LOOKBACK #11: Washington, D.C.’s Lost Tapes

Filmed between 1996-1998, these local videos are filled with names from the Washington, D.C. area that people who grew up watching old VGs, the “Hoax II,” and “One Nation” will remember, like Matt Gallagher (credited as “Max” in the “Hoax II”), Jacob Scott, Corey Donahue, Gary Gerhardt, Bob Lewis, Matt Chow, and Jeff Laretto. There is also early footage of Philly OGs Jimmy Shuda and Jeff Frederick throughout all three videos, including the earliest known section of a very young Jeff Frederick, made by anyone outside of Philadelphia, in “Clawdius McFlawdius Lives Upstairs.” All of these videos were lost for years. I endlessly searched for copies, but no one had them. The story always went “Yeah, I had a copy, but someone borrowed it, I don’t know where it is.” or “I think so and so has a copy, but he is locked up.” For years, I searched in dusty boxes in people’s basements and garages, and tried to find people no one had heard from in years. I was able to track down what seems to be the last existing copy of Allah Made Chickenz from a guy in Herndon, VA who grew up in the same neighborhood as Matt Chow. About a year ago Jacob Scott hit me up and casually said, “We found ‘Mendicants’ a couple weeks ago. It was like finding the lost city of Atlantis.” There it was on Youtube, along with “Clawdius McFlawdius Lives Upstairs.” It was all there, the grainy 8mm footage, Matt Chow doing a Top Acid down the drop rail at Fairfax Town Center, and the guy singing Tony Braxton at Silver Spring Armory. With the uploading of “Allah Made Chickenz,” the lost trilogy of classic local Washington, D.C. videos is complete. I have been meaning to get it online for over a year for the old heads from D.C., so this is for you guys.

Allah Made Chickenz /1996

Filmed and edited by Duncan Barnes, with some some help from Gary Gerhardt and Matt Chow.

If you don’t want to see someone rip a chicken’s head off and then ,watch the chicken run around with its head cut off I advise you to fast forward to 1:48.

This video is raw. Everyone that skates that I show this video to, no matter their age or where they are from, love it. Hearing people’s reactions while they watch this video for the first time, you would think they were watching a video released in 2010. “Allah Made Chickenz” is full of Jeff Laretto surfing giant kink rails, footage of Matt Gallagher and Corey Donahoe that was filmed for “VG 4” and “VG 5,” steezed out backslides, Wu-Tang Clan, and plenty of falls that make you gasp, then laugh until your lungs hurt. Protect ya neck.

Mendicants / 1997-1998

Filmed by David Birks. Edited by Thomas Cordella and David Birks.

men·di·cant [men-di-kuh nt]

–adjective

1. begging; practicing begging; living on alms.

2. pertaining to or characteristic of a beggar.

–noun

3. a person who lives by begging; beggar.

Years ago, when I was asked what the name “Mendicants” meant, I was told it was a name for deranged homeless people who roamed the streets. I can’t think of a better name for a rollerblading video. “Mendicants” is the definitive D.C. masterpiece and my favorite video of all time. It contains full sections of Gary Gernhardt, Matt Chow, and Jacob Scott. Switch sections need to make a comeback.

Clawdius McFlawdius Lives Upstairs / 1998

Edited by David Birks, Thomas Cordella, and Amiri Roberts.

The last video in the trilogy has plenty of the usual suspects, but the real gem of this video is the Jeff Frederick section that starts off part 4. The entire section was filmed in downtown Silver Spring during the cold D.C. winter, and in it you can see Jeff skating Argons at the age of 14-15 with the confidence and steez that he became known for.

For a few hours on September 1st, news stations across the country were focused on downtown Silver Spring, MD, broadcasting images from the Discovery Channel’s headquarters where James J. Lee was holding three employees hostage. The Discovery Channel building at the intersection of Colesville road and Georgia Ave was built a few years ago, right in the middle of the downtown area of Silver Spring which was the hub of the Washington, D.C. area’s rollerblading community in the ’90s, and where the majority of the spots in the above videos were filmed. Surrounding the building in any direction are new buildings, construction sites, and the capped remnants of old skate spots many people would remember.

Metro big ledge from “VG 5”

Silver Spring was overrun every weekend in the late ’90s by rollerbladers coming from every direction on the Metro, and groups coming in cars from Baltimore and as far away as Philadelphia, Richmond, and Virginia Beach. I spent many weekends as a grommit getting dropped off at the Metro by my parents in the early morning and riding all the way up the redline through D.C. with my headphones on, watching the colorful murals float past as the train neared Silver Spring. Getting off the Metro you were greeted by a giant two-story concrete structure. Giant down ledges and rails lead up to the upper level which was filled with flat ledges that were perfect for lines. At any random time during the weekend there could be over 50 kids on rollerblades taking over the area. During all of those sessions I met a lot of skaters who have remained close friends to this day. A lot of my memories of Metro have little to do with the actual skating or tricks being done.

