Last month I finished my internship at the Livermore Heritage Guild. About the only thing this has to do with skating is the couple of kids that held their boards in the park next to the Guild while they were hanging out. What this did have to do with was trains. The project was to research the Southern Pacific Railroad and Depot in order to put a museum exhibit in the lower level of Depot over on Railroad. This was an interesting project, mostly because it was all mine. I mean, I talked to a couple of people to iron out some details here and there, but that was it. They gave it me, and I ran with it. I started back in the 1860’s with Livermore bringing the RR into the town (a brief caption about how it could’ve gone elsewhere) then moving on to the old depot burning down in 1891. I wanted to put in a physical display showing the different types of track, but there was a lot of disagreement over whether or not we could that. The bulk of this project was research and finding out what I could about the depot and its history; a lot of that having to do with the people of Livermore and how the depot and the railroad affected their lives.
Trains in and of themselves are exciting. I wanted this exhibit to reflect that. I wanted to have interactive exhibits that bring the public into the fray of early 20th century life along the Livermore, CA railroad tracks. I’m not sure I was able to accomplish that. Unfortunately, money, time and space constraints are the bane of every historian, but I made an effort to overcome. I hope that my first attempt at a museum exhibit is a success. As soon as I get the date for the opening, I will let everyone know. On that note, I will apologize for my long hiatus. Here is a photo of the depot at Livermore, early 20th century. Courtesy of the Livermore Heritage Guild:
This project has been a fun learning experience for me. I set out wanting to find out about the skate culture in the Bay Area. I found that things aren’t that simple. History doesn’t just divide itself into neat little categories that are easy to research. Youth culture, adolescent cliques, parks and recreation and so many other things have been intertwined with the history of skating that trying to pick out what I want has been difficult, at best. I still don’t know when skating first became popular in the Bay and I only know some of the local names involved like Steve Caballero, a pro skater from Campbell.
Thrasher Magazine started here in the Bay Area, but their focus is global. They cover skateboarding around the world, discussing pro skaters, their styles and types of terrain from Japan to Germany to Brazil and their contrasts to the styles and terrains used here in the US. So, even though Thrasher started out as a local magazine, their scope has grown substantially since then.
I’ve tried to find newspaper articles and other primary sources that would try to bring a closer understanding to the timeline of events concerning the skateboard culture and its migration, but haven’t had that kind of luck. As I mentioned in my first blog, the events surrounding the Dogtown Boys in southern California have been pretty well documented. In fact, Stacy Peralta himself directed a documentary about those events called “Dogtown and Z-Boys.”
Unfortunately, the migration of the skate culture from southern California to the Bay Area, or to anywhere else for that matter, remains a mystery to me. Throughout history when a distinct culture moves from one place to another, there has been some way of tracing that movement. I don’t know if the divergence from this typical pattern in skate culture could be linked to media coverage or other aspects of modern society, but it seems that once this culture became popular in the southern part of California, emulators popped up everywhere. There was no traceable migration…at least none that I can find. Even now there have been a lot of skaters in the Bay Area that have gotten their skill directly from So. Cal. Students that I’ve talked to at East Bay have said that they either moved here from that region or learned to skate from someone who did. I don’t know if this indicates a continued migration of the skate culture or creates more complexity in the issue. In the 1960s and 1970s when the culture took off, people all over the US picked up the sport. As Carlsbad, California was building a skate park in 1976, Jacksonville, Florida was also building a skate park. The customary time for migration of the culture was not present, yet here in the Bay, people are still having this culture brought to them from elsewhere thirty-five years later. This is only here in the US. I haven’t the mental capacity to try and consider other countries into this equation.
Regardless of my inability to find the specific answers I was looking for, this project has been rewarding and enjoyable. In fact, I intend to continue the blog with other pages and new projects. Another classmate and I have already made tentative plans to begin a research project together. Professor Ivey has given us a great outline to follow to conduct that research. From here, anything is possible.
What would the history of skateboarding look like in a museum? There are several ways to go, but I have some ideas that I think would show the significant aspects of the history behind skateboarding and its cultural influences in society.
A major transition in skateboarding occurred with the introduction of polyurethane wheels. Before Frank Nasworthy’s invention of urethane wheels for skateboards in 1972, most skate boards were simply boards with roller skate wheels, usually made of clay, fastened to the bottom. These were hard to control and dangerous to ride. Nasworthy’s wheels transformed the sport by giving skateboards more control over their boards and allowing for the low, smooth ride that has been dominate in skateboarding ever since.
A tactile display showing difference between the original clay wheels and the newer polyurethane ones would be interesting. People could actually touch the wheels and get an understanding of why the newer wheels were able to grip the ground better, giving the skaters better control.
As the sport itself matured, skateboards evolved, changing to reflect what was going on in the sport. Another interesting display could show the different evolutions of the boards along with a description of the major influences in skating when that board evolution was popular.
