Brooklyn Banks: A Retrospective

brooklynbanks title v2 Chad Muska frontside flips during the Shorty's era. One-two, one-two     Photo: Burnett
brooklynbanks pullquote 1Designed by M. Paul Friedberg and constructed in 1972, the Brooklyn Bridge Banks became the epicenter of NYC Skateboarding from 1985 until the late 1990s. As the eventual main meet-up spot for skaters Downtown (Washington Square Park was the first), the small banks (between Park Row and Rose Street) and the big banks (between Rose and Pearl Streets) was a place that allowed skaters free reign where you could basically do whatever you wanted. Ironically, it was right next to the main police headquarters at police plaza but because it was hidden by large walls and off ramps on one side and the bridge on the other. It was a hidden urban valley where anything went. During these years anyone and everyone had to skate The Banks. For the locals it was their skatepark and for out-of-towners it was the first place to go when you visited the city. It was the warm-up spot before there was a warm-up spot and most days you would end up staying there the whole day because it had everything—from the small banks, granite curbs, a nine-stair with a rail, granite ledges, big banks, different-height wallrides, a ten stair (backside for goofy footers) and the big 13-stair rails and steps that Jamie Thomas 50-50d at the end of his famous Banks line. And just when you thought everything had been done there you would see footage or a photo of something done on a part that you never even knew about or thought was possible to skate—like when Quim Cardona blasted a frontside grab out of the bank to wall on the Frankfort Street side of The Banks. —Steve Rodriguez

brooklynbanks photo 1With the Twin Towers looming, a young Keith Hufnagel tosses a varial flip over the wall at the Brooklyn Banks contest–April 18th, 1993     Photo: Wallacavage

brooklynbanks photo 2Todd Laffler, Matt Wood, Mike Vallely and Rod Smith behold the boy king Sean Sheffey, 1989     Photo: Thomas
brooklynbanks pullquote 2The Brooklyn Banks are not in Brooklyn. It was a spot that we always took for granted and they’re not easy to skate. It’s rough and dirty and you don’t want to fall or wear a crispy white shirt there. When you are rolling around on those bricks you can’t help but feel the history of the place. —RB Umali

brooklynbanks photo collage 1Left: Block films while Billy Waldman and Chris Pastras look nervous     Photo: Thatcher
Right: Wallflowers Coco Santiago and Rod Smith     Photo: Thomas

brooklynbanks photo 3One of the greatest skate photos of all time–Harold Hunter flyin'!      Photo: Thatcher

By the mid ’80s, Downtown Manhattan and The Brooklyn Banks were crawling with skaters and derelicts. I can tell you from personal experience it was a killer scene to be a part of! —Rodney Smith

brooklynbanks photo 4 Mike V snaps high on some early SMA-Rocco wood     Photos: Thomas
brooklynbanks pullquote 3BANKS FOR THE MEMORIES  
My first and favorite memory of the spot was secretly following Harry Jumonji and Ian Frahm from Soho Skates to The Banks. Before that I didn’t even know they existed. I kept about a block back and lost them as they bombed down the hill on Park Row. They had made the sharp right into The Banks area which I saw for the first time as I came to a stop at the bottom of the hill. I remember turning my head to the right and seeing Harry do one of those two-wheeled freestyle carves on the edges of his wheels on The Banks. That moment is forever ingrained in my mind and was my introduction to The Banks. My second favorite memory is any session when the Gonz rolled up! —Steve Rodriguez

brooklynbanks photo collage 2Left: O'Dell's favorite photo. Mike Kepper blasts off     Photo: Thomas
Right: Harry Jumonji, freaky two-wheel styley     Photo: Thomas

hosoi b banks wall ollie THATCHER DZ BB 2000PXHosoi hops the barrier before noses were a big thing    Photo: Thatcher

