David Miles Jr., the ‘Godfather of Skate,’ brings a new mural to Golden Gate Park

With backing of the S.F. roller skating community and Rec & Park, Skatin’ Place seeks beautification

By Paolo Bicchieri

Special to The Examiner

Long before he was the Godfather of Skate, or the godfather of anything, David Miles Jr. was living in a monochromatic Kansas world. Then in 1979, he stepped off of a bus and into San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. The world slammed into color all at once, like Dorothy stepping from her crash-landed home into the electric world of Oz.

“It was magic,” Miles Jr. said.

Thousands of roller skaters lined the then-closed-to-traffic John F. Kennedy Drive. Miles Jr. knew how to skate, and it wasn’t long before he became a fixture of the community. In 2013, he turned an abandoned church on Fillmore Street into the Church of 8 Wheels, S.F.’s roller disco heaven. He, and the rest of The City, almost lost it to the pandemic.

Now, he’s about to culminate his decades-long campaign to make Golden Gate Park a fundamental aspect of every S.F. skater’s life. Working with The City’s roller skating community and San Francisco Recreation & Parks, Miles Jr. is bringing a mural to the Skatin’ Place, the park’s dedicated roller zone, designed by his longtime friend and fellow skating fanatic Aimee Bruckner.

For years, Sundays were when the area lit up with wheels. But since the pandemic, just about every day people are zooming in circles on John F. Kennedy Drive near Fulton Street and Sixth Avenue.

“During COVID, it was discovered by a lot of people,” Miles Jr. said. “The pandemic brought new people out who saw they could skate safely and in an inclusive way.”

On Dec. 16 in an unanimous vote, the Recreation and Park Commission approved the final design for the 28- by 93-foot oval mural. Likely in February, the Arts Commission will review the details and give the thumbs up or down. If passed, Rec & Park looks to break ground in the spring. Installation would take six to eight weeks and cost about $2,500.

Tamara Barak Aparton, spokesperson for Rec & Park, said she was thrilled when Miles Jr. and the Church of 8 Wheels approached her team in early 2021 about getting some color under their wheels.

All of the parks in The City have seen a big uptick in use during the last two years. “Golden Gate Park usage has never been higher,” Barak Aparton said. “A lot of that is because John F. Kennedy Drive has been closed to cars since early in the pandemic.”

COVID also has made roller skating popular again. According to Google Trends, the activity hit a five-year high in May 2020 as legions of TikTok and Instagram users became captivated by each other’s glorious spins and backward skating.

The roller skaters of Skatin’ Place, however, have been ride-or-die fans since 1984. Back then, Miles Jr. and other acolytes of the wheel developed the Skate Patrol, a group of dedicated skaters who helped people if they crashed or needed training; they carried medical supplies and CB radios.

“We established a relationship with The City early,” Miles Jr. added. “We didn’t have another place outside of the Skatin’ Place.”

Barak Aparton said odds are good the mural will make it from concept to concrete because “it’s on the asphalt, so not a terribly controversial proposal.”

The mural design by Aimee Bruckner includes an image of the Golden Gate Bridge and a psychedelic color scheme. (Church of 8 Wheels)

The mural design by Aimee Bruckner includes an image of the Golden Gate Bridge and a psychedelic color scheme. (Church of 8 Wheels)

The mural by Bruckner would use yellow, orange, red, teal and purple asphalt acrylic paint, a durable material that resists fading or peeling from heavy use. A weather-resistant sports coating system would allow simple maintenance and retouching.

Bruckner said she started skating around 10 years ago at the end of a life change of her own — she had been working in the music industry and had been diagnosed with a muscular disorder called focal dystonia. She lost her job, and couldn’t use her hand.

“Roller skating finds you right when you need it,” she said. “That was the case for me. I fell in love.”

Since then, she has been part of the Church of 8 Wheels crew, serving as an occasional DJ and graphic artist. She was elated when Miles Jr. suggested she design the mural.

“It was a very easy yes,” Bruckner said.

They went through many concepts for the mural. The community wanted to see a lot of San Francisco in the art — hence the inclusion of the Golden Gate Bridge and the psychedelic color scheme. The piece was more complex at first, but simplicity ended up being key, said Bruckner. It needed to be easy to apply and touch up over time.

“It’ll be a living mural,” Bruckner said. “It needed to be durable.”

Miles Jr. sees the Skatin’ Place upgrade as one piece in a puzzle to keep streets closed in the park. He feels it is too special a place for cars and the pandemic has only confirmed the quality of life benefits it brings to San Franciscans.

It moved his life from monochrome to living color, after all.

“My wife, my kids, my family — everything comes together through Golden Gate Park. This mural recognizes and honors that,” Miles Jr. said.

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David Miles Jr., the ‘Godfather of Skate,’ brings a new mural to Golden Gate Park

With backing of the S.F. roller skating community and Rec & Park, Skatin’ Place seeks beautification