Much of the success of the sport of skateboarding has been attributed to a few specific people, namely Zephyr and his skate team -> the most famous of which were Tony Alva, Stacy Peralta and Jay Adams. A display that gives a brief description of the dogtown boys and the Zephyr skate team as well as their contribution to the sport would be a must in a museum exhibit dedicated to skateboarding.
Through the years different types of skateboards have come about. There are shorter boards that allow for more control and are used mainly for tricks. There are also long boards that are used more for speed instead of tricks. An interesting display could have each different type of board with a video display showing how that board is used.
A lot of this blog has covered the interplay between skateboarding and parks. A museum exhibit could easily cross into that by giving a section over to “the perception of space.” This could not only cover the role parks have played for skateboarders, but it could also brave showing the general public the skateboarders’ interpretation of space and architecture. It was mentioned earlier, in another blog, that Iain Borden, author of Skateboarding, Space and the City: Architecture and the Body, said “Skateboarders…first understood space as a pre-existent natural phenomenon…skaters responded to urban space in a more deliberate and substantive manner,” in reference to found public space. Borden’s views as well as many other views from within the skateboarding world could be included to create a unique perspective of space and how to interact with it. The contrast between “found space,” such as parking lots, town plazas or other public areas, and “constructed space,” such as skate parks, skate plazas, and private skate arenas, could be included in the display. Skater views concerning what the differences are and what their preferences are could be a great contribution.
I believe that the entire display should have a chronological order to it. As you walk in, you are introduced to the beginnings of skateboarding and how it became popular. From there you move on to the different evolutions of skateboards and what eras they belonged to. James Davis, author of Skateboarding Is Not A Crime: 50 Years of Street Culture, told of how the music of skateboarding evolved along with the sport. A background soundtrack that reflects the era in skate culture that Davis was talking about could help to bring that evolution home to that audience.
Just like in the last post, I’m sure there are a lot of people who have a lot of good ideas for something like this. If you have any ideas for a project of this sort, please leave a comment, I’d love to hear your ideas 🙂
So far we’ve covered a lot. From the beginning of parks to modern day skate parks. What does this all mean? Iain Borden explained how skaters have perceived space and architecture differently from other other people. He said that “This is one of skateboarding’s central features, adopting and exploiting a given terrain,” and using it for their own distinct purposes. As parks began to take on a more utilitarian role in society and people started to control park landscapes more, the inevitability of skate culture intertwining with the evolution of parks was being solidified. Skaters rely on architecture to challenge themselves in their sport. Parks came to create unique architecture that would provide such challenges.
The major convergence between parks and skate culture began to happen in the mid 1960s. In 1966 a skatepark opened in Carlsbad, CA, but it only had some shallow concrete hills and did not provide much of a challenge. A couple of other skateparks opened in other parts of the country that same year. Another wave of skateparks opened up in the early 1970s. This one was directed toward commercial skaters. By the late 1970s, skateparks were popping up all over the place. (Borden)
Because parks have been seen as places to relax, many times there has been opposition from community members when skateparks were proposed in an area. People didn’t like the idea of having their parks used by teens for “active” recreation. This type of thinking has created obstacles for people like Lou Andrade from the Hayward Area Recreation and Parks District (H.A.R.D.) to overcome. According to Andrade, this attitude extends beyond skating and into any youth activity that people can perceive as threatening. He told me about an incident in a park where a fight from the basketball court spilled out into the playground. The neighbors freaked out and had the courts shut down. They wanted them shut down permanently, but some local homeowners, guys in their 20s and 30s who played basketball, didn’t like that idea. They got together and raised some money to have the basketball courts moved away from the playground. Some of the neighbors still threw a fit, but the project went through and there weren’t any more problems. According to Andrade, this kind of public attitude exists toward teens in general. Most people think that any teens who are engaging in recreation without some sort of strict structure enforced are up to no good. That just isn’t true, plain and simple.
Here in the Bay Area, especially in the Hayward Area, a lot of effort has been made to bridge this gap…to educate people concerning the importance of unstructured recreation, especially for older adolescents. The majority of park systems all over the place focus on young children and older generations. Almost any park you go to will have a playground, benches, maybe a grill or two, a place to feed the birds and just enjoy the beauty of the place. Sometimes there are ball fields or volleyball nets, but there is rarely anywhere for adolescents to engage in singular activity. Skateparks change that. One kid with a skateboard can come into a skatepark and engage in activity without having to form a team. This opens more possibilities for kids. If there are more kids at the park, they can work together and trade tricks. If not, the kid can practice alone. Either way, the activity is not contingent upon having people there to play with. Lou Andrade said he wished there were more sports other than skateboarding and basketball that provided this kind of individuality that he could program for.
