Putting Up a Roller Derby Track with the LA Derby Dolls
After months of searching, planning, fundraising and waiting the LA Derby Dolls – Southern California’s premier, all female, banked track roller derby league – have found new digs to house their sport.
When the landlords at the Doll Factory in Historic Filipinotown announced that that property was due for demolition and development, the members of the league weren’t sure at first if they could survive the shakeup. But in the DIY spirit of the community they created, they rose to the challenge, banded together and began their search.
The Derby Dolls come from all walks of life, so the architects among them stepped up to help identify the best in the warehouses they could find, and the lawyers helped to cut deals. As Vodka Toxic told me, she looked at over 30 spaces before a lead took her to an unlisted space that turned out to be perfect.
On the other side of Downtown from the Doll Factory - in LA’s oldest neighborhood of El Sereno - it has room for the banked track and a flat track, plus all the bleachers, risers, etc. Once the zoning issues were settled and Building and Safety signed off it was time to move.
The Doll Factory has been home for almost seven years, so moving out is more than packing a few bags and trucking the track across town.
It means gutting the building and moving the track, risers, press box, bleachers, locker rooms, concession stands, box office, gym, infirmary, and practice equipment. There are multiple yard sales and a week of demolition.
Some of that is no brainer work, reducing risers to lumber to be donated to projects (I may have scored a little something to upcycle). I buckle on my tool belt to lend a hand for a shift, teaming up with Fleetwood Smack, Carmen Monoxide and Disco Tex.
We tear down and pile up a dozen of so of these platforms.
Returning them to their original form of individual 2x4s, 4x4s and plywood sheets.
Taking down and moving the banked track is not one of those mindless demo jobs. As Tex puts it, “It’s a beautiful DIY orchestration – hopefully.” Teams of skaters, refs and the track monkeys (dedicated to maintaining the track) assemble in shifts to do the work. This is an all-volunteer organization, and the signup sheets for spots on the shifts fill up almost instantly. The process moves like clockwork, which is what happens when you put Amber Alert, coach of the Fight Crew, in charge of coordinating the move. Section by section the track is taken apart and loaded onto trucks.
The Panels - The next day, the trucks back into the loading bays in El Sereno and more volunteers line up to slide them off the stack and carry them into place, one at a time.
These things are not light.
There are six to ten people haul each numbered panel across the space and into its location, determined by Cameltron, who’s done multiple track moves in the past.
With so many helping hands, in little time the panels fall into place, with excitement mounting as the track reforms, even though it’s still disassembled. From the various clusters of workers, over and over you can hear, “Who brought their skates? I want to skate on it.”
After hours of work, and one head wound, enthusiasm is still high. (An upright clocks Volt Ron in the skull. He’s assisted and taken to an ER by California Roll, a doctor in her non-derby life. They return later for more work, Volt with staples in his head.) When pizza arrives no one wants to stop and take a break. Finally, they’re forced to eat in shifts.
The Uprights - Two abutting panels are lifted together, and a ½-inch cotter pin goes through a bracket on an upright, joining the panels.
Then an arm on the upright is bolted in place under the track.
This happens at each adjoining corner on the up side of the bank, while a support leg is bolted under the mid point of each panel.
It’s heavy lifting, awkward angles and tough to line up the pin, so each time one slides home there’s a moment of celebration.
The Bolts - With these supports in place, the builders lay down on creepers to roll under the track and bolt the whole thing together.
Slamin’ Amazon disappears under the track like a free diver with a drill driver and a supply of nuts and bolts.
To get deep under the track, Elle Driver abandons her creeper and squeezes into the smallest spaces.
The Handrails - As the bolts go in, the track is finally safe to walk on.
Skatum O’Neal is the first to climb up and stand on the track in its new home. The celebration lasts only a second as she gets to work, installing the handrails with a nut and bolt into each riser.
The Surface - With the handrails going up, the surface of the track is going down.
Masonite sheets, each unique to the spot where it fits, are carefully lifted and carried, so they don’t snap in the middle. Wreckonomic Stimulus screws them in place, struck by a sunbeam through one of many skylights.
The track is one panel shorter on each side than it was at the Doll Factory, so a few sheets will have to be re-cut for a perfect fit, like the panels on a battle ship.
The Gear - The track is coming together on one side of the warehouse, and back at the loading bays one truck after another is dropping off equipment and risers and furniture and lockers and everything else that goes into a sports league.
Anyone not working on the track is offloading materials and then going back for more.
Carrying a heavy pair of benches together, I introduce myself to one woman, thinking she’s part of the league, but Dora is a local, happy to see the derby moving into her town. “All the girls in El Sereno are so excited,” she tells me. She has two daughters and wants both of them to join. One’s old enough to be on a team, the other is the perfect age for the Junior Derby Dolls.
The Wrap Up - Before the opening bout on May 16th, the track has to be checked and adjusted and shimmed to ensure that it skates like it should. And it has to be painted with marine grade paint in custom colors “Derby Gray” and “Derby Pink.”
But all that will happen later. The last of the handrails and Masonite sheets are secured in place and at a certain point, late in the day, people look for what to do next and realize they’re done – and they’re tired. With a happy, but weary round of high-fives (and one accidental punch in the mouth) the skaters, refs, track monkeys and friends filter out to their cars.
Dora leads a small party to a local spot for some refreshment. When we walk in the door, the crowd turns and asks, “Are you the roller derby?” When Jade to Black answers “Yes,” the place erupts in cheers and applause – Derby Dolls, welcome to your new home.