We were skating from the small banks to the big banks and out of nowhere Natas hops up the curb to skate with us. He did a demo in Long Island the day before but it was a pleasant surprise to see him unexpectedly. Natas, he was so big then, we all loved him. —Gino Iannucci

brooklynbanks photo collage 3 v2Left: Jeremy Henderson. Oct, 1989
Center: Jeff Pang. Feb, 1993
Right: Chad Muska. Oct, 1995

My favorite story has got to be assisting Stacy Peralta, Craig Stecyk III and Mike Vallely at The Banks on a filming session for Public Domain. Mike and I skated The Banks and Stacy and Craig filmed and directed. Mike, as always, shredded with a vengeance and it was fucking hot that day. Before the video hit the shelves, Mike told me that there was a cameo section of me. Though I was forever not the skater trying to throw my face in front of a photographer, I can’t lie—I was stoked for that hook up! —Rodney Smith

brooklynbanks photo 5A pint-sized Javier Nunez flicks a fakie flip in 1993. He wouldn’t be little for long     Photo: Wallacavage
brooklynbanks pullquote 4If it wasn’t for The Banks, a lot of people would not have their career started in skateboarding. That place was more than a skate spot, it was a place where a lot of kids from broken homes and different walks of life could go and forget about all those things and just skateboard collectively. No matter who you were, where you from, what race you were, it was a place where everybody would meet and forget everything else that was going on in life. —Javier Nunez

brooklynbanks photo collage 4Harold Hunter was a Banks killer. Pop shove, early 90s     Photos: Elmuts

brooklynbanks photo collage 5Left: Line up: Jeff Pang, Kyle James, and Erf     Photo: Stones
Right: Leo Fitzpatrick, early-90s gold!     Photo: Stones

That contest in 1993 was insane. Watching Harold Hunter win $1,000—that was a lot of money in those days! He did a backside heelflip over the wall in a Jersey Devils hockey jersey. They killed a rat! That was a big thing. It was a wild day. —Quim Cardona

brooklynbanks photo 6Featured in the first 411, the contest in Spring ’93 introduced skaters around the world to the Banks—dead rats, tagging and all. Jahmal Williams varial flips above the ruckus     Photo: Wallacavage

PROTECT YA NECKThe wildest thing I ever saw at The Banks was during one of those epic contest weekends. It seemed like there were 1,000 skaters at this particular contest and no air to breathe in sight. All of a sudden this scrappy dude walked right up the middle of the action during someone’s contest run. Needless to say, the heckling started. The scrappy dude stopped and started yelling shit at the skaters and as we know when skaters are grouped together and doing their thing, interruptions are not welcome. Within seconds, 20 skaters rushed this dude and suddenly he pulled out a gun, pointed it at everyone while moving in a circle and waving the gun from side to side yelling, “What y’all gonna do?!” I’ve never in my life witnessed a crowd of people flee a scene like that! Practically every person there ran and skated away for their lives. I didn’t run. I just sat on The Banks wall. I “shit a brick” for a moment, didn’t move, nor did I look directly at the dude and he eventually ran off adding no casualties to his list. —Rodney Smith

Crowd Wallacavage 94 DZ BB 2 2000PXAnother epic contest weekend, 1993      Photo: Wallacavage

My first session there as a teenager was with Steve Rodriguez who warned me about board jackers. “Don’t worry about getting jacked; just don’t stop skating.” Sure enough I witnessed someone’s board getting snatched and a fight between two brothers who skated. Maurice Key’s famous line on Rose Street where he almost gets run over by a car is probably the wildest thing I ever filmed there. —RB Umali

brooklynbanks photo collage 6Left: Pop redefined. Quim Cardona, fakie ollie     Photo: Elyashkevich
Right: Babes at the Banks? It happened     Photo: Wallacavage
brooklynbanks pullquote 5There was a time when there were freestylers down there. We’d sit and watch. There were breakdancers. The Banks was like a free zone for self-expression. It was out of the traffic; it was a quiet place for New York City. The only reason my mom let us skate there was because we had a gang of older guys around to make sure we were alright. Nothing ever happened, bro. Even with the biggest crowds, everyone looked out. We’d always stick up for each other. Nobody ever got hurt, unless you got hurt on your skateboard. —Quim Cardona

