World on Wheels, one of the last full-fledged indoor roller skating rink in the city of Los Angeles, will hold its final lace-up Sunday night. For three decades, the Mid-City institution has won loyalists as an indoor amusement park, party venue, fitness center, haven for young people and hip-hop incubator. It has even played matchmaker.
But a bankruptcy proceeding, a change in ownership and evolving neighborhood tastes have conspired to end its free-wheeling days.
"It's like losing a member of the family," said Nelson Bracamonte, 55, a weekly regular at the rink since its opening on Halloween 1981.
For Antwan "Frreshh" McDaniel, 26, the closure constitutes a loss both personal and cosmic. Back when neighborhood teens wore Afros and drove beat-up Beetles, McDaniel attended his sister's 13th birthday party at World on Wheels. A toddler, he went around slipping his tiny feet into each guest's skates.
He has been a regular there ever since. A few days before the rink shut down, he wore red knee-length pants, a white shirt, gold chains, diamond stud earrings and mismatched skates — one white, one red.
"World on Wheels feels like a dining room, a home, your backyard, a small church," he said.
The place attracted a United Nations of skaters young and old — including rocket scientists, retirees and R&B aficionados.
McDaniel said skating helped him cope with past struggles: parental neglect, his mother's death, his asthma, the loss of a friend to gang crossfire, and his own injury, a wounded leg at age 5 after somebody shot into his living room.
He spent as many as 30 hours a week at World on Wheels, shimmying with other adults or performing his showy "crazy legs" and "shoot the duck" at sessions with children and teenagers.
"This place, I believe, is what saved me," he said.
Through the years, World on Wheels drew crowds by bringing in entertainers. LA Dream Team, a pioneering West Coast hip-hop duo, sang there in the 1980s. The Scooby Brothers, a trio who skated in the 1979 film "Roller Boogie" with Linda Blair, performed at World on Wheels' opening and skated there until the end.
On one of the rink's final days, most skaters were seasoned practitioners who could glide backward and forward with equal aplomb and speed. From the upper-level observation deck, they looked like a swarm, legs crisscrossing, shoulders bobbing. Two women sank into the splits. A man leaped up and clicked his skates together in mid-air. Exuberance was in great supply.
[For the record, 9:15 a.m. June 24: An earlier version of this post and headline incorrectly stated that World of Wheels is the last indoor roller rink in Los Angeles. A roller rink in Northridge remains open.]
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