Today, Skateworld is owned by 60-year-old Gary Stang. Thirty-five years ago, Stang and his parents opened the business at its current location. By the early 1970s, the shopping center, including the eventual Skateworld building, had already become dilapidated. So in 1972, the City of San Diego took the center on as one of the first local redevelopment zones. Within a few years, the City sold most of the center to a developer who replaced a supermarket and a number of other businesses with new ones. But the old entertainment building, which by then had gone through a variety of uses, remained. The Stangs, who always wanted to own a skating rink, scouted the building. They began to picture it as the home of their future business.
“At the time, nobody wanted this building,” Stang tells me. We’re sitting in the Skateworld front office, which also serves as a trophy and memorabilia room. “It was boarded up and needed a lot of repairs. There were homeless people breaking in here. So I approached the City about doing something with it, and they let us have it on a month-to-month lease.”
The first thing the Stangs did was to make as many repairs as they could afford. They put in a maple-wood floor to serve as the skating surface. Several skaters I’ve spoken with at Skateworld tell me that the surface is far superior — and more forgiving to sprawling human bodies — to more modern ones, which leave imprints on flesh.
Stang’s parents mortgaged their home and got a Small Business Association loan, and Skateworld opened on October 6, 1975. “We put everything we had into this venture,” says Stang. “My mom and dad were professional roller-skaters. And by then, I had managed roller-skating rinks for other people. As a boy, I had done counter, floor-guard, DJ, and other duties. I had a lot of experience.”
Wayne Bamford had told me that Stang was once a great roller-skating competitor in speed and artistic events. Between the late 1950s and the early 1970s, Stang routinely won national skating championships. Later, he performed skating routines on television and in movies and once skated during a Michael Jackson concert.
I ask Stang how early he started skating. “When I was three, my grandmother found a pair of roller skates with metal wheels and a key,” he says. “She brought them home and clamped them onto my shoes. I went outside and rolled down a bumpy sidewalk and, apparently, really liked it. Later, my mom and dad became artistic skaters and turned pro. Through them I developed my skills. Skating’s been a lifelong passion.”
In 1982, the City wanted to make major changes to the Skateworld building. “But they had no takers,” says Stang. “So the City approached me. They said to put a proposal together, a proposal that would show improvements on the building. So we created a plan that added the commercial spaces that are on the building now.” Stang is referring to the spaces on Skateworld’s west, east, and north sides: the west side is currently occupied by a Pizza Hut and a check-cashing outlet and a beauty shop; on the east side there’s a video store and a financial services company; on the north side, a Vietnamese restaurant.
I ask if that’s what the City wanted. “They wanted it, yes,” Stang tells me, “and the community-planning group said they wanted to see more retail in the area. My family and I also decided it would be a benefit to us to put retail spaces onto the building.” Stang invested in building out the attached commercial spaces. In what would later become a bone of contention, the agency permitted the entire complex to be run as one business. The Stangs were given a 20-year lease. Besides running the skating rink, they now collected rents from the new tenants. The City requested a percentage of the composite business profits. That percentage rose slowly over the years, eventually reaching a high of 15 percent.
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In 1988, a new Linda Vista public library was built at Comstock and Ulrich Streets, immediately east of Skateworld, but the construction funds came out of the city’s regular libraries’ budget, not from redevelopment monies. By the mid-1990s, local community leaders were itching for a new redevelopment project. They wanted to build a “town center” and “gateway” to the community on a vacant lot at the corner of Comstock and Linda Vista Road. The property, adjacent to Skateworld on the south, had been for years the site of a gas station.
The new plan was driven by three individuals: District 6 councilwoman Valerie Stallings, District 5 councilwoman Barbara Warden, and Bob Williams, then president of Linda Vista’s Bayside Community Center. The three leaders envisioned a two-story town center that would facilitate the work of nonprofit organizations in Linda Vista and be a home for the “incubation” of business startups. Besides offices, the building would contain a large conference center.
In a February 4, 1999 memo to the City manager, Warden highlighted her favorite goal. “This critical project would re-create the Heart of Linda Vista by redeveloping the former gasoline station…into a catalyst for private-sector development.” Warden went on to say that, for the previous three years, she had been setting aside the federal Community Development Block Grant funds under her control to help complete the project. She also promised to acquire a federal loan that, through deferred repayment, “would provide an equal financial commitment from Council Districts Five and Six, respectively.” She wrote further that the project “marks the first time the city has invested in the expansion of the Linda Vista Redevelopment Area since the early 1970s.”
In those days, Linda Vista’s city council representation was divided in two, split by Linda Vista Road’s passage through the community. District 5’s Warden represented the eastern half, while Valerie Stallings of District 6 represented the western half.
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Over the winter of 1999–2000, both of the elder Stangs died. I ask a current Skateworld employee who was around then how much the couple had been contributing to running the operation. “They were a great pair and were there every day,” he says, “even though they were silent partners in the business. Gary’s mother especially always had lots to say about how things were to be done.”