Sk8 Liborius was an underground draw for a decade. Now St. Louis' skate church is going legit
St. Liborius began serving German Roman Catholics in north St. Louis in 1856. But in the past decade, the Gothic Revival church building has served an unlikely bunch: skater kids.
“Underserved, urban youth are the congregation now,” Dave Blum said.
After the church closed 136 years after its founding, the Karen House ran a homeless shelter on-site. When maintaining the deconsecrated building became too difficult, the Catholic Workers who lived at Karen House handed the church keys over to Blum.
A welder who’d worked on City Museum before turning to farming, Blum helped transform the historic church to Sk8 Liborius, an indoor skate park. Panels of religious paintings are now juxtaposed with graffiti and skate ramps.
Fifteen-year-old Ava Verhoff, also known by her skate moniker Pushy Longstocking, recalled the first time she walked through the church’s doors: “I was like, ‘Are you serious?’ Because the ceiling is so high and the paintings and everything is so detailed — and then there's a skatepark. It's like a dreamland.”
Working alongside Bryan Bedwell, Joss Hay and a multitude of co-owners, Blum built up the indoor skate park’s reputation without ever officially opening the place to the public. For the past decade, they held many skate sessions — and raves — for the underground skate scene to help fund some of the building’s repairs, without attracting much attention from city officials.
Now the trio is ready to open the place for official business. They want to transform the space into an art center, bed and breakfast and a maker space to teach kids various skills, including skating, welding and woodworking.
On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, Blum and Bedwell joined host Sarah Fenske to talk about how they transformed the building into a destination for skaters, musicians and artists from across the country. Sk8 Liborius recently launched a fundraiser to get the building up to code and establish its art center, which will be administered by their nonprofit, Liborius Urban Art Studios.
“We have no desire to stay underground forever. We want to offer what we're doing to the whole city, because I think it's a really valuable thing," Blum said. "I think kids in general in St. Louis, in a lot of underserved places, need spots like this.”
So far, many of the repairs in the building were done thanks in large part to Blum and Bedwell’s backgrounds in construction (Bedwell helped build other skateparks in the city).
Bedwell’s skateboarding advocacy group, Kingshighway Vigilante Transitions, and an “army” of local skaters also volunteered their time to help patch up the skate park.
“At this point, we've done pretty much what we can with our DIY spirit, our bootstrap together, whatever we can do. And now’s the time we need the help to get the big projects done to make everything super legit for us,” Bedwell said.
At first, the Sk8 Liborius team was hesitant to work with city officials on the opening plans — they didn’t want regulations to prevent them from getting the chance to open in the first place. But when they met with the city’s zoning committee in August, their fears were alleviated.
“The attitude that we got from the City of St. Louis was, ‘How can we help you to do this?’” Blum said. “Which was a lot better response than what we thought."
Bedwell added, "We’ve been hiding in the shadows for years."
Monday’s program also included comments from Hay and reflections from local skaters about their experiences inside the skate church.
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.