Live Saturday: Fight Club, D.C.’s Skating Valhalla, Hosts Its Final Show
Five years after its founding by like-minded D.C. skaters, and almost three years after they shut it down, Fight Club D.C. is closing. This time it's for good.
Located in Blagden Alley, the Shaw warehouse—a home to skateboarding as well as art shows, live music, and parties—will host its final show this Saturday with performances by Cloak/Dagger, Maybe, Baby, Ambition Burning, and local party-punk mainstays the Points, the venue's longtime house band.
"It’s more or less politics," says Travis Jackson, the drummer of the Points. "They leased the whole building and the lease ran out."
The warehouse was a hub of the city's skate scene, and was well-known—in whispers—for its Wednesday-night skate sessions, for having one of the largest indoor bowls on the East Coast, and for its raucous underground shows and parties, which generally cost $15 for admission and unlimited beer.
City Paper's Dave McKenna recounted the club's history in April 2007, not long after it shut down:
Fight Club’s genesis goes back to the shuttering in late 2004 of Vans Skate Park, the massive corporate-sponsored outdoor bowl in Woodbridge that had won over the generally anti-establishment skating community.
Skateboarders are a lot like ants: Knock down their home, and they won’t spend much time fretting. They’ll get right to rebuilding. Ben Ashworth and Anthony Smallwood, both longtime skateboarding activists, immediately began brainstorming for ways to replace what Vans had meant to their scene.
And they thought large.
“Anthony thought how great it would be to have a place where people could skate and listen to music,” says Ashworth. “There wasn’t anything like that around here.”
Smallwood confessed his dream to Dan Zeman, a local arts patron and friend to the skating community. Zeman was leasing, but hadn’t yet filled, space in adjoining warehouses not far from the new convention center. Zeman, not knowing he was about to become the Andy Warhol of an incredible underground scene, green-lighted the project. Among his only demands were that skaters not blab about what was going on behind the walls and barbed wire.
By City Paper's account, the space closed in 2007 because the skaters "feared law enforcement, regulators, and neighbors, all of whom they’d successfully fended off despite two years of massive, all-night, diverse, and wholly un-Washington parties, were closing in." Smallwood, in a phone interview today, said it that because the skaters were essentially squatting, with no lease, there was no heat or water. When they reopened the space some months after closing it, "we ended up working out a really good lease with the landlord." Donations from show attendees and skaters kept the space open. (Zeman, who continues to run the space, did not respond to a request for comment.)
The first Fight Club party after its reopening was for Halloween 2007, Jackson says. "The great memories were all the Halloween parties—the whole punk attitude about the place, it was kind of like a GG Allin live-fast-die kind of attitude."
In recent years Fight Club began hosting more touring bands and occasional art shows. Jackson estimates the Points played there 35 to 40 times.
Although he visited Fight Club less often in recent years, Smallwood documented it since its founding. He recently edited around 17,000 photos, he says, and has about 70 or 80 hours of video footage. He plans to compile a book and documentary film, an intention he's had for a while, he says, but one that didn't feel right while the club was still operating. And while Smallwood says he's sad to see the space go, he isn't heartbroken. "It always sucks to lose a good social spot," he says. "Fight Club is first and foremost a skate spot. Skate spots, they’re never meant to last."