The Howard House (and the Great Lost Ocean Howell Part)- the Interview..

I, Richard Hart, made a skateboard video. You can watch it at my friends’ website-

The Howard House Video

And here, for some sort of context/ explanation, is an interview I did with Live about the house, the video, and.. you know, skateboard nerd stuff…

 

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Portrait of the artist as a young man; outside the HH, 2002.

 

1. What was the Howard House?

Ah, the Howard House… well, like it says in the zine, it was ‘A House, A Mess, A Time and Place’…
It was just a skate house in San Francisco, at a time when a bunch of skate rats without proper jobs could afford to rent one. And at a time when so, so many skaters were moving to town. There were a few other such places (notably 6 Newell, 775 Geary, the Hampshire House etc.). We had a good crew and a good run. It was actually kind of a magical place, in retrospect. The house was on Howard and 12th in what was then a pretty dingy, desolate corner of the city. The saga began when some art students rented it out. They went to an expensive art school, so I think they were all pretty well-off and probably not used to cleaning up after themselves. This was their first time living away from home, so the house got trashed pretty quickly. Anyway, one of those pioneers was a skater- Pat O’Dell, and through him, more and more skaters ended up moving in. My memory is a bit hazy, but I think the HH lasted from about 1996-2004.

 

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Pat O’Dell and John Trippe, 1999.

 

A lot of people lived there at one time or another- we once made a list and it was pretty long. It was mostly skaters, mostly male; though a couple of females did brave the squalor. Some of the better-known names would be Simon Evans, Doug Saenz, Paul Urich, Jessie Van Roechoudt, John Trippe… The most famous skater was probably Ocean Howell, who had just moved back to the US from Uni in Brighton. Ken Reed lived there for a spell, Sloppy Sam once lived in the laundry room; as did Joe Valdez, I think.

And then of course, there were always people staying in the ‘living room’, despite its unhygienic nature. One night the whole Death squad from England camped out in there- a dozen bodies on the grubby linoleum…
The house was a mess. There were piles of skate mags and VHS tapes everywhere. For years, our coffee table was a wooden pallet. There was a hole in the bathroom floor, and at one point we were completely infested with mice. I will never forget the horrendous smell that welcomed us when we got home from the bar, one night. It turns out someone had tried using the stove. It also turns out there were mice nesting in it.
I could write on and on with stories, and perhaps i will, some day.
As Simon wrote: “We had a bathroom with a beard and an extensive library of filth. Although we were poor we were happy, and there was a lock on the door for panic attacks”.

 

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Isaac McKay-Randozzi and Frank Gerwer, 2002

 

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Living room, circa 2002

 

2. Tell me about the parties.

We had quite a lot of parties. And with hundreds of young, irresponsible skaters in town, they were usually pretty entertaining. Usually, too many people would show up and the inevitable sprawl-into-the-street would bring the inevitable Cop shutdown. At one, the fire-escape collapsed under the weight of humans. Amazingly no-one was hurt, and I have a picture of Sean Young jumping over my head as it happened.
It was funny going through photos for this zine/ interview, as inviting homeless men into the party, or watching John smash bottles in his own living room all seemed like quite reasonable behaviour at the time. I also recall one of the more infamous Pier guys, who must’ve been ‘between sponsors’ at the time, nicking chicken pot pies from our freezer. But that could be a Pack of Lies.
Sometimes, in an effort to be more mature and classy, we would have a ‘Cocktail Party’. Which just meant getting a couple of the biggest, nastiest bottles of booze available, and some budget cola and fake orange juice, telling people to ‘dress up’, and making cocktails. Of course, only the girls actually dressed up, and the parties were as messy as ever. One of my housemates even¬† introduced the somewhat unorthodox new cocktail party tradition of eating live goldfish from the tank in the kitchen. Given their living conditions, this may have been the humane way out, poor creatures…

 

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John Trippe decorating, 1999

 

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AJ Mazzu and.. friend?, 1999

3. Why make a ‘house video’?

It was always something we talked about. I mean, we were a houseful of skaters (apart from one eccentric insomniac Korean artist and a teenage German girl who survived on cigarettes and Budweiser). At one point we even had a video-title-suggestion list in the bathroom. I wish I could remember them all. ‘Low Impact’ was one. Also, Newell house were working on theirs! John Trippe has some cool ‘lost’ footage from our first attempts at gathering footy; like the crew drunkenly skating Office Max curbs, in our boxer shorts at 4AM. Actually, maybe that should stay lost…
But anyway, JT moved out and eventually I decided to get a little camcorder to go in my camera bag, mostly to make the HH video, but also just to have, for when i was shooting a photo and there was no filmer there. I would just hand it to someone and tell them to film. Which explains the, uh, variable filming quality in the finished vid.
Unlike Newell, we didn’t have any active pro skaters in the house, but Ocean was skating so well that he really should’ve been pro (again). Simon was still skating well, too, but rarely came out with us and was very dismissive and almost embarrassed about his skate career. Wrongly. You have to remember that I am from England, and Simon was one of the best, most innovative figures in the UK scene of the early 90’s. He didn’t really want to film, but when we would skate to the video shop together to rent English sit-coms, he would still have full-speed nollie flips, regardless of the big heavy Krypto’s on his cruiser board. And then there were a lot of other rippers at our place and next door. Paul Urich and Jeff Reeves were both amazing on any transition. Tim McAuliffe (‘Talba’), who holds the unenviable record of living at the HH on three separate occasions, was amazing to watch skate, too. One of my favourite skaters (and people). He is the one responsible for our almost unskateable mini-ramp (and many other almost unskateable structures). He drew the transitions by eye, and i recall saying “Hmm.. is that not a bit tight?”, which he instantly dismissed… “This ain’t the X-Games, dude!” became his catch-phrase during the somewhat unprofessional construction period.

