We Turned an Abandoned Church Into a Skatepark. Then Tragedy Struck.

I found out that our place of worship was burning around 2 a.m. I woke up to seven missed calls and over 50 messages. If the texts hadn’t come with pictures of the bell tower engulfed in flames, I wouldn’t have believed them. Everyone is safe, but it’s destroyed. The fire is still going. Church is gone. For years the place had been our sanctuary, and now it was ash.

Back when we were still St. Louis kids and before we had kids of our own, my friends talked about turning the long-abandoned Catholic church into a skate park. We grew up together in a pack of feral teenagers who skated up and down Delmar Boulevard, the east-west artery that cuts through the city. We loitered outside the Shell station and Racanelli’s Pizza and Vintage Vinyl. We sat in piles of wrists and legs and hormones to claim our space on the concrete. They called us the Loop Rats, just a bunch of dirty pests the store owners had to shoo away from their doors.

Like a lot of young people who grow up in uncool places, I thought I had to get to a shiny metropolis to build success. For over a decade, I chased achievement elsewhere: New York City, Los Angeles, Boston. But it was in returning home that I became a part of building something increasingly rare and meaningful: a community.

A few years ago, my friends and I pooled our resources to turn St. Liborius Church, a nationally registered historical site and the largest Gothic revival church west of the Mississippi, into a community space. Trying to develop a skate park inside a massive church was never a part of my five-, 10- or any-year plan. But I fell in love with the idea of giving a new generation of St. Louis kids a spectacular place where they would be welcome and where no one would ever shoo them away.

A skater pulls a trick inside Sk8 Liborius while three people watch.
Credit…Brian Cummings

Transforming St. Liborius into Sk8 Liborius was a D.I.Y. effort. The good part about living in an undesirable place is the same as the bad part: No one cares what’s happening here. This is mostly hard, like when jobs dry up and infrastructure crumbles. But it also means that unlike in America’s aspirational cities, where creativity is reserved for the rich and their children, large-scale creative projects are still accessible to the non-generationally wealthy. No one is coming to repair America’s forgotten cities except for the people who live in them. In St. Louis alone, there are about 25,000 abandoned buildings. The überrich would rather visit Mars than save St. Louis.

So for years, we hauled shovelfuls of dead pigeon carcasses out of the corners of the church to clear space for construction. We called ourselves the Dead Pigeon Club, and some people even got tattoos of them, still punk even when pushing 40. I almost had a panic attack when one very alive pigeon flew uncomfortably close to my face in the bell tower. Hundreds of local volunteers lent their skills to this project. They ran the gamut from tradespeople who spent their Sundays tuckpointing, welding and laying concrete to office workers who researched 501(c) funding and historical building grants and talked to lawyers.

Although the process of building Sk8 Liborius took over a decade, our community found national attention only this summer.Predictably, it was because something tragic happened.

Before the four-alarm fire, Sk8 Liborius was a beautiful place in a place not known for beauty. Some of the church’s original stained glass was still intact. Cobalt blue, canary yellow and rose hues depicted the stories of the New Testament. A partly shattered portrait of Mother Mary, a tree branch peeking through her left eye. If you bit it on a ramp, as you lay on your back, the gold mosaic ceiling tiles comforted you with their sacred geometry.

The walls were adorned with murals by local artists. The only rule was: No covering up the original religious artwork, so lunettes more than 100 years old floated above graffiti tags like “STL Punk.” It was impossible not to feel the Holy Spirit when you were walking through the cross-shaped open space that led to the altar, where dozens of broken skateboards lay in sacrifice.

Skateboarding is naturally a socially inclusive sport, and the “congregation” that formed was welcoming to all. Teenagers from impoverished parts of North St. Louis skated alongside pro international skateboarders who sought out the church as a destination. A free yoga class met on occasion. Rappers, metal bands and dubstep D.J.s all performed there. A crew of queer quad skaters came religiously. Local parents brought their toddlers to ride around on tricycles. One roller skater preferred the comfort of a dinosaur costume. Nuns who had been part of the church before it was abandoned by the archdiocese in 1992 would visit, thrilled to see the church playing an active role in the community again. It was a place where people could feel safe and be free.

