By Jonathan Farrell
The exhilarating feeling of gliding along is what makes roller skating a joy. And, for many, Golden Gate Park is one of the best places to experience it. Especially now, as the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission voted unanimously on Dec. 16 to approve the final design for an asphalt mural at the outdoor skating rink between Sixth Avenue and John F. Kennedy Drive.
The 28-foot by 93-foot oval mural will officially define and dedicate the spot to the roller-skating community. The area is known as the “Skatin’ Place” – a play on “Peyton Place,” a popular TV soap opera in the mid-1960s.
“The Skatin’ Place deserves a mural as vibrant, colorful and inviting as the community that blossomed on the asphalt many decades ago and continues to flourish,” said San Francisco Recreation and Park General Manager Phil Ginsburg. “The mural, coupled with planned improvements to the pavement, will make one of the most celebrated places in the park even more fun.”
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, people have taken to spending more time outdoors. Naturally, Golden Gate Park has been the place to go. Long-time roller-skating advocate and supporter David Miles, Jr. said the mural “really represents roller skating’s contribution to quality of life in San Francisco.”
“Generations have experienced the fun, the joy, the sheer excitement of coming here to roller skate on a bright Sunday afternoon,” he said. “This mural is a great acknowledgment to those like myself and many others who have worked hard over the years to keep the good times rolling.”
According to historians, roller skating in its earliest form can be traced to the European theatrical stage of the 1700s. It grew in popularity through the 19th and 20th centuries and reached a “golden age” in the United States from the 1930s to the 1950s. Think of roller-skating rinks, Roller Derby, and drive-ins with waitresses bringing a burger with fries to the car window.
In fact, before the Skatin’ Place, roller skating in Golden Gate Park has a long history. John McLaren, the park’s first superintendent, built a roller rink at the Children’s Playground in 1891.
When the disco craze hit in the 1970s, roller skating made a resurgence. As the bicycle got a make-over in the 1980s into the all-terrain bike, so did the roller skate. New design and technology transformed it into “roller-blading.”
It was in the 1980s that Miles embraced both the excitement of roller skating and the skating community, becoming its steward or “pastor” as he established “The Church of 8 Wheels.”
Skating in the park has important significance for Miles as well as many happy memories.
“I met my wife here. We brought our kids here, skating in Golden Gate Park. So many happy experiences as a family and as a community have been right here,” he added.
The project is a collaboration. The Church of 8 Wheels and Rec. and Park hosted two community meetings to solicit feedback and ideas on design proposals.
Highlighting a golden roller skate surrounded by a psychedelic pattern, the colorful array will be an homage to San Francisco’s rich and diverse history. Created by Bay Area artist and longtime Golden Gate Park skater Aimee Bruckner, the vibrant design reflects San Francisco, Golden Gate Park and the park’s roller-skating history.
Bruckner explained that because of the challenges of the asphalt surface, “we had to keep it simple. The roller skate in the center marks the space, making it recognizable,” she said.
Miles, his family and Bruckner consider the Skatin’ Place very special and significant. There are roller skating communities across the nation in many places. “Yet this one in San Francisco, in Golden Gate Park is special,” Miles said.
“It’s hard to put my finger on what’s special about it,” Bruckner said. “I’ve skated other places. Yet there’s nothing else like it. Ours here in Golden Gate Park is truly magical.”
Skatin’ Place is already closed to the public as Rec. and Park prepares to install the mural. Contingent upon the Arts Commission’s approval, the mural’s installation will begin in spring of 2022 and take six to eight weeks to complete.
Pointing to the mural’s fun as well as inclusive and functional design, Bruckner, Miles and many in the roller-skating community are confident the mural design will be approved.
Categories: Golden Gate Park