The Mecca of East Coast skateboarding closed almost exactly two years ago and, today, is a shadow of its original incarnation. The three-block space in downtown Manhattan known as Brooklyn Banks (or "the Banks" to New York skaters) was fenced off in May 2010, while workers painted the onramp of the overhead Brooklyn Bridge.
Today the space is divided by more fencing. It houses forklifts, cherry pickers, and serves as extra staging for a bridge-renovation project scheduled to wrap sometime in 2014.
“This is the best skatepark in the world,” said Mike Vallely in 2010. “Because it wasn’t supposed to be a skatepark.” So distraught was the East Coast legend (who grew up in nearby Edison, New Jersey) that upon learning of the closure, he flew from California and skated the Banks one last time.
New York’s Department of Transportation (DOT) oversees the sloped, banked stretch of smooth brick, and has told skaters — though not this reporter — that the project is ahead of schedule. Closely monitoring the project is Steve Rodriguez, founder of the NYC skate company 5Boro and a Banks rider for the last three decades.
“So much has come out of here,” said Rodriguez, who likened the Banks to other legendary spots like Love Park in Philadelphia (recently rebuilt to exclude skaters) or the Carlsbad Gap (demolished) in Southern California. “You’ve got to understand that in skateboarding culture, Brooklyn Banks is one of the most important places in the world.” He voiced concern about the overgrowth and machine oil damaging the Banks’ smooth surface.
Rodriguez spearheaded a movement to keep the Banks open in 2004, when the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation fenced the space off and announced plans to fill it with planters and playground equipment. He worked with Parks officials, and the city eventually installed both plants and skating obstacles, like the 20-foot flatbar at the epicenter of the park. A rep from DOT referred to Rodriguez as “Mr. Brooklyn Banks.”
Rodriguez does agree that the Banks fit in a way that’s appropriately inappropriate for skateboarding, a sport that didn’t belong on roller rinks in the 1960s, or along drainage ditches in the 1970s, or anywhere public after 1980 — right around the time Rodriguez discovered the park, which happened to be near the Chinatown shop where his mother worked.
“A lot of people didn’t know about it and still don’t know about it,” he said. “It’s right downtown, at the center of a lot of other spots. It’s large enough to skate, but it’s also hidden. I think that’s not only what’s so cool about it, but also what saved it for so long, and that’s why it’s always been a place where people have gone to skate.”
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