For drivers who quickly pass the corner of Evelyn and Roland in the Rozelle neighborhood, it's hard to tell the difference between the skate park known as Altown and any another abandoned lot in Midtown. But a further look reveals a skate park in a constant state of construction, complete with mini-ramps, skate boxes, and grind rails.
Zach Beerman, the unofficial leader of Altown, said that the name was inspired by a graffiti message on a park bench downtown.
"The name 'Altown' was written on a bench by a homeless person named Al. The bench was his, so he called it Altown," Beerman said. "It is kind of a weird name, but it just kind of stuck to the spot."
Beerman says the police have shut down the park before, due to a noise complaint, but he sees Altown as a cornerstone in the neighborhood between the Cooper-Young District and Lamar.
"The neighbors are cool with us, and for the most part, they like what we're doing," Beerman said. "I can think of two neighbors who are down there almost every time we pour concrete, helping us out, and that's pretty sick. These are people who have nothing to do with skateboarding. The whole thing is pretty positive when you think about it."
Concrete is like gold to the group of skaters who work on Altown almost every Sunday, with supplies donated or purchased from local hardware stores. There have been a handful of Altown benefit concerts at small music venues around town, and most of the concrete and steel has been paid for by the skateboarders who frequent the spot. Some donations also roll in to Altown from a donation box at the Midtown Skate Shop on McLean, where a donation can be exchanged for an Altown t-shirt.
Although Altown is built by skateboarders, for skateboarders, Beerman said they also allow BMX riders and rollerbladers at the park, as long as they are willing to follow the rules. Those rules are pretty simple: Don't do something that will ruin the place for everyone else.
In addition to providing a safe place to skate, Beerman said Altown is helping to keep neighborhood kids off the street.
"We want kids to get out of the house and exercise, get away from the Xbox and the TV. It's good to get the neighborhood kids active and doing something positive," Beerman said. "The area that Altown is in gets rougher as you keep walking, so we could be keeping these kids out of gangs by introducing them to skateboarding."
Last month, Thrasher put Altown on the map when the popular skateboarding magazine chose Altown to host their "Skate Rock Tour," a concert/skate demo party that brought numerous professional skaters and the editor of Thrasher to Memphis. But even after being recognized by national media, Beerman said he has no plans to change from the DIY ethic that has made Altown what it is.
"I like being able to tear stuff apart and make changes to ramps as we want to," Beerman said. "That's something that you definitely can't do at any other skate park."