Skatenerdstarmaps: Mar Vista Elementary w/ Eric Dressen
By Mackenzie Eisenhour aka Deadhippie
Part 2 to the West LA Schoolyard History Series
Read Part 1 (Kenter Canyon Elementary) Here
As terrible as the past few years have been in almost every respect, one blinding silver lining here in Los Angeles has been the near total access to any skate spot the heart desires. One such spot I checked in on last year, as LAUSD students Zoomed in from screens at their homes was Mar Vista Elementary in Palms. If you’re a fan of skate history/spot archeology like I am and are familiar with the #skatenerdstarmaps handle I post on Instagram this latest installment will be right up your alley. This is pretty much a Part 2 to a similar article I did on Kenter Canyon Elementary with Eric way back in the quaint year of 2015.
Mar Vista Elementary was one of the go to schools with picnic tables and benches on the Westside of LA when I moved out here during the mid-90s. The main attraction was the famous bump-to-table and (by then) weathered tables and benches. Prior to that, it was one of the five holy banked schoolyards depicted in Dogtown and the Z-Boys (2002) upon which Stacy, Tony, Jay, Wentzle, Nathan, Peggy, Shogo and the rest adapted urethane wheels and low-to-the-ground surf moves to launch modern skateboarding in the mid-to-late ‘70s.
The breakdown of the five West LA schools — Paul Revere, Kenter, Bellagio, Brentwood, and Mar Vista in the Dogtown and the Z-Boys documentary from 2002 (By Stacy Peralta, narration by Sean Penn).
For my generation, those of us who started in the late ‘80s—the campus was first seen in Eric Dressen’s last part (and last trick) in Santa Cruz’s 1990 video A Reason for Living. Setting the stage for the next decade, Eric ends the video with a frontside tailslide across the bump-to-table (In addition to a bike rack 50 and Kenteresque fence plant off the old Dogtowners’ banks). Filmed in ’89 by Tony Roberts (or maybe Rob Roskopp, see below) this tailside was pretty mindblowing for the time and is certainly the first tailslide across a table to appear in a video (NBD_archive agrees).
The bump-to-table and campus at large would go on to be featured in iconic mid-‘90s videos including Eric Koston’s 411 Profile (’93), in which he backside flips the table in a line, Mouse (’96) where Eric starts off a line with a possible homage to Dressen bike rack 50 before rotating one of the better switch backside flips on flat ever, to Shiloh and Gino’s memorable clips in Trilogy (’96). Gino’s kickflip backtail on the bump-to-table and his part ending nollie 180 to switch backside nosegrind shove remain some of my favorite clips of the ‘90s to this day.
After driving past the school and snapping some photos of the heavily modified campus (the banks look mostly blocked off by planters, the tables are knobbed and the front playground has been mostly covered with intermittent grass patches) I decided to reach out to Eric to get his memories of Mar Vista dating back to the ‘70s through his time filming there for the Santa Cruz video. Along the way, we veered into discussing a few other classic West LA/Beverly Hills spots. A salute to Mar Vista Elementary locals past, present, and future.
When was the first time you skated Mar Vista?
The first time I saw pictures of the bank was in Skateboarder Magazine probably in the early Skateboarders. Maybe in one of the Dogtown articles. I saw a picture of it so I knew about the school.
Was it only the banks on that one corner?
Yeah, it came around and had like that little elbow. People used to just skate that back in the ‘70s. Summer of ’78 was the first time I ever skated it when I moved to that side of town. I think I skated it once. We were driving around there and saw it. Then not until maybe the mid-‘80s when street skating started in LA, when there was nothing really to skate—that was one of the places to go. Kind of like, “Where should we go? Let’s go to Mar Vista.” It was always lower on the totem pole though of places to go. We’d skate there once in a while in the ‘80s when we had nothing better to do. Then I think I started skating the benches and stuff probably by ’89.
Was that little bump always there?
I think so. The table was always right there, so we would use that bump to Ollie up the table. It made it easy. We would 50-50 it. Then when I was filming for that part I was there with Rob Roskopp and Tony Roberts that day. I think they were in town. I remember thinking I might be able to tailslide it and did at that one time that’s in the video.
