Parking, Manualing, Thinking, Evolving

While writing these blog posts I have often wished readers had some background knowledge of the way I think about skateboarding’s relationship to urban environments.  This post is intended to reveal some of my thinking through the analysis of a specific location I find interesting.

On 4th street in Santa Monica, between Pico and Ocean Park, sits a pair of mirror image apartment buildings.  The two buildings span the entire west side of the street between Bicknell Avenue and Pacific Street.

The pair of buildings were built in 1959, during an era when new freeways were ripping through the Los Angeles Basin and the city’s street car system was nearing death. It is no surprise then, that the buildings flaunt ample parking and reject the pedestrian realm of the sidewalk.

The front of the two buildings as seen from 4th street.

As you can see in the image above, the building practically turns the sidewalk into a driveway, isolating its tenants from the street.

View from Pacific Street

The sides of the buildings feature more parking spaces, a driveway (leading to even more parking spaces), and an awkward space between them.  In recent years, this useless spatial by-product has been frequented by skaters, reinvented as a manual pad.

The apartment buildings’ design spatially isolates tenants from pedestrian realm activities, but it does not provide protection from the sounds of street life.  In my experiences skating there, sessions typically ended within a few minutes when a tenant would yell at us for invading their homes with the obnoxious sounds of skating.  The booms, rattles, and snaps were of course echoed and amplified by the parking caves and large flat walls.  Eventually, the building began attempting to tame the streets’ loud behavior with a design solution.

As seen in the video above, the metal “skate stoppers” hug the corner of the ledge and are designed to prevent skaters from grinding and sliding the edge of the surface.  Unfortunately for the tenant’s sensitive ears, skaters weren’t attracted to the surface for it’s edge, but instead preferred to ride through the middle of the platform while balancing on two wheels.  The skate stoppers were completely ineffective.

On the other side of the buildings is a nearly identical space that was also frequented by skaters.

View from Bicknell Street.

The people in charge of this space invented a very different design solution, but one that proved equally ineffective.

The mini fence is stylish and unlike the skate stoppers, it does not appear overtly defensive.  However, the fence’s absurdity is realized when one notices it accentuates nothing but a slab of blank cement.  The fence’s creators were just as ignorant of skateboarding as their mirror image neighbors.  The midget fence is easily popped over by skilled skaters and is a much more interesting and exciting obstacle than the original manual pad.

Recently, I was passing through the neighborhood and noticed this new feature that (for the most part) finally destroys the space’s appeal to skaters.  Skateboarding forced the property owner to use their dead space for something.  Albeit extremely minor, the people of Santa Monica have been provided with an amenity (a little bit of green where there was once just cement).

Not a very friendly bush.

Okay, perhaps this planter would be more of an amenity without this hostile sign.

The other side has undergone an even more extensive redesign, which completely renders the spot unskateable.  While it must be some of the ugliest landscaping in the city, these five planters do provide a little bit of green where there was once only cold, hard cement.

The evolution of skate prevention.

I believe the evolution of this specific space demonstrates a fundamental reality of street skating: it is an symptom of defensive, uninviting architecture.  The most skateable terrain tends to be the most uninviting terrain for people.  Places built primarily for cars typically have the scale, surface smoothness, and emptiness required for the free flowing act of skateboarding.  The manual pads off 4th Street are a perfect example of this type of terrain.

My thinking on this topic is entirely influenced by former pro skater-turned academic, Ocean Howell’s paper titled “The Poetics of Security: Skateboarding, Urban Design, and the New Public Space.

You cannot skate in a fine-grained city, you need the scale and austerity of the auto-friendly super block.

The defensive architecture of redevelopment was a laboratory for skateboarding: vast plazas, full of modernist architecture, that were empty most of the time.

In this paper, Howell argues that street skateboarding is a symptom of redevelopment architecture (think Bunker Hill in Downtown Los Angeles) before detailing how developers are now building more sophisticated pseudo-public spaces designed to subtly control the unwanted behaviors they inadvertently fostered.

