By Darlene Donloe
For any self-described geeks or nerds looking for a communal CRASH Space, there is one in Los Angeles complete with hackers, programmers, builders, makers, artists and people who generally like to break things to see what new things they can build.
CRASH Space, a Los Angeles hacker space, promotes science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) by teaching classes, participating in events, providing online resources and running a shared workshop.
CRASH, an acronym for Collaborative Research Association of Social Hacktivity, was founded as a nonprofit in 2013 by four members including original founder, Sean Bonner.
Members of CRASH Space use the facility to work on their projects, share ideas and help each other create what ever they envision.
Theron Trowbridge, 52, is one of those self-described “nerds.” He’s also a member of CRASH Space, a former president, and is currently the chairman of the board of directors.
“I’ve been a nerd my whole life,” said Trowbridge, who was born in San Francisco but moved to Los Angeles in 1987. “I became interested in computers at a young age because my dad was a computer systems analyst. We always had a computer in the house in the 70s — even before home computers were a thing. When we got our first Apple computer, I became obsessed.”
Prior to the pandemic, for 21 years, Trowbridge worked at a Hollywood post-production company where he was the director of encoding. He prepared videos for streaming services like Netflix and Amazon. Now, most of his time is spent making sure CRASH Space runs smoothly.
“CRASH Space is basically a clubhouse for geeks and nerds,” said Trowbridge, who attended USC’s film school. “The physical space is a shared workshop for members to work on their project. We have tools and space. Not everybody can fill up their garage with the number of tools they might need.”
CRASH Space consists of a public room where meetings and classes are held. The room is usually littered with various projects people are working on. It also has a library, Shop 1, Shop 2 and a shed.
During the week, classes, most of which are free, are held in the evenings. The main class held on the second Saturday of each month is a 3-D printer class that costs $40. The 60-90 minutes computer numerical control machine class, where participants can learn how to use tools that carve into wood and metal, costs $80. The facility also has a laser cutter.
In addition to classes, CRASH Space, which holds both physical and virtual meetings, has a number of events throughout the week that start at 8 p.m.
The Tuesday members’ meeting is open to the public. That’s when interested parties can see the space, take a tour and meet members.
A robotics event happens once a month on Sunday. Every other Thursday there is a circuit social where a particular member will help other members and interested participants.
There is also Wearable Wednesday — where wearable technology is the focus. There is a group that is interested in art, drawing and sketching.
The Cardboard Cabal works on projects made out of cardboard, while Video Dimsum collects weird videos from YouTube for group viewing.
During the early days of the pandemic, CRASH stepped up and worked with Cedars-Sinai and USC-Keck hospitals to develop and 3D print 35,000 pieces of personal protective equipment for use in clinical settings and private business to help with the N95 mask shortage.
CRASH mobilized a distributed network of people with 3D printers to produce thousands of N95 masks, face shields and ear savers. The project was spearheaded by Ben Sax, a member and a member of the Board of Directors.
The current president of CRASH Space is Elizabeth “Liz” McFarland, the vice president is Barb Noren, and Aquiel Godeau is one of the members of the nine-person board. There is no official staff at CRASH Space. It’s run by a community of volunteers. No one gets paid.
The facility is open ‘When we’re here,” Trowbridge said.
“If members are currently in the space, the sign below will say, “Open,” otherwise check back later.”
The space is available to everybody, although most participants are dues-paying members. There are 70 dues-paying members — each paying $37 per month. Membership gets them access to the space when someone is there. There are also key-holder members, who pay $108 for 24-hour access.
Currently, there are about 1,500 persons on the participant list.
The CRASH Space clientele is quite diverse.
“We have a wide variety of members,” said Trowbridge, who has been married for 17 years. “There are a lot who are part of the film industry. A lot is part of the aerospace industry. There are office workers, entrepreneurs and lawyers. The only requirement is that you have to be 18 and over.”
When participants gather at CRASH Space, Trowbridge said, in general, they talk about “interesting things” going on in the world regarding technology.
“We are a continual show and tell,” he said. “We meet every Tuesday night and talk about everything. Then we do show-and-tell. That’s when members can get feedback.”
Trowbridge said some members’ projects “have to do with coding, writing a wide range of software,” while others are building wearable technology.
“Some build costumes and incorporate technology,” he said. “Some members bring in stuff they don’t want anymore, like electronics, like laser printers that you can pull out motors and encoders. We’re all about creating and sharing.”
Trowbridge said there is only one cardinal rule at CRASH Space, – “Don’t make us make another rule.”
“People live by that pretty well,” he said. “Everybody gets along. The primary rule is that nobody is allowed to say, “somebody should.” If you say that, you just volunteered to do that.”
“Making a Difference” is a weekly feature profiling organizations that are serving their communities. To propose a “Making a Difference” profile, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at email@example.com.