I feel like tailsliding those tables is hard. Your wheel always pops under.
I liked it because it was a weird angle, trying to get over the lower bench where you sit. While I was there I skated this other mild bump that was there too and I think I Ollied a table.
Yeah, I was trying to figure out where that other bump was. I noticed it wasn’t the same one everyone skated later (Koston, Gino, Shiloh etc…)
It’s barely a bump. Just like a little lip.
That’s a big ollie for then. Is that like late ’89 if the video came out early ’90?
I think it was late ’89. I get those years mixed up.
You hit the bank-to-fence in that part too right? That was the ‘70s corner?
Yeah. Just filming back then you would just make the rounds of your usual spots. That was one of mine.
I noticed that you grinded the bike rack too and that later in Mouse (’96) Koston grinds the same bike rack in his line there.
No way (laughs). It was weird where they put the bike racks there because I don’t think anybody ever parked their bike in there. It was all fenced in so you couldn’t really bring a bike in. But that’s definitely a classic school, like one of the first schools that the Dogtown and the Z-Boys guys were skating.
Did you ever see those guys down there?
I never skated it with any of those dudes back then. I saw them skate Kenter and stuff back in the day but not Mar Vista. Usually I would go to Mar Vista because nobody would be there. By the ‘90s I lived right near there so I’d go skate it by myself and practice or whatever.
Did you ever try any other tricks across the tables?
No. I got my tailslide and that was it. I wasn’t smart enough to think about trying other shit (laughs).
I feel like you could have noseblunted that thing. I remember you did them in Ventura at Skate Street.
Oh easy. There was some other school were I got nosebluntslides and nosegrinds on the tables but I just wasn’t too bright.
Gino Iannucci has a real good kickflip backtail across it.
By the ‘90s a lot of the Girl and Chocolate guys were going there. Daniel (Castillo) lived right around that area too. I always felt like Daniel knew where it was. My aunt lived in Mar Vista so I kind of knew it since the ‘70s from when I would visit her. I want to say there is a photo of Nathan Pratt going off the roof there in one of those old Skateboarders. It’s some weird little (Craig) Stecyk article. I have a bunch of cool photos this guy Carlos shot of me there. Really good kicks off the fence and shifty Ollies on the bank but they’re so deep in storage.
Eric Dressen’s footage from Mar Vista in A Reason for Living (1990) by Santa Cruz Skateboards. Footage by Tony Roberts and Rob Roskopp.
I remember by the mid-‘90s Hot Rod days going there and the banks were already pretty crusty.
I’ve been meaning to set up an old cruiser board like a Santa Cruz cruiser with some soft wheels and skate all those banks again.
They put some planters and grass bits over it when I went recently. Some of the banks still look skateable though.
I don’t know if I can get my old ass out there though (laughs).
If you had to order the five West LA schoolyards from 1 to 5 what would be your order?
I always loved Kenter (Canyon Elementary). There were just so many options there. You could just roam around and hit everything. Same with Paul Revere (Middle School). So I’d say Kenter first, then Paul Revere. I didn’t skate Bellagio (Road Elementary in Bel Air) until probably the mid-‘80s. The banks were pretty messed up by then. I probably only skated it a few times. I moved up the street from Brentwood Elementary in ’78. We moved right off of Kenter and Sunset Blvd. I ended up going to school in 6th grade at Brentwood Elementary. That first summer, the banks were pretty messed up but there was still graffiti on it—like these Zephyr stencils that looked cool. Nobody ever skated there though. I’d maybe skate there by myself because I didn’t have anyone to skate with.
Brentwood was pretty mellow right? It was still there in the late ‘90s when I lived on Gorham. But it never even occurred to us to skate the banks they were so rough.
They were mellow and long and pretty rough even in the ‘80s. People didn’t like it, it wasn’t very popular but I’d go “But it has the graffiti”. Then later on I saw some of the real old footage from the ‘60s of people skating it and skating down the sidewalk next to it.
Iconic Mar Vista clips from Eric Koston (411 Profile, 1993 and Mouse, 1996), Shiloh Greathouse, and Gino Iannucci (Trilogy, 1996). Videos by 411, Girl Skateboards, World Industries, 101. Footage by Socrates Leal, Tim Dowling, Aaron Meza.
