Near the end of Bero Road in Lansdowne sits an old patch of concrete with a lot of soul. Tattooed with more than 25 years of graffiti, paved and re-paved, the Lansdowne Skate Park survives, and skaters still come to ride its concrete waves -- though things have changed a bit in the past few years.
When Karl Peck started skating there in '78, he said, the place looked almost nothing like it does now. The concrete bowl was supposed to be part of a larger park to be built in 1980, but an arson fire stopped construction, and the county abandoned the project. This left the park in the hands of the skaters, who picked up the trash, swept up the stones and filled in the cracks with fresh concrete to help keep the place semi-skateable.
Because it was up to the skaters to keep the place clean, Peck said, there was usually plenty of broken glass and trash to swerve around. But there was also no one there to tell them what to do.
"It was very cool, because you just put your board down and skated," Peck said. "You didn't have to sign a waiver, you didn't have to put your helmet and pads on, you didn't have anybody telling you what you could or couldn't do. But it was also the kind of place where you didn't want to be the last guy walking out by yourself."
In the '80s, the park's reputation as a skating place and hangout drew crowds from Washington and Virginia and random carloads of skaters who happened to be passing by on Interstate 95 and had heard of the place. Technically, the park's name is Sandy Hills Skate Park, but the regulars called it Lansdowne Skate Park, which stuck. Kids dropped by to get an hour or two of skating in before school, dragged out kegs at night and skated by moonlight.
Tony Hawk, the Michael Jordan of skateboarding, even came over from California with his posse, the Bones Brigade, to flash some moves. The bowl became a breeding ground for solid skaters, and skateboard companies signed a number of Charm City's finest, including local hero Bucky Lasek.
Skateboarders, bikers and roller-skaters packed Lansdowne Skate Park as the '80s wore on. The first wave of Lansdowne skaters hung up their boards or passed them down to their little brothers. Someone expanded the bowl with a coat of blacktop around some of the edges, which skaters said was smooth at first, but broke into chunks over time.
Skateboarding went out of style around 1990 but came back full force in 1995, with the first Extreme Games and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater video game. The park was packed again, though by then cracks and potholes marred the asphalt, and trash filled the bowl.
In 2001, a young biker broke his arm at Lansdowne and his parents filed a lawsuit citing lack of supervision, said Ron Whitehead, a Baltimore County Parks and Recreation attendant at the park. The county shut down the park and spent 15 months renovating it.
The pavement was ripped upand replaced with fresh concrete, drain pipes installed to keep the bowl from filling up after it rained, a separate street course added with ramps and half pipes, and the whole place fenced in.
A restroom and a 50-space parking lot were built. The county banned bikers, added an attendant to supervise the place, required full pads and helmets to be worn at all times, and asked skaters to sign a waiver and carry a free membership card. The park officially reopened in September 2004, with limited daytime hours.
Most skaters agree the changes made Lansdowne a much safer place. When Mark Yannone eats it now, the pads keep him from getting too roughed up. "This is nothing compared to what you'd get back then," he said, pointing to a small booboo on his left arm that he got after a fall last weekend. Yannone, who lives in Lanham, says that without pads, sometimes you go home a little lighter.
Once, when Lansdowne veteran Frank Devan was skating at night, he missed a transition and ate cement, busting his mouth and lips. Now, Devan brings his daughter to skate with him, and they both wear pads.
"How can I be out here skating without pads and tell my daughter to put them on?" said Devan, who lives in Baltimore.
While the pad ordinance means there's not as much skin left on the cement as in years past, it also means there aren't as many skaters. The full-pads-and-helmet thing and the new park hours drove away a large chunk of the regulars.
The county "gave it to us, and then they took it back," said Jason Chapman, owner and operator of the Charm City Skate Parks and Shops in Baltimore and Glen Burnie. "They changed things up. I understand everybody's point of view. I definitely understand the county's point of view, and I can understand where the kids are coming from, too."
On a typical day, about 40 people hit the bowl and the street course, Whitehead said. It's usually a good mix of old heads, teenagers and kids on skateboards, longboards and in-line skates, he said. He loves to sit back and watch them go.
"They'll put on a show," he said. "I'll just sit here, fascinated, and watch 'em."
Even with the new rules, Lansdowne is a destination for skaters, even from overseas. As one of the oldest public concrete skate parks in the country, it's got quite a reputation. Name-drop it to skaters anywhere in the United States and chances are they've heard of it, if not skated it, Peck said.
About a month ago, a skater from France stopped by to pay his respect to the relic. Though it's not the smoothest concrete or the raddest course, Lansdowne holds its own charm for both the old heads and the newbie boarders.
"Home," Yannone said. "That's how I'd rank it. ... There's still no place like home."
Starting today, Lansdowne Skate Park, 3326 Bero Road in Lansdowne, is open noon-8 p.m. all week, weather permitting. Call 410-887-1439.