brooklynbanks photo 8Froston, backside flip     Photo: Wallacavage

BEST OF THE BESTI had attempted to ollie the fence a day or two before and almost impaled myself. I went back to my parents’ home in New Jersey and had nightmares about it. But I woke up resolved to do it; I just believed it had to happen and that I had to do it. I called Reda and told him to meet me there. They built that fence to stop us from skating the banks, from launching into the street, but I felt that I, that skateboarding had gotten the last word, that the chapter was closed properly. Soon after that, the upper banks were made completely unskatable. —Mike Vallely

brooklynbanks mikev grabCheck the knob flying in frame seven! Mike V has always been tough as nails     Photo: Reda

I was skating with Jamie Thomas the day he filmed that epic marathon line in the Zero video. He was skating the rail and he kinda pushed me to grind it, too. Dimitry got the picture. He just showed up and we were sessioning the rail together. Then, right after I grinded it, he delivered the craziest line that nobody will ever match! People still talk about it to this day. —Quim Cardona

Gino Iannucci KF BS Tail Brooklyn Banks 1998 photo Reda14201 DZ BB 2000PXWe'd rather see Gino kickflip back tail     Photo: Reda

Danny Way nosesliding the rail riding away with a snapped tail. Me and Kareem having a good session filming for Trilogy, that stands out, too. —Gino Iannucci

brooklynbanks photo 7Show-stopper Danny Way while the East Coast looks on     Photo: Wallacavage

Keenan Milton at Brkyln Banks DIMITRY DZ BB 2000PXHistory remembers him as one of the hardest ripping. Keenan Forever     Photo: Elyaskevich

The hardest ripping skaters at The Banks? Damn! There are so many to mention, yet I’ll give it a go. In my mind the top would likely have to be Christian Hosoi, the Gonz, Mike V, Huf, Keenan Milton, Chris Reily, every rider on the Shut Skates and Zoo York teams, Kyle James (in Timberland boots), Jeremy Henderson, Harry Jumonji, Ian Frahm and Pepe Torres, just to name a few. —Rodney Smith

The first time I saw Jason Lee, I went to The Banks by myself and he was there with two other people. The ad with him doing a tré flip had just come out. At that time people couldn’t fathom doing that trick, but Jason pushed as fast as he could on the uphill to hit the hip of the little banks and blasted one of the biggest tré flips I’ve ever seen—first try! When I saw this firsthand, it was life-changing. —Jeff Pang

TrainwreckBanksBSNAtiba DZ BB 2000PXAs far as Baker-makers, this back noseblunt by Trainwreck might be the best     Photo: Atiba

Kyle James could do any trick on the bank wearing Timberland boots while riding anyone’s board. So many people have killed The Banks over the years, but no one did it like Kyle James! —Rodney Torres

brooklynbanks photo 9Freddy and Kalis eye the lines     Photo: Atiba

There were so many eras, but to me no one skated The Banks better than Harry Jumonji in the mid ’80s. His style was insane and his pop was second to none. Other standouts at that time that I witnessed were Chris Reily, Harold Hunter, Bruno Musso and Jeremy Henderson. From the ’90s era I’d say the Cardona brothers (RIP Mike)—they skated everything at The Banks and made it look so easy. Kyle James, Jamal Simmons, Huf, Mike Kepper and Ivan Perez were other bank destroyers. —Steve Rodriguez

harold hunter switch kf DIMITRY DZ BB 2000PXThere is no story of The Banks without Harold and vice versa. Switch flip from the Golden Era     Photo: Elyaskevich

brooklynbanks photo collage 7Left: Alien Dill, feeble the racks     Photo: Reda
Right: The Ghost of Old New York (and Joey Alvarez). Switch flip     Photo: Elyaskevich

