Legendary Skate Houses of the Late Twentieth Century

March 6, 2011

I have never lived in a skate house, and I never will.

Let me clarify–living in a skate house would be sick as fuck. However, my age precludes me from doing so. This is a fact. As one ages, the possibility of doing certain things quietly disappears over the horizon. Joining the Marine Corps. Doing the whole “Barcelona” thing. Even the quintessential cross-country road trip would require logistical planning comparable to staging the D-Day invasion.

During the time I skated the most and the best, I lived in one of those weird NYC living situations with a bunch of random people whom I never saw, except for the Asian “landlord” dude who rode his bicycle around the Columbia campus. It would have been fucking sick to live in a skate house back then. I started thinking about this topic because, in the aftermath of the Kalis EL, a particulary vivid account of an evening at the San Diego Alien House surfaced on the SLAP messageboard—I assume from CBI or Police Informer. So vivid and powerfully nostalgic was this story—the likes of which one rarely reads in skournalism—that it reminded me of that one scene in The Great Gatsby when Nick goes to a party at Gatsby’s house for the first time:

Dressed up in white flannels [!!] I went over to his lawn a little after seven and wandered around rather ill-at ease among swirls and eddies of people I didn’t know…I was immediately struck by the number of young Englishmen dotted about…I was still with Jordan Baker. We were sitting at a table with a man of about my age and a rowdy little girl who gave way upon the slightest provocation to uncontrollable laughter. I had taken two finger bowls of champagne and the scene had changed before my eyes into something significant, elemental and profound.

Two thing stand out here. One, the ratio at Gatsby’s house was exponentially better than at the Alien house. Two, I didn’t notice this when I read this book in high school, but that last line there captures in a concise, vivid way the play-by-play of getting drunk. Three, the two scenarios share the mythological element of a location that retains a certain cultural power. A monument. A Valhalla, a Mount Olympus, or wherever all those wacky Hindu gods/godesses (no #charliesheen) hung out.  Kind of like the insurance office that I drive by every day. The first-floor retail/office space used to house my local skate shop, where shipments arrived from World Industries. Power still emanates from there.

Along those lines, the most recent post over at quartersnacks referenced the mythological narratives that surround famous spots. However, I believe that skate houses also follow a certain narrative, the myth of which is passed down from dude to dude. You know, kind of like that “let’s make the myths” scene from The Doors that Cliver (or McKee, I can’t remember) referenced in one of those pre-Flynt, pre-Johnny Knoxville issues of Big Brother.

ANYWAY, Before delving into the history of the skate house as a mythological nexus point, let us qualitatively define its parameters. Stack of shredded-to-fuck boards in the corner.  Product boxes as furniture. Random e’S banner from early 00’s decorating the  bone-colored, beer-and-wheel-stained wall. Fridge contains beer and water–maybe Gatorade. Finally, a skate house displays a total lack of  “a woman’s touch,” yet porn is plentiful.

Such are the ironies of daily life in a skate house. As I mentioned before, a tower of VHS cassettes occupied an almost Torah-like role in Nineties skate houses. The higher the tower of vids, the more orthodox the house, or some shit like that.

It was not always this way. Taking it back to the Eighties, the preeminent myth that springs to mind is Jason Lee’s account of Hosoi’s house from the Hosoi documentary. Dude shows up for a late morning vert session. I can confirm that late morning vert/miniramp sessions are transcendent as fuck.  As Lee warms up with some preliminary axle stalls and rock fakies, Hosoi’s girlfriend wakes up and strolls out–wearing some kind of silk robe or some shit– onto the balcony of the palatial former home of W.C. Fields. Whether or not this actually happened is irrelevant. It’s a myth.

This is an almost porn-like scenario. Unfortunately, I have never experienced anything like this during late morning/early afternoon miniramp sessions. I hear kids screaming as they jump on the trampoline next door, coupled with the acrid smell of smoke eminating from the weird-ass shed two doors down. Why do they heat this shed which no one ever enters or exits? Shit makes no kinda sense.