Yeah. Exactly, there’s a clip in the Dogtown documentary that I always swore was Brentwood. They’re skating right in front of it.
There was like a little youth center right there or something.
Yeah, it’s the YMCA office now. Every Thursday I go to the Brentwood meeting at the church right there and there’s a little portion of the banks left on that side just fenced in. I always look at it when I walk by.
When I went to school there my class was in the building there up the stairs by the hubba. Later it became a famous spot (Bundy hubba).
I guess Micke Dora lived right on Gretna Green across the street from it too. I always pictured him skating the banks maybe. Then there are these photos of him and Bunker Spreckels in his apartment there. I guess Dora sort of took Stecyk under his wing so I always thought the lineage ran from Dora to Stecyk to the Dogtown guys to you then to Kareem, Daniel, Daewon, Guy, Koston, Gino, Shiloh, etc…
Yeah. Maybe. Or maybe not (laughs).
On a random sidenote, I had been meaning to ask you about the Culver Bowl too. I think someone brought us there in the ‘00s. Behind this bank along this building and you go up to the corner of the fence. It was right over the fence.
It was behind the brick building right there on the corner of that street (Jefferson). That ditch was like a skatepark. It had tranny at the bottom. It was really good. I shot one of my first OJ ads there doing a backside air.
There was a (Cesario) Block photo there too I’ve seen, and Skatemaster Tate.
Yeah, Block ripped that bowl up. It had like a metal tube coming out at one part on this little hip in the corner and I think there was a picture of me in Rip City doing a frontside boneless off it. I don’t know what happened to that ditch. We would skate it a lot and then all of the sudden we stopped going there.
It was still there in the ‘00s when someone brought us there. But it was all grown over and full of water and sludge.
They might have put some metal stoppers at the bottom of it at some point.
The bank along the building is all skatestopped and the fence has barbed wire all over.
The first ditch I ever skated was Viper’s Bowl in Hollywood, by Hollywood lake. There are some old pictures of that ditch. It was pretty gnarly. I was probably like 8 years old with a little fiberglass board and ball-bearing wheels.
Somebody sent me photo of the Beverly Hills bowl too that was in Thrasher.
Yeah, the Beverly Bowl. That one was funny. You know that guy Louis Offer? He goes around Venice Beach with like the red hair devil horns. Louis lived right there. He knew about it and he was keeping it a secret. The Alva guys knew about it and then Louis told me and I was supposed to keep it a secret. We were driving around with Mofo one day in Jim Muir’s Falcon a bunch of us packed in and Mofo was in town. We were on Sunset and I was like, “Should I tell these guys?” Finally, I was like, “All right, I know where a ditch is. But you can’t tell anybody.” Then the Alva guys were all mad at me for bringing everybody there.
The article is funny, I think Mofo wrote it but it’s all written like that, “Secret ditch, do not disclose.” Tony Alva has the cover skating it.
Yeah, that was another session there. But that ditch was sick. I think some house got built half way on top of it now. It was rough. It was like a ski jump. Like a mega roll in to a ski ramp/jump ramp.
Maps 1370 with the Beverly Bowl in Beverly Hills featured on the cover of Thrasher in ’88 and in Mofo’s Dec. ’86 article with Eric and crew.
Back to Mar Vista, what was your final order of the five West LA schools?
I’d probably say for those schools my order would be: 1. Kenter, 2. Paul Revere, 3. Mar Vista, 4. Bellagio, and then Brentwood last. I went to 7th to 9th grade at Paul Revere. That summer of ’78 when I moved there we’d be driving by and you could see people skating. There would be big sessions some evenings at Kenter and Paul Revere. It would be sick. If you showed up at Kenter there was almost always a bunch of people there. It was a trip because I had seen all those pictures of the spots when I was a little kid. Then next thing I know I lived near all of them.
Read more #skatenerdstarmaps features:
– Skatenerdstarmaps: Kenter Canyon Elementary with Eric Dressen
– Skatenerdstarmaps: San Pasqual High, AKA School Q