An aerial view of the burned church turned skatepark.
A four-alarm fire has caused devastation to the German Gothic church at the St. Liborius Parish Complex built in 1889.Credit…Bill Greenblatt/UPI, via Alamy Live News

The goal had been to save the church, but now it was gone, and we’d failed. Our years of relentless optimism had turned to rubble. It was crushing. The fact that it ever existed at all was a miracle. Proof that transformation is possible anywhere. Even in the land of vacant lots, Dollar Tree stores, dusty red brick buildings and payday loan signs.

A community isn’t a building, and St. Louis is shockingly resilient. In the days that followed the fire, we held emergency community meetings. Over 200 volunteers showed up to secure the building and clean up the mess the fire left behind in the neighborhood. A group of grade schoolers raised money to pay for supplies with a lemonade stand. We are planning on rebuilding. After all, who but us is interested in making our particular patch of unwanted earth more beautiful?

 

History of Skateboarding !

Skateboarding is more than just cruising around. Skateboarding is a lifestyle. Skateboarding is love. Over the past 60 years Skateboarding went through a kind of evolution.

By the early 1950s,

surfing can be traced as the source of skateboarding. Some surfers had the idea to transfer the feeling of riding waves onto the streets to defy times of days with a gentle swell. Not without any reason these dudes were called “asphalt surfers”. At two spots in the world a kind of a skateboard was developed at the first time in the early 1950s: California and Hawaii. They used shorter surfboards and wheels made out of metal without some bearings. In the late 1950s, skateboarding had a first peak. During the post-war period, the U.S. economy boomed and this also affected the toy industry. During that time, the toy industry became aware of the board with wheels. In 1959, Roller Derby released the first official skateboard with some new technical developments. Thereby, the handling characteristics have been improved. For this reason, skateboarders were able to develop new tricks and maneuvers. 

die ersten Boards

THE 1960S

Between the years 1959 and 1965, skateboarding became more and more popular in the United States. Particularly affected were the states on the east and west coasts. Due to the industrial development, the skateboard’s status changed from toy to sports equipment. In 1962, the surf shop “Val-Surf” in Hollywood sold the first self-produced skateboards. These boards featured a typical surfboard shape and roller skate trucks and were sold as complete boards. In the same year, the company Patterson Forbes developed the first industrially produced complete boards with more developed trucks. In 1963, the publisher of the “Surf Guide Magazine” Larry Stevenson released the first advertisement for skateboards in his magazine. Also the clothing industry specialized more and more on skateboarding. One of the most famous skateboarding shoe brand named Vans was established in 1966. From this day on, Vans supported skateboarders from all over the world. Especially shoe companies like Vans, Etnies, Converse and DC Shoes developed and manufactured skateboarding related footwear and streetwear. 

Vans Old School

Another landmark event in 1963 was the first skate contest in Hermosa Beach, California. Skateboarding was not just cruising anymore. Skateboarders showed their skills in different disciplines like slalom or freestyle and companies started to assemble a team to sponsor the riders. As the popularity of skateboarding began to expand, the first skateboarding magazine “The Quarterly Skateboarder” was published in 1964.

A next big step was the further development of the shape of the boards. Larry Stevenson invented the “kicktail“, and with it came a lot more possibilities to ride a skateboard.

Old School Boards

THE 1970S

The only consistent thing is change and so it came to a point where everything changed for skateboarding. Frank Nasworthy’s invention of urethane wheels in 1972 made it possible for skateboarding to come back. Nasworthy started the company Cadillac Wheels and with the new material it was possible to ride smoother, faster and more comfortable. A variety of disciplines such as freestyle, downhill and slalom experienced a real high point. New magazines like the “Skateboarder Magazine” from 1975 were published and new events were launched. In 1976, the first artificially created skate park was inaugurated and new parks emerged with new elements such as vertical ramps and kickers. 

