The Harbor Freeway makes nearly a straight line south from downtown Los Angeles to San Pedro and the Port of Los Angeles. If you’re from some other state, you might call it Interstate 110, or if you’re from some other part of California, The One-Ten, but, here, where freeways have names, it’s The Harbor Freeway.
Los Angeles, like other coastal towns, is a place where freeways actually end. Interstate 10, here called the Santa Monica Freeway, ends its trip across North America when it reaches California Route 1 and the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica. The 710, the Long Beach Expressway (one of the oldest freeways in the U.S.), ends at Long Beach near the harbor, and so on; oceans have a way of stopping even interstate highways. As you drive over the last few miles of the Harbor Freeway before it ends at Gaffey Street in San Pedro, you skirt the western edge of the Port of Los Angeles, spiny with huge gantries that hold the cranes for unloading ships. The land is entirely paved for vast truck assembly points and dozens of acres of land stacked with shipping containers. On weekends, you see the big white cruise ships moored just under the soaring arch of California’s third-largest suspension bridge, the Vincent-Thomas. Then, less than a mile from the end of the freeway, you pass over little Channel Street that connects Gaffey and Pacific streets, San Pedro’s major north-south thoroughfares.
Unless you’re a devotee of skateboarding or a reader of Thrasher or other skate-world pubs, you would never know what’s immediately under the elevated freeway you’re driving on. Channel Street’s job is to funnel workaday traffic to and from the port and the nearby freeway ramp. It’s a busy little corridor and the nearby businesses are bare-bones: gas stations, donut shop, smog certification stations, auto repair, hamburger grills, a DMV, lumber yard, and so on. The San Pedro Public Gardens I wrote about recently are just a few hundred yards away (CLICK HERE for that post). The 110 is elevated there to bridge across Channel Street up to the elevation where it ends at Gaffey Street, and to accommodate its connection to the route across the big bridge to Long Beach. Elevating the highway left a big paved area under the freeway adjacent to Channel: a familiar kind of waste area in most urban settings. That’s where a few years ago, some local skateboard enthusiasts built a homemade quarter-pipe. The place caught on, they kept building, and with lots of dedication and volunteer labor and obviously some donations, the Channel Street Skatepark now boasts three bodacious “wells”: curvilinear, swooping shapes that make even a non-boarder like me harbor thoughts of soaring up the side and grinding along the edge.
After years of driving past the place, I finally stopped to see this alternate universe. I didn’t see guys swooping up into the air spinning 540s or 360s, but some of them were pretty good. Since I can’t picture myself even standing upright on a board, I’m no judge of ability, but they were doing okay by me. I know that were I to try it, I’d be an instant master of the reverse 90, which consists of flipping backwards from vertical to horizontal, first contact with the ground probably provided by my head. The next photo gives you a good sense of the skatepark’s location right under the freeway, too.
Any day, especially weekends or any school holiday weekday, the place is hopping with boarders of every age and, get this, every skill level. That’s impressive, because one might assume that a challenging place like this might be monopolized by big, bullying tough-guy boarders. That’s not what I found on the Saturday afternoon I walked around. Everybody took a turn. Order prevailed. Skaters lined up at various spots on the wall, took their turn in the big well, then skated out to let the next one go. That’s not to say that there might not be times when it’s understood that only the main dudes get the run of the place, but I didn’t see any evidence of it. Everything was cool. How cool? Check out this next photo.
This five year-old’s dad had brought him down. I talked to that guy and another dad, whose 8 year-old was getting his turn, too. I watched as the 8 year-old inadvertently skated across the path of a big nearly grown teen-ager and apologized. The big guy said something like, “You go ahead, I’ll get out of your way.” I’ll guarantee you won’t find behavior like among the ocean surfers out at The Wedge or The Cove in P.V. That’s especially interesting, given skateboarding’s reputation and self-proclaimed status as an anti-social activity of outcasts. Granted, there’s plenty that’s anti-social about boarders who skate across the steps and rails and paving in public places, or through the nice landscaping, but here, among the misfits, there’s mutual respect. Not uncommon, really; it’s a variety of the “honor among thieves” truism.
CLICK HERE to visit the Channel Street Skatepark Web site.
Just another day in L.A.
Note, January 2016: currently the skate park is inaccessible due to heavy construction on the overhead I-110 Freeway. There are assurances it’ll reopen once construction is done.
© 2010, 2016 Brad Nixon