Evidence of Art

If you've ever visited the basement of the Hall of Justice — and who the hell hasn't? — then you know it houses the Police Department's evidence room. It's a dingy space, with blah-brown linoleum floors and fluorescent lighting that could blanch the tan off George Hamilton. Metal shelves stacked with boxes full of items seized from criminals and crime scenes line the room, whose ambience offers all the cheer of a mausoleum.

But rare is the mausoleum that displays a piece of skateboard art.

The installation, consisting of 20 small panels cut from skateboard decks and connected with hooks, brightens one drab wall of the evidence room with color. Hanging in four columns from a thin metal rod, the wooden panels bear scuff marks and stickers, the signatures of the boards' original owners. Decals of a buck-toothed walrus and a flaming demon's head mingle with those for Ninja ball bearings and Real Skateboards. (Let it not be said that boarders can't embrace both individuality and brand loyalty.)

The artwork's title, Section 100 As Ammended [sic], provides a clue about why sliced-up skateboards decorate a room in which cops store confiscated guns, knives, and other crime-related bric-a-brac. Section 100 of the city code specifies where skateboarding is prohibited in San Francisco. When Tony Hawk wannabes break the law by grinding stairway handrails at, say, Fisherman's Wharf, cops slap them with a $110 citation and take their boards.

A scofflaw can retrieve his ride from the evidence room once he covers the fine. But a good many of the busted boarders never bother, since $110 goes a long way toward a new set of wheels.

The cops donate, auction, or toss items left unclaimed in their possession for 18 months. Three years ago, with a surfeit of boards piling up, the SFPD approached the folks who run the artist-in-residence program at San Francisco Recycling & Disposal. The program provides a stipend and studio space to artists to turn trash into art. The job of creating the skateboard piece fell to Henri Babenri Johnson — or, rather, to his owner.

Henri is the 10-year-old miniature schnauzer belonging to Paul Fresina, the program's director, who sometimes borrows the pooch's name for his nom de guerre. Section 100 As Ammended — Fresina takes the blame for the misspelling — proved fairly easy to construct, once he figured out how to cut the boards. Before trying a jigsaw, he broke four table-saw blades. “I almost killed myself,” he says.

Fresina's risking life and limb for his art has won the thanks of cops who work in the evidence room. “It's a lot better to look at than just a blank wall,” an officer says, nodding toward Section 100. Then he holds up a Beretta handgun, confiscated a few days earlier. “Or this.”

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