[NOTE: This article is an introductory overview of a more in-depth series on the influencers, events, and locations that shaped the skate movement of downtown-Los Angeles proper. Each Friday morning, we will release a new article in this 10 part series.]
DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES SKATE HISTORY 101
For a century, The western front of the San Gabriel Mountains guarded Hollywood’s purity; and force-funneled the nation’s railroads into a central endpoint (what built-up to the original city-center of “downtown” Los Angeles). Yet sometime around the mid-1970s, the eastern ridge of the range revolted. At its basin-- a largely untapped vast, hot and desolate dell dubbed “the Valley”. But, as more industry developed in the city-center of downtown LA, the regional basin of the San Fernando Valley was recognized by real estate and railroad tycoons as a cheap land acquisition; and sold as a quiet, clean homestead to the overcrowded city-center’s middle-class workforce. Pacific Electric's light rail transit system of "redcars" (owned by the very developers selling suburbia), was the most convenient selling point.
To make a long story short (--too late), the upward mobility of the downtown-economy rode out on the last redcar from the Subway Terminal building, before it was locked up and left in ruins. All those light rail and railroad tracks were ripped out to create freeway system for our own private cars.
With the loss of urban Los Angeles' apparel, toys, and railroad manufacturing jobs, the "big Valley's" rolling acres and breathing room morphed into low-rent stripmalls and non-descript warehouses. Turns out: the “breathing room” we longed for in our big fat American cars, offered air that suffocated us. The suburban car culture gave us good excuses for bad drive-thru food, and conditioned us to accept miles of confined isolation.
(Above: North Hollywood, CA - SoCal Suburban Sprawl. Note the residences on the right, abutting desolate industrial zones. Interestingly enough, the center median landstrip was most likely mass transit RedCar and/or Southern Pacific Railroad tracks, as is the case with many such median strips or "side by side" roadways as seen today in Los Angeles)
But lest we get too down on SoCal suburbia: let us be reminded of all things good born of Southern California's “Valley” lifestyle. Aside from birthing skateboard-culture, the endless blocks of vacant, windowless warehouses, cheap rents, industrial zoning laws, and an army of unemployed Hollywood technicians and actors manufactured America’s Golden Age of Porn. (But THAT is a story for ANOTHER time.)
Sunny SoCal Suburban livin' necessitated schools, playgrounds, parks, and swimming pools for a new generation of families defining Southern California suburbia in its infancy. Stifling summer droughts, teenage boredom, and gasoline rations may be to blame-- but somewhere in that cultural Cuisinart, Skateboard Culture was created.
Through the late-1980s, the Valley's empty “parks” (flat open lots of land zoned as-such), strip mall parking lots, and dried-up swimming pools perfected the art of skateboard sport. Into the 1990’s, much of DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES was just the rusted wheel hub at the center of SoCal skate culture.
(Above: One of photographer Hugh Holland''s many still-lifes documenting the birth of skateboard culture-- in suburban California-- in a series of works titled "Locals Only" ,1975.)
But, for reasons varied and many, downtown LA's long-abandoned railroad yards, convention centers, monuments and museums, have been re-discovered urban oases (--yes, it’s a word--) for the suburban skate homie living life in the big city. Beyond the USC Ledges and The LA Public Library, there is much much more. The notoriety of skate-films like "We Are Blood" and Brian Lott’s “First and Hope”, and countless amateur skate-film Youtube “auteurs” have put downtown Los Angeles on the map as a skate institution all its own. Thrasher culture has repurposed South Park’s warehouse ledges, the LA Public Library plaza, and even the Disney Concert Hall.
(Above: Still from "We Are Blood", Ty Evans. Photo: Vimooz.com)
Now then: should you wish to take a tour-- Beware of security guards, “Private Property” postings, used syringes, and broken glass—the usual physical challenges associated with the Hollywood High School stairs. Further, many of these are very public venues. Hence, you can only really get away with minimal quality skate-time, unless you're around on a sleepy Sunday afternoon. So, don't be an asshole and ruin it for the rest of us by vandalizing, littering, and/or starting shit. And please don’t take this list as anything more than our own personal favorites. If you have more gems in the 213 we should feature, please hit us up at Info@RedCar7.com.
By the by: photos we didn't take are the copyrighted property of those credited. No copyright infringement or royalty-free use is intended.)
1. Disney Concert Hall
Bloomberg.com, photo credit
2. Bunker Hill Plaza Stairs
3. 1122 San Julian Street Warehouse
LA Conservancy, photo credit
4. Civic Center Plaza
unknown photo credit
5. Pershing Square
photo credit unknown
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