Clearly, the owners of the buildings on 4th Street are not the sophisticated developers discussed in Howell’s paper.  However, the evolution of the owners’ attempts to control unwanted behavior on their property mirrors the actions of Howell’s developers: from skate stoppers to more subtle “friendly” design.

Skateboarders are not consciously deciding to skate auto-centric urban design and most are not interested in the broader significance of their activity.  Instead, street skateboarding’s significance is best seen from a macro or societal prospective as a collective unconscious response to an uninviting built environment.  As our cities have become easier to move through encased in thousands of pounds of steel, our cities have become increasingly cold and uninviting to human-scale activities.  Skateboarders temporarily humanize dead space by converting it into a space for play.

Street skateboarding is simultaneously an example of humans’ ability to adapt to our environment and an expression of our natural human needs.  We evolved as physically active and social creatures, interacting with many different people while moving through and interacting with our surrounding physical environment.  Street skateboarding and it’s culture allows some people to behave like our ancestors in the very different environment of the modern city.

The thinking presented here influences everything I do related to skateboarding.  I hope this post will help readers better understand my photography and the inspirations behind what I write in future posts.

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Awesome Manila

A real post is coming soon, but in the mean time I wanted to post this amazinger video I just saw.

Take a tour of the streets of Manila through the lens of skateboarding.  It’s amazing how much you can learn about a place through five minutes of skate footage.

Is skateboarding not the most beautiful use of urban space?

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High on LA

Met up with a couple usual suspects to go have some fun on our skateboards.  Josh Campos killed some time in a random parking lot while waiting for Justin Cefai to finish breakfast.

After swooping Cefai, we rolled over to LA High.  Despite all the skating that has gone down at this famous spot over the years, Justin managed to find a new way to hit the banks, grinding the metal curb before bashing into a front rock.

A couple years back I stumbled across this incredible photo showing the demolition of the old LA High in 1971.  It was condemned after the Sylmar Earthquake and a suspicious fire.

The old building in it’s prime.  Doesn’t look like Southern California does it?

It’s pretty sad that this grand structure was replaced with a building that looks remarkably like a public storage facility.  However, if it weren’t for the 1971 earthquake and the demolition of the old LA High, the school never would of become the world famous skate spot that it is today (although those do look like some pretty nice stair sets out front).  We can thank the storage-inspired architect for the strangely slanted slick-brick ledges, which are burned into the minds of skaters all over the world.

It would be ridiculous to try and present a comprehensive skate history of LA High in this blog post, so instead I picked out two lines from the front of the school that stood out in my mind.

Guy Mariano in Mouse (1996)

A.V.E. in The DC Video (2002)

While I would argue the terrestrial realm of the current LA High is incredibly more famous than the elegant old structure ever was, the building was featured in the TV show “Room 222.”  Above is the intro to the show as seen in 1970.

I thought this photo was too awesome not to post.  A huge crowd gathered (not sure why) while the school is under construction in 1917.

Back in 2011, I caught J Cefai blasting a wallie with a nice view of the residential neighborhood in the background.

The neighborhood didn’t exist when the high school was first constructed, as is evident in this 1919 photo of Wilshire Boulevard (at Rampart).  LA High can be seen in the distance.

Over on Olympic, Josh Campos came through with the banger of the session: over the fat ledge to a long noseblunt, pop into the bank.  It was proper.

Jesus handled the video.

Check that front foot.

Justin joined me in the tree and was generally killing it at life, getting his monkey on.

Make sure to keep an eye out for Josh’s up coming “Pit Stop” for Autobahn.

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Toast, Street Gap, and Overpass

Had the pleasure of meeting Geoff Kowalchuk and other Toast crew homies the other day. I didn’t shoot many photos, but I did get this shot of Geoff front crooking over a dirt gap. Definitely go watch Geoff’s mag minute and check out his photos.  Multi-talented is an understatement.

A few weeks back I found this street gap while wandering through Highland Park, one of the oldest neighborhoods in LA.  The gap is on a ridiculously steep street.  Stuart Kirst didn’t even need to push, he’d just step on his board where he is now and have plenty of speed by the time he reached the gap.

