Kingshighway: Building St. Louis Skateboarding

I remember getting the call. It was June of 2009 and my buddy Pat Ritchey called and said, “Come down to the viaduct at Kingshighway and Southwest Avenue.” I am oblivious at this point to what was happening entirely. I rolled down to the bridge that afternoon and straight into the first major pour we ended up doing. It was a flat wall quarter 5 ½’ trannies 5’ tall I think? (To set the record straight and end the controversy and hurt feelings I’ll say these two simple sentences and keep the peace without writing a book. Ok, Kyle Crandall is the founder of the bridge VT. Secondly, the day I showed up and poured the concrete was not the beginning of the VT. It was the first day people with prior skatepark construction experience worked down there.) Ok anyway JP Kraus was there with forms cut, dirt filled and bar tied. We mixed the crete bags right there on the ground with Kyle and a few others.

As the construction continued and we realized that we needed to band together if we were going to keep this spot because at this point it hadn’t been discovered yet. So Bryan Bedwell, under the advice of Brian Beck a local Attorney and skater, and a few conspirators decided to form the non-profit organization KHVT to keep the whole thing semi sustainable and hopefully legal.

One day we all got a scare when we heard the city had been down to the spot and we were all thinking, “This is it! It’s over…”. Turns out the Director of the St. Louis Street Department Todd Waelterman heard about us and brought his two boys down to skate. He was stoked that all the garbage and hobo hammocks were gone so he provided us with a dumpster, paint and a verbal lease. That was our first break.

Our second break came when we started getting help from the Show Me Pools crew on the construction side. Plus Bryan Bedwell developed a Board of Directors complete with a skate lawyer. Not to mention in 2010 we poured over 20 yards of concrete and got our official 501(c)3. Having this status enabled us to give tax write offs to our generous contributors.

We’ve had great success raising money having skate contest, shows, Halloween parties, etc. Bryan’s girlfriend, Cyd is mostly to thank for planning all the events. Local shops like Jolly Roger, Soka, and Ramp Riders always support and donate when they’re asked to step up. Since the bridge is the first concrete free park in the city’s history, it’s a no brainer asking the local shop owners to chip in. So from that point on we would hold a fundraiser, then build a new section, hold another fundraiser and build another section.

The park grew into a St. Louis hot spot due to the local news giving us positive publicity. We even got a few words in some rad zines. Raw sessions were going down daily. The concrete seemed to keep coming, and it made us all proud to have helped provide something for the under served youth of the city.

One afternoon while skating I saw this guy in a white truck wearing a hard hat pull up. Immediately, I got suspicious but chilled out when all he did was get out, then get back in and drive away. The man I saw happened to be the Inspector of Structural Integrity for the city, and he had found his way under our rapidly decaying bridge. So the next week I show up to skate and there are excavators and dump trucks, and I naturally sweated blood. I thought, “They’ve come for the ramps!” I was wrong. Turns out the Inspector noticed considerable damage to the pillars because the bridge is old and in great need of repairs. Their office had recommended a retro fit in order to squeeze a few more years out of the bridge. Once we found this out we were elated because we had all been certain our last grinds under Kingshighway were getting closer.

The city poured concrete structures onto the pillars that needed repairs, but they weren’t significant enough for us to protest. The bowl was untouched, and the crew of city workers re-poured our pillars. During this time we worked furiously on pouring new sections of the bowl. The city guys were blown away by the round wall hand stacking they saw in front of them, we even borrowed their jack hammer a few times- real good dudes. The bridge now had been retro fitted and we were all stoked that we were going to be able to get a few more years under the concrete canopy.

Since we know the bridge will come down and be replaced at some point soon, KHVT has now switched gears to more of a skateboarding advocacy group. We are currently working with city officials and local neighborhood organizations on the STL Sk8 Garden project. The goal of this project is to take unused land the city owns and turn it into small skate spots/gardens with collaboration from the local gardening organizations. Kingshighway opened a lot of non-skater minds to the idea of a skatepark as a viable option in city planning. Hopefully it will bring us success in the future!

Written by Cameron Jones

Check out the evolution of the park here.