 

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Tim McAuliffe, 2002

The moment i recall thinking the video would actually happen and might actually be decent, was when i got the line of Ocean doing the 360 up/ backside flip/ wallride crail. That’s when I got excited about it. And then the other significant moment for me was when we got the last trick in the video-¬† his b/s 180 fakie nosegrind, 180 out the hard way. The two of us went to shoot a picture of a b/s 180 n/g. which we did; but then he decided to try the 180 out the hard way. When he got it, I was so stoked (as you can hear) as that was the first time i had ever seen that trick done; it hadn’t (to my knowledge) been in a video before. Maybe a year later, Chris Cole did it in some video, on a smaller ledge and not, in my opinion, quite as stylishly. And since then, a few people have done it, but at the time I filmed it, I thought “Wow; a new trick for our video!”.
Anyway, the footage in the HHV represents the beginnings of a bigger project. it was meant to be a ‘full’ video with parts and all, but when we got back from spending a summer in Barcelona (where I shot an article for Transworld- ‘Never Mind the Balearics’); Ocean, Mike and Simon announced they were moving out. Sensing that the Golden(?) Age was over, i moved out too, and the project got shelved…

 

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Ocean Howell; b/s 180 n/g, 180 out the hard way. Barca 2003

4. Why did it take so long to finally make the video?

I suppose the main thing was that I didn’t think I really had enough footage to do anything with. But then I mentioned it a couple of times to my mate Harry who is a freelance videographer/ editor, and he got intrigued (mainly because i told him I had stuff of Jerry Hsu, his favourite skater). Harry is in his late 20’s and so this was all shot when he started skating, and he was all excited about it. And that, i suppose, is ultimately one of the main reasons why i put it together at last- it is 10 years old, which is a full skate-generation ago. Some of the skaters in it have since disappeared while some now have pro model shoes. Some are now artists, musicians, one is a teacher, one is a secret Special Ops jet fighter pilot…
The other main reason is that I quickly realised I was sitting on a full, unseen Ocean section. And who am I to deprive the World of that?! And watching it anew, I realised just how well he was skating at the time. Though I apologise for my somewhat dodgy filming. (But if you had told 18-year-old me that i would end up filming an Ocean Howell section, well…)
The time just seemed right, anyway. I had started shooting skating again, so it didn’t seem depressingly sentimental for me to revisit the footage. Harry gave me a push and taught me how to import/ edit/ mix etc. and i was away. I made it really fast, then deliberated about adding other people’s footage, but in the end decided just to keep it as-is: all footage from the same camera and the same few months (mid-2003 to early 2004). So, apologies to all the people who should be in the video but aren’t..
A quick note about a couple of the spots that people have asked me about- the blue wallride spot was actually directly opposite the house. There was an architecture firm there, one of the guys skated and made it with some left-over concrete from a project. Now it is a car dealership or something- the spot is still there, but i don’t think you can skate it any more. And then the crazy-looking transitioned room that Puleo skates; that was in London at a great artshow ‘The Side Effects of Urethane II’. It was inside a disused Victorian school and was only there for a couple of weeks. Epic, though.

 

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Bobby Puleo, London 2003

5. Tell me about the zine.

The HH zine is a Plaitford Productions/ Live co-production! It has a load of photos from the house- various parties and such, and some skate pictures- a couple of which are of tricks that are in the video. We had 150 copies hand-made in Paris. Live got half, and my half got sent to me when i was in England, care of Slam in London. Unfortunately, someone at the shop opened the box and assumed they were free magazines and managed to give a bunch of them away! The rest came back to SF with me and I made a batch of DVDs to go with the remaining 50 copies. (Contact Live or PP if you want to enquire about getting a zine- there are still a few left I think.)

6. Where are you living and what are you doing, these days?

Still in SF somehow, but now at a much mellower, more hygienic house. I’ve been drawing a lot, and, after a gap of a few years, I have been actively shooting skating again. I missed it. I’ve worked on a couple of projects with Ben Gore, I’ve been shooting a bunch of the other current SF shredders, and i just got back from shooting the whole Magenta team in Bordeaux where they were filming a new video. It’s all pretty exciting, really. I know I rarely sound enthusiastic about anything, but skateboarding is still the best.

 

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Howard House party gals, 2002

 

All photographs copyright Richard Hart.

 

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