Have you ever noticed that street gaps tend to be in older places like NYC, Philly, and European cities?  I’d imagine this is because old cities were built before traffic congestion was a concern, resulting in narrower (people-scaled) streets.  This old (for California) street in Highland Park was definitely laid out pre-automobile.

Two workers “spraying asphalt along the curb” of nearby York Boulevard.  The photo isn’t dated.

Inspired by LA’s massive seas of asphalt, this awesome guy David Yoon started photoshopping our streets, making them much, much narrower.  His images hint at what a people-oriented LA could look like while simultaneously exposing how much of our landscape was designed to be viewed through a windshield.

Josh watching for cars at the bottom of the hill.

While modern, auto-centric architecture tends to be better to skate, street gaps are a notable exception.  Taking nothing away from Stu’s hefty ollie, only the most narrow streets/alleys are gap-able. You’re not going to find many street gaps in the suburbs.

Next up, Little Stu spotted this bar on a pretty odd freeway bridge in the middle of residential Glassell Park.  The thing is pretty damn high, but Josh Campos was ninjaing into some crooked grinds.

That’s the Glendale Freeway (Route 2) running through the neighborhood and below Josh’s crooks.

This freeway is known for being one of the only ones in LA that never gets congested, probably because it’s huge and doesn’t go very far.  Originally, it was suppose to extend through to the 101 (rather than giving up in Echo Park) and link with the proposed “Beverly Hills Freeway”(also Route 2) that would of busted through Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and Westwood.  It’s hard to imagine Josh smith grinding on a dingy looking freeway overpass in the heart of Beverly Hills.

I guess Beverly Hills residents weren’t stoked on the idea (I wonder why), so it never happened. Apparently, freeway officials even considered plowing through those other unimportant central city neighborhoods but tunneling under 90210, providing parks and shopping districts above.  Meanwhile, people of color in South LA were a bit less successful at fighting freeways.  No parks or shopping districts above this freeway.

More Josh Smith.

The bar was too high for a little guy like Stu, but he still found a way to hit it.

A bridge only a skater could love.

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Grading Ocean Park and Hanging Butter Goats

While skating up Ocean Park Blvd. I asked little Stuart Kirst to ollie into the equally little bank on the sidewalk.  He didn’t really want to do it because it’s “too easy,” but I convinced him to do it for art’s sake.  (Thanks Gorf)

While little Stu jumps around among speeding hunks of metal at Ocean Park and 5th Street, back in the 1950s little people were climbing around on a sort of Fire Truck Skeleton at the same intersection.  They definitely don’t make playgrounds like they used to.

You might recognize those big painted walls from the intro to Jake Eames and Ray Maldonado’s legendary Scummish Activity Part.

If you look closely at Stu’s easy ollie you might notice this green ledge in the background to the right. You can see Josh getting urby on the downhill ledge in this Scum Montage.

This 1929 photo shows what the hill on Ocean Park (in the distance at center) looked like before the road grading.

Down the street and behind an apartment complex Stu took advantage of some more land grading for automobiles;  this time on a more micro scale.  Ollie over the width of unit #10’s allotted auto storage space.

Another day, another little session.  Met up with Austin Squire and some of his friends at this butter bench elementary school.  Austin was lipsliding the inside of the planter so I decided to climb the planter’s tree to get an overhead fisheye angle.

It was pretty fun shooting from the tree.  For this one I was holding on with one hand while stretching out over the ledge as far as I could.

Another, very different, overhead perspective of what I believe is the same area in 1929. “Goats south of Santa Monica, just north of Walgrove Avenue.”  This school does indeed lie just south of the City of Santa Monica on the north side of Walgrove Avenue.

Unfortunately in 2011 there are no local goats around, so Austin is stuck ollieing over this goat-sized chair.

After the school, Austin took us to this fun bumps spot in an alley way.

I asked Austin to go fast and film something.

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Up Rail, Down Alley, Over Vets

This post is a bit all over the place.  Up a rail at UCLA, failure in a Santa Monica alley, and whole lot of history at the Veterans Administration.

This is a photo left over from the post dedicated to Suraj.  Graham Harrington casually frontboarding up a rail at UCLA’s Medical Center.

