The Sounds of Pulaski Park, DC’s Most Sacred Skate Scene

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It has to be one of the most excellent sounds you’ll hear while strolling the blandest sidewalks of downtown Washington, right up there with the go-go car stereo and the chirping of morning birds: the cool hum of skateboard wheels spinning on the sidewalk. To sympathetic ears, it’s an almost meditative roar, like bedtime white noise haunting you in the daylight, but still a little glitchy from the skateboarder’s thrusts, like the ocean with the hiccups. It’s a moving sound, and if you’re on foot it’s faster than you, which means it’s always going up and down. And while it could come from any direction, there’s a good chance it’s headed for one place in particular: Pulaski.

City officials call it Freedom Plaza, and in March the National Capital Planning Commission proposed to give the park at 13th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW a major architectural facelift — which sparked a panic of many skaters in the city during the warm months. (Local skaters have always called it “Pulaski Park” after the park’s statue of Revolutionary War figure Casimir Pulaski.) To them, the geometry of Pulaski’s stone is sacred. You must not touch it.

To see why, go listen. Chase one of these downtown drones until you’ve reached the granite and marble plateau three blocks from the White House – the one with the perfect view of the Capitol – then head up ‘on the east side of the park and listen to the hum of wheels, the slam of bridges. These buzzes and squeaks are sounds that represent creativity, improvisation, determination, fun – and together they create music that lets you know you are on one of the most culturally organic and louder than the district will ever know.

“The way this place sounds and feels like nowhere else,” Jeff Fuchs, 31, said during a weekday lunch hour in Pulaski earlier this summer. Nine to five sat on a nearby ledge, browsing on the salad chain greenery, watching the skaters as they staged repeated rebellions against gravity. When a skater took off for a tailslide, scraping the Pulaski Stone with the edge of his deck, Fuchs pointed a finger up as if the sound perfumed the air. “The scream on that ledge? Old marble, old granite,” he says, smiling. “Old pieces of history that sound and feel different from anywhere else.”

How much longer will Pulaski sound and feel like this? After presenting three options for redeveloping the Pennsylvania Avenue walkways between the Capitol and the White House, the National Capital Planning Commission announced that it would hire consultants to help them refine their plans in 2023. “It There will be several opportunities in future phases of work for the public and stakeholders, including the skateboarding community, to provide input, comment and inform concept development,” said Stephen Staudigl, public affairs specialist at the commission, in an e-mail.

So there’s still time for skaters to skate in Pulaski, and still time for listeners to listen, too. During the day, the park hosts between a handful and a few dozen skaters, seemingly of all ages. “It’s babies and old men here,” Dioren Hallums, 34, said on a blazing afternoon earlier this summer.

Playing music from a 72-kilogram kettlebell-shaped Harman Kardon Bluetooth speaker as he repairs his turntable, Hallums said he’s been skating here since he was 10, but it is unclear exactly when he became one of Pulaski’s unofficial DJs. “Some days maybe I want to listen to techno. Other days it’s a trap. Sometimes it’s old-school hip-hop,” he said “It’s just the vibe.” Then, a song from the Louisiana rapper Are came out of the speaker, his tacky, self-tuned rhymes sounding like they were melting the midday sun.

Skateboarding and underground music culture have always been intertwined, of course, and Pulaski’s history at this intersection spans generations. Hardcore punk dudes from bands of varying levels of fame – from Low tilt to Turnstile – are known to skate here as members of the District 3LG rap group were big Pulaski regulars during their heyday in the late 90s. The fact that a few go-go troupes, including Junkyard Band and TOB, as well as punk heroes Fugazi have performed in Pulaski over the years only makes this sacred land even more sacred.

But ultimately Pulaski’s most important music is made with skateboards. On the last day of August, 26-year-old Donovan Stubbs was making some himself, trying to grind down one of Pulaski’s marble wedges, blocked by the right angle of a ledge that had been worn to a point. gentle curve after years of similar attempts. . Time and time again, Stubbs kept trying to land that round, until his efforts started to sound like a little song. Could he hear it too? “Oh yeah,” he said. “Any time you get that good pop; you hear that good one, one and a half, two seconds of grind; and come out clean? His face cast a look as if searching for another word but could only find one: “Music.”

How long would he stay here? “Man, until I get it!” said Stubbs. Then he laughed and walked away for another pass. The song began with the rumble of its wheels as the city provided light accompaniment: the boastful vroom of a sports car at a red light, the noise and hum of a nearby construction crew, the distant howl aircraft engines as they descended into Reagan National Airport. Then came pop. Milling. The sound of two sneaker soles hitting a drum fills the floor as Stubbs tries to regain his balance. Didn’t come out clean. So he played it again.

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