By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
"It was a completely golden time in Los Angeles," says Engblom, who would grow up (sort of) to be a forebear of the Z-Boys. "There were still Red Cars running."
Although he spends mornings scouting waves to surf, he looks and carries himself like a retired pro wrestler. Come to find out his dad actually was a pro who, according to Engblom, went on to become one of wrestling's original carnival barkers, using now-familiar characters and storylines to promote the sport. Their house was a way station for midget wrestlers and guys like Haystack Calhoun, the giant who wore a chain around his neck with a horseshoe dangling from it. "I didn't see anything strange about it," Engblom says. "These were just the people who would show up."
Young Skipper, as he was known, used to ride his bike down to see his mother at work. One day he kept going, all the way down Santa Monica Boulevard to where the road meets the sand. There was a little stand there renting inflatable rafts, and Skipper took one out into the water, where he saw a guy get up on a surfboard and ride a wave. "I completely flipped. It was probably the defining moment of my existence. I knew it was all I ever wanted to do," says Engblom. "I needed to do that more than anything." On weekends he'd ride his bike from Hollywood to the beach at 5 a.m., just to see the ocean.
In 1958, the year Engblom's mom finally gave in to her son's beach imperative and moved the family to Ennis Place, behind Venice Circle, the ghost of Abbot Kinney was once again rising from the sand. After making his fortune in the tobacco business back east, New Jerseyborn Kinney literally sailed the seven seas. The asthmatic insomniac settled in Southern California in 1880 after discovering (oh, the irony!) that he could both breathe and sleep here. It wasn't long before he started turning a marshy backwater south of Santa Monica into a seaside approximation of his beloved Venice, Italy.
Kinney hoped his Ocean Park Pier, a grand amusement park thrusting hundreds of feet into the surf, would be the main attraction of his resort, and for decades it was a smashing success. Following a devastating fire in 1924, it was rebuilt bigger and better with fireproof concrete and steel. But the Great Depression, World War II and television eventually dimmed the luster of Kinney's dream. By the time the Engbloms moved to the beach, the pier was all but closing down. CBS tried to revive it with $10 million and visions of a nautical theme park to rival Disneyland, and for a brief stretch the new Pacific Ocean Park, or P.O.P., would outperform the Magic Kingdom.
It didn't last. One of the problems with P.O.P. that nobody could solve was that visitors had to negotiate its environs to gain access to its pleasures. Those environs were falling on increasingly hard times as the money along the beach gravitated north and south, and Santa Monica began an urban-renewal project that turned buildings to rubble. After a while, braving the winos and broken glass proved more than the park's clientele could stomach.
P.O.P. closed down for good on October 6, 1967. For six more years it would crumble into the waves, a fitting symbol of the no man's land between Venice and Santa Monica that generations of skate rats would come to revere as Dogtown.
Z-Boys auteur Stacy Peralta
STROLLING THE YUPPIE WONDERLAND THAT IS Santa Monica's Main Street today, it's hard to imagine how neglected the area was back then. Main Street itself was a wasteland of vacant storefronts. Enterprises that were open for business included the Vixen Theater, a gentlemen's club not known for upscale talent, and the Pink Elephant, a transvestite bar. There was Synanon, a drug rehab place up toward Pico whose patients were dubbed "the eggplant people" because they were made to shave their heads and wear dark clothes. Across the street from the venerable Star Liquor, popular in the day because it sold Thunderbird wine, was Sunrise Mission -- what was called an insane asylum back then. Go down the wrong street and you were in gang territory marked by vato graffiti.
Until it was torn down in 1973, Pacific Ocean Park loomed over everything in its monolithic failure. It was picked over by Hollywood vultures, who used it as the set for They Shoot Horses, Don't They?and The Fugitive and just about every cop show from Dragnet to The Mod Squad. Underneath the pier hippies, homosexuals, drug addicts, surfers and hustlers sought sanctuary. Cops from either side, Santa Monica to the north and Venice to the south, were loath to claim jurisdiction.
Some residents, though, saw this neglect as benign.
"Back then we were like a depressed ghetto," says Skip Engblom. "Main Street had all these junk shops, Sunrise Mission, winos, hookers, junkies. I enjoyed it immensely because you weren't bothered much. You could roam freely, pursue your own interests, and that was a great thing."
Others felt the same way, and in the mid-'60s the area was a bohemian hotbed that could have shamed Greenwich Village. Setting up shop on the side streets were the Chambers Brothers, Tim Buckley, the Doors, Canned Heat and Spirit, to name just a few of the musicians. Photographers William Wegman and John Baldessari had studios off Bay Street, behind what would become the Zephyr surf shop, future birthplace of the Z-Boys skate team.