TAMPA — Beeps, honks, and the churn of heavy machinery rumbled through the air as the excavator’s claw dug into the graffiti-covered concrete. Large, blue metal containers sat off to the side, filled with pieces of the city’s history.
This is the construction zone at Perry Harvey Sr. Park in downtown Tampa. It’s been a place where the city has struggled to preserve not only the cultural history of Tampa’s segregation-era business and entertainment industry, but also the history of the city’s Golden Age of skateboarding.
This is the site where the Bro Bowl is being demolished.
Work began Tuesday to remove the Perry Harvey Skateboard Bowl, commonly known as the “Bro Bowl,” at the park. The Bro Bowl was the first public skatepark in Florida, and among the first on the East Coast. It was one of three remaining, surfer-style concrete bowls in the U.S. that were born out of the skatepark boom of the late 1970s to early ‘80s. The other two remaining bowls are in Jacksonville, and Santa Cruz, California.
The Bro Bowl was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on Oct. 7, 2013, becoming the first national skateboarding landmark to gain historical recognition.
“It’s a place for kids to go skate and express themselves and be free,” said Shannon Bruffett, director of the Tampa Chapter of the Skateboarding Heritage Foundation. “We always welcomed everybody. It was a community… It was a place for people to find peace.”
The Bro Bowl is being dismantled as part of a larger plan to revamp Perry Harvey Sr. Park and the Central Avenue Village. City officials say the redevelopment project will pay homage to the African-American music and nightclub scene that thrived along Central Avenue prior to the 1960s.
The skateboard park was created and designed by Parks and Recreation employee Joel Jackson, after he passed by a skateboard competition in a parking lot in the Sulphur Springs area. While Tampa City Council members were hesitant at first, the idea eventually sprang to life, and the Bro Bowl was opened in 1979.
Bruffett, 43, remembers the Bro Bowl well. He’s been skateboarding since the age of 6 and remembers meeting friends and learning new tricks there. The nickname “Bro Bowl” came from the sense of community shared between the skaters, Bruffett said.
“We knew each other, but we never knew each other’s names. We would always just say, ‘What’s up, bro’,” Bruffett said. “It was about brotherhood and love. It was just our place, our place to be brothers.”
The Central Avenue Village has its fair share of history, too. Ray Charles recorded his first album nearby. Greats like Ella Fitzgerald and Cab Calloway performed on Central Avenue.
City officials say it is this history the city is trying to preserve with the revamp of the park and village.
The city is bringing in local artists to construct different pieces that illustrate the area’s vibrant history. They will help tell the story of the business and community leaders and what they did, said Brad Suder, superintendent of planning, design, and natural resources for Tampa’s Parks and Recreation Department.
One artist will create sculptures for Leader’s Row, a section of the park dedicated to the leaders of eras passed. Another artist is creating life tiles for the history walk, and a third artist is creating gateway sculptures.
“There’s lots of history that happened here that we’re bringing out with the different artists. The park tells a great story of the history of Tampa,” Suder said.
As for the Bro Bowl, it’s demolition isn’t the end of its history. Part of the new park plan includes a duplicate bowl that will be put in at the north end of the park. A laser scan will help replicate the structure of the Bro Bowl.
The city plans to put in an interactive display that will explain the history and importance of the Bro Bowl. The moguls, or large hills, from the original bowl will be placed around the new skatepark area as seating.
Removal of the Bro Bowl will be complete by the end of week, Suder said.
Bruffett said the memories created there will never die.
“The Bro Bowl is very important. There’s something there, a memorial, for guys like me who grew up skating there. It’s kind of like a final resting place for the bowl.” Bruffett said. “It’s a snapshot of the previous generation’s history.”