The Rise and Fall of Skatewave Skatepark
5 year old Todd Smith at Skatewave Skate Park
Thrasher Magazine, August 1981
In 1977, movie goers took to the theaters in droves to witness a mind-blowing spectacle that defined a generation—Star Wars. The story of a band of rebels taking on the galactic Empire in a war against tyranny must have resonated with young Mobilians hoping to win a battle of their own—approval for a local skateboard park.
At the end of 1977, it appeared as though the young Rebels scored a victory when the Mobile city council gave initial approval for a skateboard facility at Municipal Park (aka Langan park). But just like in the movies, The Empire Strikes Back…
Entrance to Municipal Park (aka Langan Park)
Mobile Running Blog
Leading the Rebel forces were two young businessmen, Bob McKinney and Emil Graf (of the Graf Dairy family). The duo managed to win the confidence of the city to build a major skateboard park on 2.5 acres at the east end of Municipal park between the lake and Zeigler Boulevard. But to secure the final approval, McKinney and Graf would have to win battles on multiple fronts against environmentalists, attorneys, and the land itself.
Aerial view of the proposed site between Zeigler Blvd and the lake
From the start, McKinney and Graf could not seem to catch a break. Soil samples from the intended site revealed nine feet of mucky soil. Another site in the park appeared to be perfect. The only thing standing in the way were 39 pine trees.
Six months slipped by and the park appeared no closer to being built. Meanwhile, opposition to the park grew. Concerned citizens sent letters to the Mobile Press Register sharply criticizing the project. Even the paper took a shot at the project in an editorial, oddly entitled, "Skating on thin ice?" To make matters worse, Graf lost his father just as the project took off.
As summer approached, forces gathered on both sides for a winner take all battle—a council hearing to be held on May 17, 1978.
Mayor Mims opened the meeting with a show of support for the project. But any notion that this would be a love fest were quickly dispelled as opponent after opponent took turns challenging the project.
Doctors objected to the city encouraging a dangerous sport. Attorneys argued against its legality. Some council members questioned if skateboarding was just another fad.
But perhaps the biggest challenge to the skateboard park were those 39 pine trees. Environmentalists argued that replacing the trees with a skateboard park would be akin to "scarring the hills."
A view of the infamous pine trees taken from Ziegler Blvd
Supporters did their best to defend the project but in the end the council ruled against the skateboard park. What began with such promise and excitement ended in disappointment. The Empire had struck back.
In case anyone wondered how they really felt, the Mobile Tree Commission gloated over the victory with a letter to the editor, praising the council for making the "right decision" and leaving the city "a great deal better off."
It had been a turbulent year for sure, but the birth of a baby boy one month later gave Emil Graf cause to celebrate. And for Bob McKinney, the journey toward a Mobile skateboard park was just getting started.
Back to the sidewalks for Mobile skateboarders after Council nixes park
The Mohian (1979), Murphy High School
Next week: The Rise and Fall of Skatewave Skate Park (Continued)
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