Kathy Nichols

Surfin’ the Turf

By - Sep 10th, 2010 04:00 am
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The Turf. Photo by Pete DiAntonio courtesy of Save the Turf

In the 1980s, the Turf  brought people from all over the country to America’s Dairyland, just to skate a little park with five concrete pools.

Those five pools, however, put Milwaukee on the map with skateboarders worldwide. The Bones Brigade (Powell Peralta’s skate team, which has included Tony Hawk, Steve Caballero, Lance Mountain, Mike Vallely, and many other well-known names) and the Santa Cruz team (which has featured Jason Jesse, Duane Peters of punk band U.S. Bombs, Steve Alba, Rob Roskopp, Christian Hosoi, and Jeff Grosso, among others) skated there alongside local skate legends Sam Hitz and Al Partanen and kids of all ages from the area.

With retractable doors surrounding the pools, the park could be ridden indoors or out year-round.

“The pool era kind of faded out … skateboarding never really dies, but it does have its high and low points,” says Jerome Urbaniak, who worked in the pro shop on the property that sold skateboards and related gear. After operating under the name “Surf ‘n’ Turf” from 1979 to 1982, the park was leased and transformed into a strip club. Eventually Jerry Steurnagel, one of the former owners, was able to evict the club and the park was reinstated.

In 1996, following the trend at the time in skateboarding, the pools were filled in with gravel and covered with a concrete slab to create a street-style park. Business went downhill, and the Turf did not last much longer.

A few businesses subsequently occupied the property, but when the last of these closed and the building was demolished, it caught the attention of some locals who longed to skate the Turf’s bowls one last time. John Gonzales organized the Milwaukee Skateboard Association to “unite everyone under one name to save the Turf and, later, support it and skateboarding in Milwaukee.”

On July 27, Justin Carloni posted on Facebook, “As I type this, the old Turf Skatepark building is being torn down,” effectively putting out a call to action for Turf supporters far and wide.

Upon hearing the news, that weekend more than 30 skaters showed up and cleared out the lipslide gully, one of the park’s bowls. “Once the seed was planted, one post turned into 50, then to 100, and all of a sudden we had every skater in the city out there,” according to Mike Schmidt, a Turf supporter.

“Eventually our crew got so big that there was one person on one side, one in the bowl, both digging. It was super camaraderie and teamwork, that area was so filled up with people that other guys started on another bowl,” says local skater Jesse Geeboy. Shortly after Fox 6 news showed up and filmed the event, their operation was unceremoniously shut down by the police department. It was, however, just the beginning.

Photo courtesy MSA via Facebook

The land had been purchased by the DOT for the purposes of creating a westbound off-ramp for 894 to Loomis Road, but it’s currently being used as a staging area for the Mitchell Interchange project. The DOT will turn the land back over to the City of Greenfield in 2013 when the project is completed, but what happens from there remains to be seen. In the meantime, Save the Turf, the organization devoted to restoring the former skatepark, has developed a website and begun a letter writing campaign to local and state officials.

It would appear that the MSA’s hands are tied right now, but that’s not stopping them from getting the word out — in Milwaukee and beyond — calling on everyone and anyone to get involved in the cause.

The Tony Hawk Foundation, which helps community groups and municipalities to plan and develop skateparks, has joined the MSA in its efforts to “save the Turf and educate the public and local leaders about the historic significance of this site,” according to Miki Vuckovich, executive director.

The MSA has grand plans for the Turf’s future. First of all, they’d like the park to be free. They’d like to host “pro-level contests, not just for the locals, but also bring people in,” says Gonzales. “I want to have bleachers and a viewing section, so when they have a contest and have everybody cheering, when people drive off the freeway, they notice it right away and want to come out and see what’s going on.”

Having worked at a skateboard camp for the last four years, Gonzales extols skateboarding as a way to give kids something constructive to do and to learn the value of teamwork.

“With skateboarding, when this guy and I are both learning a new trick, I want to push him so he does a better job. With any other sport, I’d want to beat him. If he skates better than me, I’m glad, because I’m going to watch him and learn from him and do it just like him,” he says. “It’s time to be aware of this national monument that we have, time to bring it back, and if you don’t want kids off the street and into a positive area, then you don’t want a future.”

Tonight the Cactus Club (2496 S. Wentworth) will host a “Save the Turf” benefit concert to raise awareness, generate support and begin the fundraising necessary to get this project off the ground when the time comes. The show starts at 9:30 and includes local bands Call Me Lightening, Get Rad, and No Future (performing their first show together and made up of members of locals from Since By Man, Red Knife Lottery, Seven Days of Samsara, and Decibully).

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