He wasn’t the only person to hit this rail back in the day, but local legend Steve Hernandez boardslid to fakie and feebled up this thing in 1999.  See it in his Gumbo part, and make sure to watch through the whole thing (back 3 the library gap what??), it’s a classic.

More Graham.  Here he makes a spot out of seemingly nothing, wallride nollie popping into a Westwood apartment building driveway.

Went to this spot in a downtown Santa Monica alley to shoot with Josh Campos, but unfortunately drain water, pedestrians, and delivery trucks got in the way.

View of a nearby alley in 1956.  “Third alley north of Arizona Avenue”

Haha.  Jesus and Josh lurking in the alley after calling the trick off.

Went on a more successful mission to shoot Josh’s harder-than-it-looks-in-my-artsy-photo 360 flip at the West LA Veteran’s Administration.  I was intrigued by the old, abandoned building that had signs warning of asbestos all over it.

Turns out it’s an old hospital building that, according to this map, was built before 1930.

“Aerial view of Sawtelle (now Los Angeles), and the National Soldier’s Home (now Veterans Administration Hospital). Circa early 1900s”

The handicap ramp Josh 360 flipped over is behind the building on the left. Another aerial view.

The hospital’s administration office in 1940.

December 21, 1953.

“Wallace Roland Stark sketches as he mends. He is shown working on his book of sketches while a patient at the Veterans Hospital in Sawtelle.”

An undated aerial of what was then the “National Soldier’s Home”; now the Veterans Administration.  The slightly curving street running horizontally through the middle of the image is Wilshire Blvd.  San Vicente Blvd. can be seen swooping in from the top left and Sepulveda Blvd. is the straight, tree-lined street cutting horizontally through the bottom right of the frame.  Obviously this image was taken long before the 405 freeway dissected the region.

“Veterans who were injured in World War I are shown at the VA Hospital at Sawtelle on June 16, 1936, smiling when they received their bonus payment. Left to right, Elwood A. Anderson, Sergeant Charles E. Gobeil, who identified the disabled veterans for the postman, Lucien L. Huffins, Postman E. R. Adams, and Harvey H. Meyers. The veterans at the home held a joyous assembly to celebrate the receipt of their compensation. Marvin A. Harlan, national commander of the Disabled American Veterans of the World War, counseled them to use their bonus funds wisely. The veterans at the home are being protected against the designs of the unscrupulous.”

An undated, but clearly very old, postcard featuring an image from the VA site.

“An elderly man with a cane walks on the grounds of the National Soldier’s Home (now Veterans Administration Hospital) in Sawtelle (Los Angeles).  At far right, an automobile with four passengers drives up the street.  Circa 1930s”


Back in 2011, Josh Campos is unburdened by a mandatory draft, free to reinvent a historic handicap ramp as an object of play.  Here he is seen sprinting past the disabled ghosts of the National Soldier’s Home to get enough speed to drop his Tre Bomb.

I guess I can’t claim Josh is the first person to have some fun at the VA.  Three veterans get their putt on.

Click here if you wanna see more historic VA photos.

Check for the footage of the 360 flip in Josh’s up coming “Pit Stop” for Autobahn.

Edit: Josh struggling at the VA.

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Squire Randoms

I was looking back over some of the skate photos I shot a couple months before starting this blog and noticed I had a bunch of Austin Squire.  No back story or abstract theme to this post, just some skate photos of one of my favorite skaters.

Austin uses the space between two apartment complexes and front 180s over the gate.

Blasting a front shuv.

I think you can guess what other trick he pulled.

Wee curb cut ollie to rough ryda’ on the side of the road in Malibu.

Feeble stall in Austin’s favorite ditch.

Where’s the shuttlecock? Back tail.

Brentwood back lip.

Looking at the wall he’s about to back 180/showing you how tall it is.

It was gnarly.

Warming up, jumping over this bar in Little Tokyo.

Riding yellow in the parking lot(?) of one of LA’s few subway stations.

Snapping over the whole ledge.

Back lippin’ to fakie.

I’m working on a couple bigger, more produced posts.  Look out for those soon.

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