ANYWAY, as the economy imploded in the early Nineties, so did the square footage of notable skate houses.  The Carroll brothers apartment (as depicted in the life-changing Carroll EL) seemed like a good place to hang, sit on a couch with like seven other dudes, smoke a blunt, and watch the LIFE video with Jovantae commentary. I remember hearing about the Henry Sanchez FIT house, but only because a female acquaintance of mine had been invited out there. My friend advised her against it; certain occupants of said house might have taken liberties, if you will.

As the Nineties progressed, each region nurtured its own mythic skate houses. In addition to the Koston/Berra house (from that one 411) the East L.A. apartment occupied by Jesus, Alfonso and Lebron retains mythic status in the theater of the mind, if only because they slept on old carpet remnants (or some shit like that) and sold Neighborhood product and Central (?) t-shirts at the USC ledges in order to survive. Whether or not this actually happened is irrelevant. It’s a myth.

On the other side of the continent, a handful of skate houses gained infamy in the Northeast. The Ryan Hickey/Ivan Perez residence is legendary as fuck. Unfortunately, I was never cool enough to hang there. Many a blunt was smoked at Harold’s residence in the projects. I think I attended a party at R.B.’s house once; as I recall, the ratio was decent. About an hour’s drive to the southeast,  Oyola’s house, from which he skated to City Hall in one continues line, still looms large in East Coast lore.

Ironically, however, Philadelphia’s status as turn-of-the-century mecca facilitated the demise of the archetypal skate house . [Ye Olde] “Habitat House,” allegedly financed by Alien at the height of the golden age of board royalties, set the wheels in motion for dudes to rent/purchase more upscale residences. A loft on Canal St. may be a sick place to live, but, unfortunately, it does not fit the criteria of a classical skate house.

Enter the present day. Shoe money has replaced board money, enabling dudes to once again purchase the former residences of deceased/washed up celebrities. Taylor Swift has replaced Louanna Rawls. More importantly, Twitter–and the inter-industry memo mandating its usage–has fucked up the myth game. For example, Pudwill’s house in the valley, from a Joseph Campbell perspective, is infinitely more interesting without twitter updates about blind installation or heavy-ass cast iron sinks or whatnot.  In contrast, I envisioned Nineties World pros living in cell-like apartments in a generic apartment complex (this was their Valhalla) somewhere in LA, with product boxes for furniture, a futon, and a civic in the single allocated parking spot.

Note: I don’t necessarily believe that the old way is qualitatively superior to the new, transparent futureworld in which we live. Truth be told,  bringing back the “How Much Would You Pay?” game,  I would probably pay $500 for a twitter feed of Jovantae Turner’s thoughts and daily activities from 1990-1995:

Rolled up to Astor, no board. Sweater and some slacks. I look like I’m going to a Bar Mitzvah, smh.

However, it would, in all likelihood, disappoint. That’s the thing. 99.9% of the time, the narrative in one’s theatre of the mind  is more interesting than the reality. This is one frustrating aspect of Twitter. The other? Its regressive, almost retro-future (like that movie/comic book The Rocketeer or some shit) UI. Indeed, if one examines it objectively, a text-based diary with a 140-character-per-entry limit appears less advanced than, like, usenet or IRC. I mean, it’s 2011, people. I should be able to connect a firewire cable to my cerebral cortex and mind-meld with Gloria Velez.

4 Responses to “Legendary Skate Houses of the Late Twentieth Century”

  1. smorales said

    Super good. I was waiting for a mention of this:

    “Bwahh, to seal the deal.”

  2. the tantau empire said

    one skate house that lives in infamy (in my mind at least) is the pink house during the man down days of the tilt mode army, those guys party hard.

  3. the tantau empire said

    also warner ave and hellrose.

  4. crazylike said

    haha I was waiting for a mention of the roomies section too.

    “I look like I’m going to a Bar Mitzvah”

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