This is an ongoing, developing story. Not everyone in the Bay Area is as receptive or accepting of skate culture as Hayward is. In Pleasanton there seems to be a general sentiment that skateboarding is detrimental to the kids’ mental health. The opposition to the skatepark addition in Golden Gate Park shows that San Francisco has its own issues with skate culture. (SF Examiner) This is further exemplified by the strict rules concerning skateboard enforced by San Francisco State University.
How this all will play out is a mystery. There is a lot left to look into. I’ve looked at how parks evolved into skateparks, but there is a lot of evolution concerning skateparks themselves. I touched a little bit on the transition from traditional parks into skate plazas, but there is a lot to cover in between. If we ignore the nuances over seas and just stick to California and the Bay Area, skate parks differ in many ways.The above ground structures, like the one in Escondido, CA feature mostly ramps and rails. Depending on the types of ramps used, they are often considered to be beginner or intermediate parks. Some of these parks can feature some challenging ramps for advanced skaters. Every once in a while you’ll see one that also features pipes, but usually those come with integrated above ground and in ground parks.
The evolution of these parks seems to reflect Iain Borden’s interpretation of skaters seeing space and architecture from a unique perspective. As the unique space of these parks evolves, perhaps that perspective can gradually begin to permeate into other aspects of society. Until society understands the attraction skaters have to certain types of architecture, we will not understand the evolution of the architectural aspects of parks into skate parks, nor will we understand the divergent paths of different types of skateparks. There are a lot of questions left unanswered, and a lot of areas left open for discussion. I’m sure there are many things that I have not covered here that someone else would be able to see as a potential off-shoot from this topic. Feel free to pursue any subject that interests you…you have my permission 🙂
It seems that California Urban developers were seeing the importance of urban park space around the turn of the twentieth century. In the San Francisco Call on May 7, 1891 an article talks about park evolution in England. It refers to parks first being reserved for the elite, then being opened for public use. It goes to talk about the beauty of parks. The title of the article is “Urban Oasis” so it makes sense that beauty would be a theme. The article seemed to be aimed at arousing public interest in creating parks in San Francisco.
March 7, 1909 – the San Francisco Call published a letter from the distinguished landscape artist, Charles Mulford, to Mayor Mott of Oakland. The Mayor had been politically criticized for his establishment of parks and attempts to beautify the city. According to Mulford, “in a political campaign candidates are attacked for all sorts of things, but this work as a cause for attack it is certainly something unique. To me it is almost funny.” He goes on to talk about Mayor Motts progressiveness, then talks about the importance of parks themselves saying, “The value of the parks to the community itself, a value that will continue to grow each year: the pleasure they will bring to all the citizens especially those who cannot afford large gardens and play spaces of their own.”
Creating these urban utopias wasn’t cheap. A lot of times they were part of large urban development projects. August 17, 1912 the San Francisco Call printed an article depicting how the Urban Realty Improvement company was shelling out $1.5 million for a development project that would include homes and parks.
Once the fervor of actually having urban parks started to wear off, the question of “what should we do with them?” began to creep out. One thing a lot of people noticed was how “open” early parks were. April 29, 1922 the Pacific Rural Press put out an article discussing the need for shade and ornamental trees.
Part of the beauty of the parks became the man-made architecture. Not just the placement of shade trees and benches to affect the look and feel of the place, but the strategic placement of monuments, fountains, ornamental walkways and other structures. Parks became large pallets for creative minds. National Park Service sought that “harmony of a building with the landscape” much like any other park district and employed the services of horticulturalist and landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing to achieve their goals.
Today, the beauty of a park comes not from extraordinary architecture. Nor does it come from its roots in nature. The beauty of a park comes from the integration of urban life with the natural environment. The concept of harmonious coexistence gives the parks their timeless charm.
Issues with parks have evolved — they have become more complicated. Urban centers have become more and more crowded. Everyone believes that they are entitled to their own piece of public space, yet there is only so much public space to go around. With huge corporations coming in and buying what little public space is left and destroying the recreational land we have, that space is decreasing while the demand for it is increasing. While talking to the twenty-one year old skater, Ricky a couple of weeks ago, he told me about a grueling battle to save park space that nobody wanted — until it started being used. The concept that somebody else was actually using the land spurred Caltrans to take it away. People who use parks understand that at the peak of the season the parks are usually full. Use of the facilities can be difficult because everyone else is using them, too.
This brings us to the concept of using a park for dangerous sports. In such crowded conditions an already dangerous sport can become even more dangerous. This is where I find stereotypes about skaters being mean and violent inconsistent with the realities of the sport. If these guys didn’t treat each other with respect, there would most likely be a lot more injuries than there are. This also brings up another issue: Street skating.
