back. He tailgates; he goes to games.

He comes to Pattison to play peek-a-boo because it brings back "the kid in you," he says. "You are peering through the bushes, they are 20 to 30 feet away, you hear the line coaches yelling to the players."

He insists it's legal for him to stand there and watch, whether the Eagles like it or not.

1st District Capt. Lou Campione says Henkel is right, up to a point.

A security guard does drive around in a golf cart and shoos people away, Campione says, but only if they are standing on the grass between the sidewalk and the fence. "The grass strip is maintained by the Eagles so the presumption is that it is theirs," he says.

A logical presumption, but is it correct? Is the grass strip between the fence and the sidewalk public or private property?

In search of an answer, I wind up at the Streets Department's Survey Unit, where I am educated on the difference between the property line, the building line, the street line and the building-setback line. You will be happy to know I will not explain all that here, I will just report that Streets says Pattison is 120 feet wide - 80 feet for the street flanked by two 20-foot-wide sidewalks. Public property extends 20 feet in from the curb.

Now it's off to Pattison to tape-measure the sidewalk, where I am joined by Henkel. We stretch the tape from the curb to the fence and the distance is - can you believe this? - precisely 20 feet. Henkel's jubilant. The area outside the fence is public property.

Case closed.

Not so fast, says Eagles vice president of communications Rob Zeiger.

"Part of our agreement with neighbors, part of our lease with city, is that we aren't supposed to be creating distractions," which is what a huddle of Eagles fans would be, Zeiger says.

Thwarting a "distraction" overrules what the city's own maps show as public property? Doesn't seem right to me.

To frustrate sneak-peekers, how about wrapping the field with something opaque, I ask Zeiger.

"Our current setup has kept everyone happy for more than a decade," he says.

Tell that to Michael Henkel, when he's pushed off public property.


Contact Stu Bykofsky at stubyko@phillynews.com or 215-854-5977. Join Stu on Facebook. For recent columns, go to philly.com/Byko.

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