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Video: How This Koreatown Plaza Became A Legendary Hangout For L.A.'s Skateboarders
You think you may know Koreatown: whether it be Sun Nong Dan, or Ham Ji Park, or another vaunted restaurant, you've eaten out there enough to cultivate some familiarity with the food scene. But the neighborhood is much more than its gastronomical wonders, of course. And one of the gems (hidden in plain sight) sits outside a building on 3700 Wilshire that houses Radio Korea, Kwon Orthodontic Center, and other businesses.
Known as simply "JKwon" to many, the structure is fronted with a plaza that has served as the proving grounds for generations of L.A.'s skateboarders. The space is rife with a number of design elements—hand rails, raised platforms, concave walls—that have proved to be irresistible to skaters from all over the county. As such, JKwon is regarded as one of the legendary (if unofficial) skateparks in the Southland.
An era came to an end in October of 2016, then, when the owners of the building put their foot down and completely banned skateboarding at the plaza. In remembrance of the plaza, director Spencer Gillespie (working in conjunction with Mountain Dew and Complex Networks' Green Label) filmed a short documentary—Last Days of JKWON— about the space and the skateboarders who regarded JKwon as a haven. "It was almost like this building was made for skateboarding," professional skateboarder Guy Mariano says in the doc. Other skateboarders speak on what it's like to skate in L.A., in particular the whole ritual of finding spots to skate in.
Last Days of JKWON concludes on a wistful note; the film tapped some notable skateboarders to help build a replica of the JKwon plaza in an L.A. warehouse. No, it's not to scale, and its existence was limited to the time of filming. Still, it's inspiring to see the lengths skaters will go to to recapture a piece of JKwon, even if it's for a brief moment.
Gillespie, in an email exchange with LAist, explained that Jkwon was something of a rarity, even in a city that has everything in abundance. "Skate spots come and go in LA. They never last. Somehow, JKwon has been skated for the last 25 years. It's an iconic spot in the center of the skateboarding universe," said Gillespie. He added that JKwon became a popular hangout spot for skateboarders not just because of its array of rails and platforms; the aesthetic of the building was also a big part of the allure. "That's something I think about often—a good skate spot is going to be an interesting looking structure," said Gillespie. "If you really don't want people skating at your building, step one is to make sure it's boring to look at."