According to Iain Borden, “Skateboarders…first understood space as a pre-existent natural phenomenon…skaters responded to urban space in a more deliberate and substantive manner.” In other words, the space was there, and they could use it. Borden talks about the skaters creative interpretations of urban architecture, a perspective that is lacking from traditional historic views. He believes that architectural histories tend to revolve around construction rather than the structure’s actual history. “Architecture does…have a meaning. But its meaning is neither fixed nor internalized.” He believes that the architecture of a building or structure is remade over and over throughout its history based on the experiences of those within and around it.
Stereotypes mentioned earlier as well as limited space and confusing laws lead to unpleasant situations. November 26, 2009 the Peninsula Beacon printed a letter to the editor from an unhappy mother. She depicted a situation where her son, a professional skateboarder, was giving lessons at a San Diego skatepark. A police officer came in and kicked everyone out. The reason the officer gave was that they were not wearing protective gear. The issue with that is the law says that the city is not liable for injuries, the city does not have jurisdiction and that the actual facility has to set the rules concerning safety equipment. Since it is a city park, according to the angry mother, the city should simply post a sign that says skate at your own risk and send the police to catch actual criminals rather than harass kids.
This incident brings up a big question: If kids are being harassed by police for skating in the parks designed for them to skate in, where are they supposed to skate? They get in trouble for skating on sidewalks, on streets, in parking lots — now they are being harassed for skating the parks that are designed for them to skate in. For some reason I have visions of Footloose in my head. The idea of taking fun from kids because of irrational fears is ludicrous to me. In Footloose, dancing was banned because it would lead to drinking, sex and wild behavior. In this case people are afraid that skating will lead to violence and I don’t know what else. Like Footloose, the fears about skating are unfounded. Some communities seem to be realizing that. I hope that others follow suit.
I was finishing up some business I had with one of the directors of the Hayward Area Recreation and Parks District, Lou Andrade, when he mentioned that H.A.R.D. had put out a historical brochure a couple of years ago. I decided to head over to the main office and see if I could check it out. The brochure is pretty interesting. Covering the time spanning from its inception in 1944 until the turn of the twenty-first century, it gives a brief description of how H.A.R.D. came to be and what it does for the community.The third page of this booklet gives the H.A.R.D. mission statement which “is dedicated to improving the quality of life for citizens of all ages by providing a variety of recreational activities, special events, facilities, and services that encourage life-long learning fitness and fun.” This shows a commitment to the community that has been embedded from the start.
H.A.R.D. solidified through a community effort out of a number of other organizations, including the W.P.A. Members of the community went to the Hayward City Council with a report in 1941. They wanted a study to establish “an ongoing recreation and park program.” December 11, 1944 – The Park District was created after the residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of it.
The Hayward Area Recreation and Park District is considered a “special district.” This means that in the eyes of the state of California, it is its own governmental body in a specifically defined space. The Wright Act of 1887 allowed communities to establish special districts which elected or appointed board members who would govern independently within the limits given by the state’s constitution and laws. Special districts can tax, decide what types of services to provide, sell bonds, and create their own administrative structures. Special recreation and parks districts have shown that they can satisfy the needs of their communities by cooperating with government to avoid duplicating services.
H.A.R.D. offers a wealth of programs and services to people of all ages. From Senior programs and programs for the disabled to the Youth Enrichment Program, this booklet gives a brief description of just about everything H.A.R.D. offers. In the back of the brochure there is a map showing the different parks and facilities run by H.A.R.D.
Run by H.A.R.D. is Mervin Morris Park, across from Arroyo High School in San Lorenzo. A feature of this park is Cameron’s Skate Area. I spoke to Lou Andrade about the history behind this. The concept of adding a skate element had already been considered. The idea was put aside because of lack of support, even though the location was ideal. The park offered excellent visibility. The proximity to the high school also made it attractive for a positive alternative for teen recreation. The idea was revived when a home-schooled young man approached H.A.R.D. wanting to know what needed to be done to get a skatepark. The boy and his mother suggested the Mervin Morris site. The Board recommended that they get community support and to raise some money for the project. He was able to gain support from the home owner’s association and even raise $5000. This project allowed the playground to be moved closer to the bathrooms, which a lot of people found to be positive. The skate area was named for the boy who made it all happen.
I find it interesting that in San Francisco skaters are trying to find community support to expand facilities on the the southeastern side of Golden Gate Park. It seems that the community may not be as receptive as the one in Hayward, though the park service is still considering the expansion. I hope that they go through with it. Parks and recreation services all over spend so much time focusing on the needs of small children and the elderly that they neglect the needs of everyone else in between. Places like skate parks and dog parks make up that difference.
On a side note, while looking through things having to do with skating I found some interesting things online. It seems that there are some skaters haunting places in California. In Merced there is said to be a headless skater who haunts the Applegate Skate Park. There is also apparently a little boy in Simi Valley with scraped up arms and face who will skate away on his skateboard at unimaginable speed when somebody tries to help him.