15 Things: Brooklyn Banks
15 Things You Didn’t Know About
The Brooklyn Banks
1. Built in the mid-’60s under the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge, the Brooklyn Banks has been a hub for the New York skate scene since the early-’80s. The spot has banks of varying sizes, wallride pillars, ledges and rails. O.G. Banks local and original Zoo York crew member, Eli Gesner remembers skating at the Banks when the bricks were still so new powerslides were impossible on the grippy surface.
2. According to Gesner, the earliest contest held at the Banks was an event in 1985 put on by Shut Skates founder, Bruno Musso. Fiveboro’s Steve Rodriguez remembers that at one of the early contests, a scuffle broke out and someone was shot, a contest first.
3. The foundation of the Brooklyn Bridge that faces the Banks is historically known as the Anchorage. The structure has rooms inside but today all entrances are sealed. Homeless squatters lived in these rooms in the ’80s and early-’90s. The Anchorage dwellers, who stole electricity for their encampment by hotwiring the streetlamp atop the small banks, developed a friendly relationship with the skaters, allowing them to use the electricity to run their PA systems for contests.
4. According to Steve Rodriguez, some of the squatters used to run a chop shop inside the Anchorage. It took years for the police to uncover the operation happening right under their noses. The Police Plaza of the First Precinct is directly across the street from the Banks.
5. Fights used to be a regular occurrence at the Banks as hoodlums from the nearby projects would storm the spot to rob skaters. Gesner remembers an epic battle on Halloween in 1987. “At the time there were only like 30 skaters in New York and we were all skating the Banks when these kids from those projects ran out,” he explains. “They all had goalie masks on and bats and it turned into a huge brawl.” At least no one got shot.
6. The wall on the lower side of the Banks was once only a small barricade until a car careened down the off-ramp and crashed right through it. A thicker wall was built, and Christian Hosoi became the first to ollie over the soon to be famous obstacle.
7. After Hosoi’s groundbreaking ollie, a laundry list of tricks were thrown over the wall. But when someone ollied it without looking for traffic, a long, black limo slammed on its brakes, stopping inches short of crushing the skater. The limo was carrying none other than former New York mayor, Rudolph Giuliani. Within a week, a large spiked fence was erected atop the wall to stop the skaters. Within days Mike Vallely ollied over the new obstacle.
8. In the late-’80s, shops in New York were few and far between, but a small operation called Benji’s was run out of an apartment in the projects adjacent to the Banks. Keith Hufnagel remembers, “Benji used to have a skateshop on the 11th floor. You’d have to go into the building and knock on his door and some kid would lead you to a back room. We used to go there ’cause you could get boards for cheap. If my parents knew I was going to the projects into some random dude’s apartment, they’d have been like, ‘Hell no.’”
9. The Brooklyn Banks were first showcased in Powell Peralta’s Future Primative where Steve Caballero, Lance Mountain, Christian Hosoi and Dave Hackett are featured hoisting bonelesses and slappying the brick curbs. Robert Russler also made the scene. He went on to portray Tommy Hook, leader of the infamous Daggers in the movie Thrashin’. One sequence in Future Primative shows Lance rolling over a dead rat with his board. “It offended tons of people,” Lance remembers. “For some reason, people were bummed that we ran over a dead rat.”
10. Mark Gonzales was the first person to boardslide the nine-stair rail adjacent to the smaller banks. Saro Tegrarian was the first to hit up the 13-stair rail with a frontside 50-50 and Jamie Thomas was the first to skate both rails in one line in his breakout part in Toy Machine’s Welcome to Hell.
11. In the mid-’90s, the handrail that went down the Banks’ nine-stair disappeared. Rumor has it the rail was stolen by a pro rollerblader who kept it at his house so that only he could ride it. A replacement railing was built by Vinnie Raffa and his crew for a contest and anchored into place in the middle of the night. That replacement railing lasted several years until a police car accidently backed into it.
12. After the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, the NYPD became concerned that a terrorist could drive a bomb into the parking garage under Police Plaza. Deciding it would be safer if all vehicles were parked outdoors, the Banks became the unofficial parking lot of the NYPD. Skating at the banks became nearly impossible for several years. The weight of the vehicles and their oil leaks wore down the surface of the bricks and the Banks began to show their age.
13. When controversial photographer and film director Larry Clark set out to cast characters in his 1995 film Kids, he used skateboarders he’d met at the Brooklyn Banks in both starring and supporting roles. Clark, an avid skateboarder at the time, is by far one of the oldest Banks locals. He was still skating the Banks at 52.
14. Every so often someone builds homes for cats down at the Banks. These feline sanctuaries are 3 ft. by 3 ft. styrofoam boxes filled with hay, labeled, “Cat Shelter: Do Not Move.” Still, the only cat Steve Rodriguez has ever seen down at the Banks was one that had been set ablaze and left to burn inside of a flaming tire in the late-’80s.
15. After the smaller banks were remodeled and deemed unskateable, Rodriguez and other mindful skaters contacted Capital Projects Manager Robert Redmond, who was receptive to their plight to save the spot. The larger banks were preserved and even improved upon by taking existing granite planters and making skateable benches out of them. Unfortunately, a miscommunication among city employees led to the ledges being removed again the next day. Luckily for New York skaters, Spitfire and Fiveboro pooled money to hire City contractors to replace the benches. The Brooklyn Banks is a true success story. Unlike Pier 7 or EMB the Banks have become one of the only original influencial skatespots still standing.