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The Secret Of Spot Preservation - etnies get legal at the L.A. Courthouse

An Interview with John Povah

5 Mar 2021

Etnies La Courthouse Sm 3

Chapters Photos by Sam McGuire; Images courtesy of Official DIG Partner: etnies

Years ago while staying in L.A. for a few days, I was randomly cruising around downtown and stumbled upon the courthouse. Viewing such an iconic spot in person for the first time with your own eyes was such an awe-inspiring moment. They were absolutely stunning, and both larger and steeper than I had envisioned. I got a few hits on them before I was hastily told to move on by the building security, but it was a moment I'll never forget. It's one of those objects you wish you could have free reign on, even if it was just for ten minutes.

Thanks to etnies securing a permit to ride there over two days, Chase Hawk, Tom Dugan, Ryan Sheckler, and friends got to shred the iconic L.A. Courthouse for a few hours with no chance of getting the boot a few years ago. They got to live the dream I and countless others have had. We asked John Povah, who helped coordinate the sessions, and has some history there himself riding there around three decades ago, a few questions about how it came to be.

This Scott Towne quote from Least Most probably sums it up best:

"Is it the longest running secret spot? Always been a bust. Maybe that’s the secret to preservation."

- RD

Etnies La Courthouse Sm 2

How did the L.A. Courthouse session come about?

I remember, around the time, we had heard somewhere that the Courthouse was getting torn down at some point and figured they might be a little more open than usual to let something like this happen. So, what the heck, let’s give it a try and get in there to do the shoot ….. And it happened!!

Initially, it was a one-day shoot for Sheckler for a Marana shoe promo, he wanted to kickflip this gap from the Courthouse upper level, over the sidewalk into the street, and there was also some allotted time to shoot the rest if the skate team, and also get some clips for a Chase Hawk Marana colorway shoe promo he was working on. The day was awesome, and we got everything we needed. But, Manzoori re-read the contract and saw that there was a clause that stated, if we didn’t get all the shots the brand needed on the one-day shoot, that we could come back at another time, within the next month or so, for a few hours to do some pick-up / final shots. So, we just lied and said that we needed to get some final shots that we didn’t get from the previous shoot. It all worked out and scheduled for when a good chunk of the team dudes were in town for the US Open in Huntington Beach so they could get to ride it also. It was pretty wild being there, legally. We even had traffic cops holding traffic at one point while Sheckler was gapping into the street, it was nuts, and also kind of empowering.

What was the process of getting a permit like?

To shoot ANYTHING in LA you first have to go through a company called “Shoot LA”. They can then find out if shooting at a specific location is even feasible. From there, once the “yay” (or nay), they then help with the paperwork, permitting, insurance etc., and the money end of things … Yeah, if you have money, you can pretty much shoot anywhere. It wasn’t as difficult as we thought it would be. It was a few grand to shoot there, if I remember correctly.

Etnies La Courthouse Sm 1

How long was the window to ride there?

A full 8 hours the first time, I think. And 3 or 4 for the (so called) pick up shots. Ha ha ha.

Did building security have any good comments about people trying to ride and skate there?

From what I remember, from the days shooting this stuff, they would just say how many times that they would have to chase skaters/bikers out over the years, but honestly started caring a little less knowing that the building was coming down at some point.

With having free reign to ride it, what were the reactions from everyone being able ride there without getting the boot quickly?

Somewhat surreal I think, we’re all so used to getting kicked out of places, but because of the limited window of time, it seemed a little rushed honestly. Maybe the guys felt that way, but no one took it for granted or just sat around and chilled, everyone took advantage of it and were grateful for the opportunity to ride it.

Blyther Wilkerson La Couthouse

Brian Blyther and Ron Wilkerson, mid-80s over-under. Photo by Spike Jonze via the Wizard Pubs wastebasket.

It’s quite a historical spot, with photos of Bob Haro riding the spot back in the early 80s. How did everyone feel probably being the first ones to ever ride there legally?

No one took it for granted, let’s just say that!! I know one or two of the dudes had possibly been there in person, or even rebel-runned it before, but the majority hadn’t, and obviously seeing it in mags, in videos etc. over the decades, especially for guys who don’t live locally, or are from overseas like Ruben, Roey or Sergio, they were really fricking stoked !! Only the front of the building was accessible these shoot days, the rear was fenced off years ago. Myself, Keith Treanor and the P.O.W.s used to head up to L.A. pretty regularly to street ride, and the Courthouse was always on the list to hit. The whole building has trannies around it, and we would sneak around the back, where security couldn’t see you, and we used to ride there without too much hassle. But over the years, because only the front is accessible now, right in front of the main entrance where security sits, it became much more of a bust, and even heightened its legendary status, I think. It’s more of a one-hit and run these days. And, in all honesty, it’s not as easy or perfect to ride as you might imagine, it’s hard to get lines, and / or speed. It’s especially rough for skating, it's like skating on cobblestones.

Bob Haroapril 81 Anmagsm

Bob Haro, Action Now Magazine, April 1981. Photos by James Cassimus. Image via snakebitebmx.com

Jess Dyrenforth Nosepick La Courthouse Go The Riders Manual July 1991 Photo Spike Jonze

Jess Dyrenforth, from the pages of Go The Riders Manual, July 1991. Photos by Spike Jonze - Gif via snakebitebmx.com

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