World on Wheels, the Mid-City roller rink that opened in a Venice Boulevard strip mall in 1981 and has long been a community institution, is set to close permanently on June 23.
The rink is owned by its upstairs neighbor, AMF Bowling Center, a national chain that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last November. The bowling alley will be closing as well.
But it is perhaps World on Wheels that will be missed more fondly. Over the years, the rink has housed everything from Sunday gospel brunches and Saturday disco nights to goth skate nights. It played host to early hip hop concerts including an L.L. Cool J performance in the mid-'80s, and was often the broadcast home for KDAY in its original AM format.
Further, as a safe place for kids to hang out, it's been “a great prevention of teen pregnancies and drugs,” says Anna Elkins, a counter clerk there who's been skating at the spot nearly all of her life. “You would be surprised, when you see the 2 and 3-year-olds out there on their own skates, fiberglass wheels, gliding like the 25-year-olds. I mean, it gives you a tickle of joy.”
Unlike skating rinks playing canned music, World on Wheels featured live DJs spinning records from a booth overlooking the rink, a set-up custom designed for the space.
One of the spot's long-running DJs mourning its demise is Dennis Owens, who, along with DJ Riley More, founded Space Is The Place, an old-school roller disco party. Since 2001 they've spun funk and soul music monthly, and their last party is tomorrow. (See the bottom of the post for more information.)
Owens says that playing music for roller skaters changed the way he thought about DJing.
“It was fun to play music and help them get in their groove, because when you played music that the skaters were feeling, that's when they'd break out the intricate moves and the complicated moves and all that,” he says.
While he and More are discussing the possibility of relocating Space Is The Place elsewhere, Owens said it's near impossible to find another venue with all of World on Wheels' amenities — it has, after all, an adjoined bowling alley, bar and karaoke.
“There's generations of families who have been going there since it opened in 1981 and that's one less activity that people in the community are going to have to participate in,” Owens said.
A petition to renew AMF Midtown Lanes and World On Wheels' lease is circulating online, but prospects aren't great.
World on Wheels is one of the only skating rinks left in the city, employee Anna Elkins goes on to say, and its importance in the lives of youth can't be overstated. “I honestly see the crime rate shooting sky-high on these streets out here,” she says.
Space Is The Place's final party is this Saturday from 10:15 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. at World on Wheels.