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Shop's past has wheels

Development plans for the site where the Z-boys club shaped the evolution of skateboarding trigger a groundswell of public opinion in Santa Monica.

February 12, 2007|Martha Groves | Times Staff Writer

Vietnam and Watergate were the big stories of the day when a gaggle of latchkey kids in south Santa Monica -- including future legends Jay Adams, Tony Alva and Stacy Peralta -- reinterpreted vertical surfing moves for dry land and radically redefined skateboarding.

Now the building that housed the 1970s-era surf and skate shop where the renegade teens bonded to become the Zephyr, or Z-boys, skateboarding team is in danger of being developed out of existence.

The prospect has ignited a debate over the Santa Monica property -- now the site of Horizons West Surf Shop -- and the historical significance of the extreme skateboarding movement. The Z-boys (and one girl) are credited with being among the first to bring surfing moves to skateboarding -- and to glamorize the guerrilla art of riding empty swimming pools that proliferated during the 1970s drought in Southern California.

Their flashy tricks -- launched before the ollie, now routine, was even invented -- inspired the 2001 "Dogtown and Z-Boys" documentary, which Peralta directed, and the 2005 theatrical film "The Lords of Dogtown," which he wrote.

Many surfers and skateboarders contend that the building should be preserved as a historic landmark -- not because of its architecture, which just about everyone agrees has no merit, but because of what emanated from there three decades ago.

The owner, Lewis Herrmann, wants to erect a 14-unit mixed-use "green" project at the site, 2001-2011 Main St. between Bay and Bicknell streets. It would be built of sustainable nontoxic materials and use renewable energy. The shops and rental units would further gentrify an area that has evolved from seedy to chic in recent years.

Upscale boutiques and cafes now dot the stretch of Main Street that in the Z-boys era featured a mission and thrift shops. At 2000 Main, site of the former Pioneer Boulangerie, workers are completing a project that features housing units, ground-floor retail shops and subterranean parking.

After seeing a copy of "Dogtown and Z-Boys," developer Juli Doar, Herrmann's granddaughter, voluntarily withdrew her application for a demolition permit and organized two public meetings at which community members aired gripes and brainstormed ways to commemorate the Zephyr team's contribution to skating. Doar hopes to propose a plan that would integrate art that celebrates the team and its culture into the building's design. She emphasized that zoning rules allow her to develop twice as many units and almost double the floor area of the project. But, she said, "instead of more square footage, we chose to plant green space."

The Santa Monica Landmarks Commission is scheduled to discuss the possibility of nominating the property as a landmark at a meeting tonight.

Commissioner Nina Fresco said she was reserving judgment until she could see what ideas are presented at the meeting and "where the tide has finally turned."

One thing is certain: "The people are pretty passionate about this," Fresco said. "We've received e-mails from all over the world. There were two Japanese surfers at the meeting I went to who were very adamant about keeping this place. People seem to think it's a living organism with a soul."

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In its day, the Zephyr shop was the heart of the outlaw skateboarding community. The low-slung style, surfer moves and punk attitude revolutionized a sport that had until then featured stilted maneuvers and buff young men doing handstands as they rolled on their boards.

"My surf shop became a haven for some of those kids, like a shelter," said Jeff Ho, who in the early 1970s bought the Select Surf Shop and renamed it Jeff Ho Surfboards & Zephyr Productions. "If they

Ho and his co-owners, artist and journalist Craig Stecyk and Skip Engblom, focused on manufacturing and selling surfboards but also sold skateboards. When the surfing industry hit a stall, they put together a raw but talented team.

Peralta said the shop "was a place where we could find an identity, where we belonged. These shop owners provided a place for us to excel in something that the mainstream didn't necessarily approve of."

The Z-boys eventually went their separate ways. Peralta took up filmmaking. Alva started his own skateboard manufacturing company. Adams went to jail for burglary and possession.

After the Zephyr store closed its doors, Nathan Pratt, an original Z-boy, opened the Horizons West Surf Shop in 1977; Randy Wright, a professional surfer, took over the store in 1987.

The "Dogtown" documentary and movie helped revive interest in the Z-boys but also created a rift -- between those who participated in the making of "The Lords of Dogtown" and those who didn't.

"Some people buy into the idea of succeeding," Engblom said. "Some people don't.... [Some] people decided they needed to maintain some sense of purity."

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