Gadillac Wheels

In the mid-1970s, skateboarding reached Germany. The American soldiers brought the trend with them and by 1976 Munich became the first German skateboard center. In Munich Neuperlach, the first skate park was built, first skateboard magazines followed and in 1978 the first German skateboard championships were held in Munich.

All the different riders with their individual styles enhanced lots of new tricks. Therefore, skateboarding hardware was developed further and further: Shapes changed, boards became wider, got more concave and they featured nose and tail.

Then in 1978, Alan Gelfand invented a maneuver that gave skateboarding another revolutionary jump: The “Ollie”, which counts as the greatest trick ever invented and completely revolutionized skateboarding. That was the birth of street skateboarding!

 

Alen Gelfand - Ollie

THE 1980S

Rodney Mullen was one of the first riders who transferred the Ollie for different maneuvers onto the streets and spread a new style of skateboarding. Next to other fun sport activities like BMX or inline skating, street skateboarding developed more and more and became very popular. 

Rodney Mullen

In 1981, the “Thrasher Magazine” was founded and since then, this magazine stands for street skateboarding, the core scene, punk rock and the lifestyle slogan “Skate And Destroy”. In 1983, another well-known magazine was founded, namely the “Transworld Skateboarding Magazine”. Next to these magazines, a few smaller ones were founded and more skate shops opened. Because of this, the popularity of skateboarding continued to grow. A global dissemination of new tricks and unseen skate maneuvers allowed the first skate videos on VHS. Videography has become increasingly important to the scene.

Thrasher

Titus Dittmann was instrumental in the development of skateboarding in Germany. He imported skate-related products from the US and organized contests and various skateboarding events. The “Münster Monster Mastership” became one of the biggest international skateboarding competitions in the 1980s. For that reason, skateboarding became more and more famous in Germany.

From the mid-1980s on, it was possible to earn good money as a professional skateboarder and the skateboard industry boomed in the US. In the late 1980s, companies like Powell Peralta, Santa Cruz and Vision dominated the international market of the scene. The fashion was mainly determined by shoes. Shoes by Vans, Converse or Vision became flagships for the skateboarding scene.

Powell Peralta

Skateboarding was now absolutely established the US and in Germany and vert skateboarding was replaced by street skateboarding. The number of skateboarders increased significantly and professional skateboarders became more and more famous just like baseball or football stars.

FROM THE 1990S

In the early 1990s, skateboarding went through a further depth phase due to the increase in various trend sports. So skateboarding went back to its roots. But because of the digitalization, skateboarding maintained its presence in public. From the mid-1990s, the modern skateboarding experienced a next high phase, which continues until today. Mega events like the “X-Games” were launched and televised. Due to numerous magazines, all the events, videos and last but not least the internet, skateboarding became common worldwide. 

Because of brands like Chocolate, Girl Skateboards or Flip Skateboards, the skateboarding hardware was developed more and more and skateboarders could buy high-quality skateboards in every bigger city.

Reynolds & Koston

More indicators are the big and worldwide known events of “Street League”. “Street League Skateboarding” is a contest series for international pro skaters. Here, you only see the best street skateboarder you can think of like Nyjah Huston, Eric Koston, Paul Rodriguez, Andrew Reynolds, Ryan Sheckler or Torey Pudwill. Due to the cash prizes of 200.000 US Dollars or more for the winner and 10.000 visitors at the “Street League” stops, skateboarding has become a professional sport.

Street League

In Germany, street skating is the most popular discipline at contests just like in the USA. The European and German skate scene is independent, has its own industry, pros and a national contest series. This is an evidence of how big the role of skateboarding is in our society.

Skateboarding has become a job for a lot of people. Because of the increasing networking inside the skate scene, skateboarding will grow and bring more innovations in the future. But for the most of us, skateboarding is and will be a hobby and an attitude to life.

For more information and details : https://www.skatedeluxe.com/blog/en/wiki/skateboarding/history-of-skateboarding/