Aidan Charles / Frontside Farv / Metro

Jacob Scott / Backside Torque / Metro

James McKenna / Fish / Silver Spring Metro

Some days we sat on the benches under the blue and orange tents, laughing, and barely skated. Some days good friends got in fist fights, other days bums would ask us for change and entertain us with stories, and every now and then the cops would come and slam kids into the pavement, scream at us, and hand out warnings and citations. Silver Spring is the only city I have been in that had such a problem with kids on rollerblades and skateboards that they once had officers go undercover posing as drunk homeless men to keep us from skating there.

A short skate away from Metro on Ellsworth drive was East of Maui skatepark and the old Silver Spring Armory, with its ledges and square rails, as well as many other spots like 8484, piss rail, and the yellow kink rail “big bird” that Matt Gallagher kind grinds in “VG 6” located close by.

Matt Gallagher / Alley-oop Makio / Silver Spring Armory

James McKenna / Ramp to Backside Royale transfer / East of Maui Skatepark / Silver Spring

Over the years, Metro had started to deteriorate from years and years of skating. The landing of the long flat ledge now had a giant crater in it from over 10 years of people landing in the exact same spot, and all of the flat ledges on the upper level were chunked. The downtown area surrounding the plaza was changing. Metro was one of the few original Silver Spring spots left, almost like a decaying shrine to days past. The skatepark closed abruptly in the late ’90s, and Armory was torn down in 1998, despite being a historical site. A strip of restaurants now sits on Ellsworth drive where the skatepark was and the Wayne Ave parking garage sits where Armory ledges once stood.

Todd Pomeroy / Torque Soul / Underground Rail / Silver Spring Metro

If you ride the train out to Silver Spring today, pulling into the station you are greeted by a fenced-off quarry-sized hole in the ground with bulldozers, cranes, and other construction equipment instead of the concrete Mecca of D.C. rollerblading. Underground Rail is the only intact spot at the Metro itself, but it is now wobbly. The gap Matt Chow did outside of Einstein’s Bagels across the street in the intro of “F.O.R.” is still there. The news of Metro’s demise broke on the RollDC messageboard. On November 25, 2008, Willie Trebach posted pictures of the entire plaza fenced off and the words “Silver Spring Metro ledges are gone.”

Silver Spring Metro / November 28th

“That’s like seeing someone die. I remember waxing those ledges for the first time in the early ’90s. They really were the place to be on any given weekend. We used to get tackled by police officers, Jeff Frederick got maced there for struggling with a cop once… many, many more memories. It sucks how Silver Spring has just up and changed like that. You can’t really go back to your old spots and just mess around for “old time sake” because there’s nothing left. I remember when the Silver Spring Armory was torn down… that was one of the first spots that went. I never thought this would happen though. But I do agree that place was looking like trash and it didn’t fit in anymore. Anyway… RIP Metro.” — Jacob Scott

Adam T. / Box March 2000

“Metro has been one of the best spots for years. It was the meet up spot, chill spot, film spot. Definitely many good times had at Metro ledges. Peace Metro. — Ben King

We all have spots like Metro ledges. Whether they are still there or not, we will always remember them and the times spent there. All the videos I have posted take me back to that time; back to those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. Although the spots I skate have changed over the years, one thing has remained constant — putting on skates with your friends always lets you forget about the world and feel free from the burdens of real life. I read somewhere that “The ability to reminisce is a gift and a curse. A gift in that you’re able to reflect on joyous memories of days past; a curse after your realize you’re getting that much older.” Every morning this spring I woke up early and rode the Metro into work past the Silver Spring station. With my headphones blaring to keep me awake I would look out the window with my eyes still half open, squinting at the construction site where the ledges once were, and a bittersweet feeling would go through me for a moment until the train started moving again towards Takoma Park. All I could do was sigh, and think to myself something along the lines of what Stew on the DC board said at hearing about the end of Metro ledges, “Man, sometimes ‘progress’ fucking blows.” — Ben Rogers

Photos by David Birks, Ben Rogers, Willie Trebach

Leave A Comment

james - Thursday, September 30th, 2010

Amazing write-up! Early SS will never be forgotten.

– James Mckenna

Thomas Cordella - Friday, October 1st, 2010

Thanks for posting this. Remember editing this video, and david birks going all the filming. It was a great time.

Bob Geovanni - Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

Incredible. This just made my night.

jeremy goetz - Thursday, October 7th, 2010

Fucking awesome. Great article, memories, times, etc. I will never forget the first time I rode past S.S and saw it was gone, it felt like a part of my past had been torn right out of my head and throw into the trash bin. Heres to hoping they build new spots out of the old, since silver spring has sprung into “progress”… Really glad all these oldies but goodies are preserved and being shared like this too.

taylor maxfield - Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

loved the article, great peice of history for us dc folk. i still get the same feelings riding the bus and metro to work and think of all the good times not just the tricks that went down…i was a 1230 gold grom, and am on a comeback for dc after missing 2 summers in a row lets get it boys.

mike hogarty - Sunday, August 26th, 2012

Awesome!! I want my roces fifth elements back!

Michael - Friday, August 31st, 2018

Amazing research gathering all these videos! I’m reminiscing hard, considering I grew up in downtown Silver Spring and saw skaters every day.

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