The wildest thing I ever saw was Ben Kadow doing the handrail first try, no warm up. And Hosoi ollieing the wall in Insane Terrain, but I wasn’t there. —Mark Gonzales

When it comes to the best, Huf, Quim, Jefferson Pang, Loki, Ryan Hickey and Kyle James are the first names that come to mind. Quim’s nollie varial flip and Javier Nunez’ switch flip over the wall are my favorite standout tricks. —RB Umali

brooklynbanks photo collage 8Left: Willy Akers, modern moves, 2006      Photo: Cronan
Right: Mike Cardona, RIP     Photo: Reda
brooklynbanks pullquote 6 V2In 2017 I skated there with Mark Gonzales for some double actions in the rain. It may be my favorite moment ever skating there, or in skating period. —Mike Vallely

brooklynbanks photo 10Mike V and Gonz, rust never sleeps      Photo: Wallace

Most memorable session was after the Skate NYC contest. Mike Ternasky, Brian Tucci and Brian Lotti followed us to The Banks and we skated with those guys. Tuccis’ footage in Hokus Pokus was from that day —Matt Bell

If I have to pick just one person I would say Keith Hufnagel skated The Banks the best. He hit parts of the banks no one hit, always had epic footage and photos there and he grew up in the city. Also Jeff Pang—can’t leave him out. Then you had later generations come and crush the place like Wenning and of course Zered. Some standout tricks to me would be a photo I’ve seen of Steve Olson carving the small banks looking all stylish and epic probably from 1981, Mike V ollieing the fence, Jaime Reyes front boarding the rail and Rob Welsh switch 360 flipping the wall. But maybe I’m biased since I shot them. Ishod at Back to the Banks just doing so many tricks over the rail next to the big banks was epic! —Giovanni Reda

brooklynbanks photo 11Jaime Reyes, 20 years before the Skate Kitchen      Photo: Reda

THE END? To lose the The Banks would be to lose the heart of NY skateboarding. Everything else besides the fountain in Flushing and the Con Ed banks are gone! And this was THE meet up spot for so long, the culture and history that came out of it shaped East Coast skateboarding to what it is today! —Steve Rodriguez

brooklynbanks photo 12Controlling the mayhem, Steve Rodriguez     Photo: Morf

As a parent now, I would want to bring my son to The Banks when he gets older and say, “Look, we skated at this place. This is where my best times were in life.” You want to keep that going for the new generation of kids. We don’t want to see that spot gone, and then they build another fucking skatepark. —Javier Nunez

brooklynbanks photo collage 9The Stormin Mormon Josh Maready rocks to fakie     Photo: O'Dell
Dr. Z, switch crooks into the future, 2009     Photo: Reda

kotr.girl brooklyn2 DZ BB 2000PXCrailtap? Nah, Rick Howard goes for the Crail snatch

The loss of The Banks would spell another strike out for the skateboard community. There have been two outlaw skaters who have gone up against the establishments of New York city government in the defense of skateboarding, and those two are Andy Kessler (RIP) and Steve Rodriguez. For Steve, I think, the longtime fight to save The Brooklyn Banks has been his toughest battle and it isn’t over yet. Let’s support from afar and support in person if possible to make something happen. —Rodney Smith

brooklynbanks photo 13Photo: Morf

The New York of old is now a gentrified Disney town but The Banks is still a dirty, grimy corner of the city that skateboarders could call their own. No smooth softball court can replace the significance of what The Banks have contributed to this city and the global skateboard community. The loss of The Banks would forever change what NYC skateboarding is. —Jeff Pang
brooklynbanks pullquote 7 brooklynbanks antwuan From Ian Frahm’s layback rock to Antwuan Dixon’s switch frontside flip, The Banks have seen it all. If you were able to skate there, remember the sound of those bricks beneath your wheels and count yourself lucky     Sequence: Atiba

Please sign the petition to SAVE THE BROOKLYN BANKS at Change.ORG
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