Starlings leave at sunrise and return at dusk. After St. Liborius Catholic Church closed and the homeless shelter moved, the birds moved into this 133-year-old former sanctuary on the corner of Hogan and North Market, settling in the soaring vault of gothic inspired. In recent years, however, the avian creatures have shared space with a different species: skateboarders, roller skaters, BMX riders, drone pilots, and creatives from the St. Louis area and beyond. who made a pilgrimage to Saint-Louis. Place the district in North City. What was once St. Liborius Church is now SK8 Liboriusa social club for those who tear things up.
Dave Blum, Bryan Bedwell and Joss Hay are among the project’s stewards who now own the building and have spent the past decade rehabilitating the structure and turning it into a must-see, can’t-miss attraction. At first, the men threw big parties to raise money for basic repairs. “Every time it rained, things got a little worse,” Blum says. “So we’d throw a rave or a punk show and then use the money to go buy a whole bunch of mortar and bricks and start fixing stuff.”
Now, however, the group wants to go legit. Their non-profit organization, Liborius Urban Art Studios, has launched a GoFundMe seek to raise funds to further repair the aging structure and turn part of the building into a community center, “much like the Catholic church would have been,” Hay says. Ideally, Blum wants it to be a place where kids can not only half pipe, but also learn trades, like welding and woodworking. The fundraiser had generated just under $50,000 at press time, but the group aims to raise at least 10 times that amount.
Skating, of course, will remain the main draw. Where rows of benches used to sit, there is now a 40 foot green ramp. Where gothic ornaments once decorated the walls, there are now detailed and colorful graffiti portraits composed by the coolest artists. And where parishioners once gathered at the altar, there are now dozens of teenagers and young adults standing on a recent Sunday morning. Many of them hold up skateboards as they wait their turn to grind the rail and get some fresh air in this rejuvenated sanctuary of all things artistic and extreme.
Chris Grindz didn’t believe skate tricks were real. Although he was an avid gamer of the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater video game when it was released in 1999, he was convinced that rail grinds, board flips and vertiginous gravity-defying stunts were the product of pure fantasy. Then he got his own board. “I saw someone do a kickflip, and he recorded himself from the Tony Hawk game,” says Grindz, 30. “I was like, You can do it?! A kickflip?! How do you do this?“He picked up a few things over the last two decades. Grindz also met Hawk when he stopped in St. Louis in 2017 to announce the donation of a grant for the Peter Mathews Memorial Skate Garden in South City. “Hopefully,” Grindz said with a wave of his arm, “Tony comes back and skates this place.”
Joss Hay moved from Scotland to St. Louis when his then-wife enrolled in a doctoral program at the University of Washington. He’s since remarried and stayed in town because of the people and opportunities he found, becoming a partner in the SK8 Liborius project in 2016. Now, as he looks around the building, cataloging the work that went into it has done what he has become, Hay sees a promise kept. “I told my wife that I had never felt so empowered,” Hay says. “We have done what it takes over the past few years to save this building and build a community around us. We try to squeeze as much juice as possible out of this place.
It doesn’t matter that Cass Hecht is only 16 years old. He’s already one of the nation’s top up-and-coming skateboarders, ranked No. 180 out of 18,033 Americans by The Boardr, a global skateboarding organization that collects statistics and maintains a database of skateboarders around the world. “It’s pretty crazy to think I’m ranked this high,” Cass says. “Two hundred people is not a lot of people.” He can thank his older sister, Caylee, for the boost. It was Caylee who introduced him to skating when he was 8 years old. The two would go to the Westhoff Plaza Skate and BMX Complex in O’Fallon, where Caylee first taught Cass how to balance on her board and later how to ride down ramps. After a few years, Cass was comfortable coming on her own. Now he’s a regular at SK8 Liborius and Maplewood Skate Park, constantly adding new tricks to his repertoire. “I want to be more consistent,” he says, “and try to keep a good skate face and not stress out in competitions.”
In the two years since Madison Weiner started skateboarding, she’s racked up a long list of injuries. There was the time she dislocated her elbow preparing for a backward fall on a half-pipe. There was the day she thought she had broken both ankles in a clumsy landing. Oh, and then there was the moment she stabbed her face and lost a tooth. “To hurt myself to the point where I can’t skate anymore is like torture,” says Weiner, “because it’s the only thing I like to do. Most of the time, Weiner is one of the only women skateboarding in city parks. “Whenever I see girls at the skate park, I approach them because they understand,” Weiner says. “Having other girls around also pushes you to try things. If I see another girl taking a ride, it gives me this feeling of encouragement to try something of mine.
A decade of full-contact roller derby competition has made Kelaine Patterson feel like an advanced skater – or at least one willing to try just about anything. Ramp skating? Easy. At least that’s what the 30-something thought. “My first time on the ramp was terrifying,” Patterson says. “I would just throw myself in there, get hurt and say, ‘I’m never coming back’.” But Patterson (aka Loki) came back, again and again, learning to navigate the ramp layout on roller skates and throw yourself like a pro. “Ramp inspired me to overcome my fears,” Patterson says. “Now whenever I think I’m going to be bad at something, I think, You were bad at ramp when you started. But you overcame that, didn’t you? Skating, especially ramps, encourages you to be brave in so many ways. Not just here, when you’re on your skates, but in your everyday life.
15-year-old Ava Verhoff wants to make a living like this, rolling green ramps, meandering street courses, twisting and twirling as she spins her wheels and lands her favorite tricks. “I know it’s not that big yet, but I would love to help grow roller skating and make it a place where people can actually earn a living as professional roller skaters,” Verhoff says. She’s already on her way. Verhoff offers a handful of sponsors, including TSG Pads, Wildbones Sliders, and High Rollers Skate Shop, among others. Late last summer, Verhoff embarked on a 365-day skating challenge, which means she wakes up every morning with the intention of mastering a new stunt, perfecting the tricks she knows or learns a new technique. “I want to be able to do all the stuff,” Verhoff says.
Quad skater Mia Porcelli couldn’t shake the nerves. The first time Porcelli (aka Po) fell down a ramp, they were almost too scared to try. But with a crowd of skaters cheering and cheering them on, Porcelli found the courage to keep going. The support was so invigorating that Porcelli used it to propel himself up and over a street course obstacle for the first time without losing his balance. “Everyone was cheering me on – all the skaters were hitting their boards – and it was a really good experience for my first time here,” says Porcelli. “It was less than a month after I started skating, so it feels good to have such overwhelming support, especially as someone who hasn’t had much support in my life.”
Marie Nicholson stopped scrolling when she saw the church. Flipping through her Instagram feed earlier this year, Nicholson was moved by the sight of the railings and rails decorating the interior of this 133-year-old shrine. She spent hours flipping through photos and videos of other skaters navigating the course and let her mind wander. I have to go to this place – it’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen, she thought. So she grabbed her skates, threw them in her car, and drove the three and a half hours from her home in Burlington, Iowa, to St. Louis. Although the 27-year-old is still new to roller skating, having discovered the hobby less than two years ago, she is eager to learn what she can. Nicholson joined a derby team in Iowa and made several trips to St. Louis. “I’m telling all my friends about this skate park church in St. Louis: You gotta help donate cause it’s amazing.”