Locals Only: The Origins of the Iconic Dogtown Cross

Few logos rank as high up on the index of the culture of skateboarding than does the famous Dogtown cross. The logo itself is made up of a simple cross and frequently emanating from behind it are wings, rays of light, sometimes lightning bolts, a sun-like disc, and other such imagery. The words themselves are made up of an intersection of the words "Dog" and "Town" which meet at the shared letter 'O.' 

All of this is obvious enough of course and you don't need anyone to explain it to you. However, that still leaves open the question of its origins. The origin of the term "Dogtown" itself is said to have sprung from a conversation back in the day amongst the area's skateboarding pioneers, pioneers like Craig Stecyk and Skip Engblom, who described the Venice / Santa Monica area as being a "dog town" -- the nickname stuck; it has also been suggested, however, that the name may also be related to an L.A. gang by the same name. Whatever the case, its presence on the early Dogtown skaters hand-drawn skateboards only served to cement it yet further in popular lore and the Dogtown cross has similar local origins.

Photo: Glen E. Friedman

According to Craig Stecyk, the effective historian and chronicler of the Dogtown skate scene from back in the day, the inspiration for the Dogtown cross came from a local church in Venice which had signage that utilized a cross with the words "New Bethel" arranged in the same way as the familiar Dogtown cross. The church and the sign is still there to this very day if you want to go and see it and maybe get a shot of it with your DTS skateboard.

We reached out to Wes Humpston, a key artist behind the iconic Dogtown Skates brand and an artist whose artistic influence not only shaped Dogtown Skates but also future skaters/artists like Natas Kaupas. We asked Wes what he thought about Craig Stecyk's origins account and he commented as follows to Skate Culture:
Craig would know. I got the cross from Craig [Stecyk]. One day driving to a pool with Jim [Muir], Craig [Stecyk] and I think Stacy [Peralta]. I asked Craig if I could use the cross on our boards. Craig said sure. Craig had used the DT cross in a skate magazine article with El Thumper. I was just putting "DTS" on the boards at that point, so I started using the DT cross and added banners with names, wings and all the variations to it for the 70's Dog Town Skates artwork. They were made in Dog Town by Dog Towner's and for Dog Towner's.
Wes Humpston's designs took Stecyk's simple Dogtown cross motif and then added further character and personality to it. It is that combination that made it what it would come to be: an icon. 

It should, of course, come as no surprise that the Dogtown cross itself was influenced by other designs. Art, after all, is that way; it seldom if ever is born inside a vacuum. What the origins of the Dogtown cross does point to, however, is yet another instance of a local Venice / Santa Monica connection for a surf and skate community that was well known for its fierce defence of its territory and its proud localism.  

Pacific Ocean Park, Santa Monica. Photo by Glen E. Friedman

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