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End of an Era
Demolition is set to begin on the most famous pool in town. When escrow on the one-acre property closes next week, the Vagabond Motel will be razed and loft-style apartments with commercial space will be built in its place. Although plans to destroy the Vagabond have been public for months, skaters took to City Hall last Tuesday in a first-and-last-ditch effort to voice their concerns.
Peter "Joe" Joseph has been a part of the Vagabond Motel for more than 15 years. Paid by property owner Greg Gastonian to keep a lid on graffiti and drugs, he has called the motel home for the past four years.
"This my big ol' ponderosa, this is my mansion," he says as he gestures to the second story of the motel. Joe wears a bright blue t-shirt and jeans, with a pair of sunglasses resting atop is head. He lounges in a folding chair in the shade as he surveys the activity at his hacienda. Surrounding him are a half dozen skaters, a case of cheap beer, and some sausages grilling on a hibachi.
The Vagabond pool is possibly the most famous landmark in Fresno. Known the world over for its challenging kidney-shaped pool, skaters professthat there is no place like it anywhere else in California. For years enthusiasts of all ages have slipped through a hole in the fence to skate, learn, and hang out in an accepting and supportive community of friends. On any given evening, 30 more skaters, ranging in age from under 10 to over thirty, can be found poolside in an atmosphere that is more family backyard barbeque than old abandoned building.
The Fresno Bee first broke the Vagabond story on January 25 of this year. Granville and Pyramid Homes, the same developers that refurbished the popular Pearl Building (in which members of the Fresno Famous staff live) plan to erect 38 loft-style apartments with commercial space on the site. The project was initiated by the City and will include 20% affordable housing, market rate housing, and commercial/retail space.
Prior to the Grandville/Pyramid plan, Cornerstone Church proposed to build a drug rehabilitation clinic on the site. While the City rejected that idea, there was little to no protest from the skating community. The first formal objection came at the meeting last Tuesday, three months after the plan was made public.
The showing at City Hall was orchestrated by Brady Bowen, a documentary filmmaker. Bowen, who is from Fresno but lives in Los Angeles, began filming a documentary about the Vagabond pool after he learned it was to be replaced by apartments.
He was joined by 70 skaters and their supporters at City Hall. After a stern warning from the Council to refrain from clapping and hollering, Bowen introduced the skaters. "This is affecting an underground culture. These folks feel like they havenit had the opportunity to speak."
The skaters were given thirty minutes to share their objections. At least 20 people shared their views and gave support for the pool.
"I grew up skating over there. That's where I spent most of my time and my life," said Brent Arosco.
"I stay out of trouble. It keeps me away from drugs," shared David Thornhill. This verbiage was echoed nearly verbatim by most of the children who voiced their opinion.
"This is the heart and soul of the youth of the city of Fresno," said Josh Martin, who traveled from Morro Bay to speak. There were attendees fromall over California, from Sacramento to San Diego.
"My son goes there every single day," said Teresa Sanchez, the lone parent who spoke.
Cliff Fisher and others urged the Council to move or reconstruct the pool."I worked on the [Lyonis] skate park, so I know it's not very good. It's a skate park built by a construction company that doesn't skate."
At the end of the allotted time, Councilwoman Sterling thanked the speakers and asked the burning question: "Why did you not come forward when this became an item on the agenda?" In fact, the City granted final demolition approval to Granville at the Council meeting last week. No skaters spoke at that meeting.
Bowen explained at the Council meeting he had tried to speak with Granville on camera, but they had refused.
Bowen declined to be interviewed for this article.
Vagabond regular Holly Devereaux said the idea to buy the pool for the skaters had come up in years prior. "We tried to ask Greg [Gastonian] when he first bought it, but he said, 'No it's way too much, you'll never be able to buy it.'" It is unclear if any fundraising efforts were undertaken by members of the skateboarding community.
Granville representative Jeff Roberts sent a letter to the City Council which he detailed to the public at the meeting. In it Roberts explained that he met with five members of the skating community off camera and offered them the pool if they could pay to have it removed and transported. He also offered to help them petition the city for permits or zoning changes to allow for a new skate park.
In the end the City stressed that the pool was private property and that they could not, or would not, do anything to prevent the owners from going ahead with their plans.
The City promised to work with the skating community and property owners to either relocate the pool or build a new park, possibly in Chinatown. The North Fresno park is too far for young skaters without cars to travel.
Even if the pool is relocated, it is unlikely to be the same. Insurance liabilities and fear of lawsuits are likely to put a damper on the party. The self-policing nature of the Vagabond is what fostered such an intimate sense of community. Older skaters taught the young ones; they kept crime and graffiti out.
Joe explains: "I've watched these kids. I've watched them grow up. If you're a teenager- you can't come here [during the day]. I don't allow it. You go to school. If you have a problem with your school work, I help ya out. I know. I'm an ex-banger so I know. I'm probably one of the first Crips on this earth. I'm from Compton, California, so I know."
"We never had any problems. If I catch ya in here with a with a paint can or a paint brush I'm gonna take your clothes and send ya out the back gate."
"People come from all over the world to skate here. I've met all the pros.
"I fell in love with the skateboarders."
Our first correction: Granville Homes did not work on the Pearl Building. That was done by Pyramid Homes exclusively.