LV skate bowl’s future questioned after church prohibits use

The Gwen Bowl after a recent rainstorm. Though initially a public skatepark on Christ Harbor Church’s grounds, the church’s new owners, Cross Church, based in San Benito, have prohibited The Bowl’s use. Photo by Gaige Davila.

By Gaige Davila
editor@portisabelsouthpadre.com

A skating pool located behind the former site of Christ Harbor Church in Laguna Vista, now San Benito-based Cross Church’s Bay Area campus, has been an alt-culture staple in an otherwise quiet bayside community. 

Sometime between Cross Church’s launch of their Bay Area campus on Easter Sunday of this year and now, a couple of signs have been spotted near what is colloquially known as “The Bowl” on Broadway Boulevard.  

A sign outside The Gwen Bowl posted by Cross Church prohibiting skateboarding and loitering. Photo by Gaige Davila.

“No trespassing,” and, more recently, “No loitering or no skateboarding.”

Eric Brattin, former president of the South Padre Island Texas Skateboarders (SPITS) nonprofit organization, told the PRESS that The Bowl was a passion project, after not being able to build a skatepark on South Padre Island. 

SPITS raised $6,000 to construct a skatepark through skateboard contests, raffles, art exhibits and concerts, taking two years to raise the funds and complete construction. When the City of South Padre Island denied SPITS from building a skatepark on the Island, the organization approached Christ Harbor Church to build a skatepark on their grounds, to which they agreed.

Brattin, now living in Seattle, Washington, has been advocating for the bowl 2,418 miles away from Laguna Vista, posting on Facebook and sharing stories with skaters, visitors and former residents alike on The Bowl’s place in South Texas skateboarding history. 

“I’m many lives away from that whole time, that whole era, but I’m very protective of that bowl, because we put a lot of heart, blood, sweat and tears into making that thing,” Brattin told the PRESS in a phone call. “It wasn’t easy.”

Cross Church’s steeple is seen from inside the Gwen Bowl. Photo by Gaige Davila.

Rumors have circulated about The Bowl’s future, including a plan by Cross Church to demolish or fill in the structure with concrete.

A staff member at Cross Church’s Bay Area campus told the PRESS that the sign was placed there out of liability concerns but could not confirm any other information regarding Cross Church’s plans for The Bowl. 

Cross Church did not respond to the PRESS’ multiple requests for comment. Attempts to reach Cross Church Bay Area’s pastor, Robert Kimberling, have been unsuccessful. 

On social media, several residents and former residents have advocated for The Bowl’s continued existence, including a campaign to contact Cross Church and ask to reinstate its public use. 

The Bowl, when construction was completed in 2006, was the first public concrete skatepark in the Rio Grande Valley and south of Corpus Christi, as documented in articles by the PRESS from 2004 to 2006. The structure is officially known as the “Gwen Bowl,” dedicated to Gwen McCormick, after she was struck by a truck on her way home from the Laguna Vista Library on Broadway Boulevard during the bowl’s construction. “Gwen” is written in Spanish tile along one of the lips of The Bowl. 

Brattin says the agreement between SPITS and then-pastor Don Ceglar was The Bowl would remain open to the public. The Christ Harbour Church’s congregation voted to donate the property surrounding The Bowl to SPITS in 2006, Ceglar told the PRESS, wanting to organize responsibility for its maintenance and liability early on. The agreement was informal, Ceglar said, but was honored by Christ Harbour Church and SPITS and the local skating community. Ceglar noted that he would see members of SPITS regularly cleaning, repainting and taking water out of The Bowl. 

Ceglar said the church kept an aggregate $2 million liability insurance policy on The Bowl for the 12 years he was pastor there, saying the policy would have covered costs for someone potentially injuring themselves. Ceglar said Cross Church could do the same, since churches already have to keep a liability insurance for their building.

Overall, Ceglar said Cross Church’s prohibition of The Bowl’s use was sending an unwelcoming message to the Laguna Vista community, particularly the neighborhood along Broadway Boulevard, who Ceglar said supported the church through the 2008 economic crisis. 

“They supported the church, and now for them to run across this sign that says, in some way, they are not welcome,” Ceglar said. “How rude is that? These are the people who made it possible for the church to stand there.” 

He continued, “I think it would paint the church in a good light to say, ‘there was a promise made by the church, by the people of God, they made you a promise, and they’re going to keep their promise.” 

Though the city had no formal involvement in The Bowl, Mayor Susie Houston agreed that The Bowl’s place in Laguna Vista was valid and should be continued. 

“The skate bowl was built for the kids of Laguna Vista many years ago. Through several changes of church leadership and church names, the kids have been able to have a good, clean fun skating,” Houston told the PRESS. “It would be a shame if the bowl was destroyed and they no longer had a safe place to skate.” 

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