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The Brooklyn Banks

Now believe it or not, there was a time, even in NYC when there were no skateparks. Starting in the late 1980’s The Brooklyn Banks provided one of the only skateable banked areas in the city. It's name derives form the area under the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge. Now this place for decades has been an extremely popular spot for skateboarders. It has even been cemented in history, featuring in a number of video games, including Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2.

It’s made up of a number of smooth banked surfaces. All the banks are made of red bricks, which gives this spot an iconic look that is easily distinguishable. On either side of the bridge, these banks vary in size. One side (between Park Row and Rose Street) includes smaller banks that back onto a plaza, on the other side (between Rose and Pearl Streets) there are larger banks that are accompanied by these large pillars that act as the foundation to the Brooklyn Bridge. Not only are the big banks skated, but the pillars also act as a obstacle for many tricks. Over the years ledges have also been added to the top of the banks, giving this spot a pure DIY feel, along with ramps on the flat sections next to the banks.

Photo of the larger Brooklyn Banks before they were closed off in 2010.
Photo: Rasmus Zwickson

Close up of the larger Brooklyn Banks
Photo: Zombieite

The whole area however, is much more than just banks, there are multiple stair, ledges, rails and flats. The natural environment really is perfect for skateboarding. So apart from the larger banks, there are a number of iconic sections that have been used by skateboarders over the past decades. One of those is on the smaller bank side, there was a transition from the bank over a ledge to one of the exit ramps on the bridge. Some famous footage was shot of Eric Koston doing a Nollie Backside Heel over the ledge in 1997.

This section also made the cover of Thrasher in Feb of 1993, with a shot of Jeff Pang, doing a backside shifty over it. In 1999 Mike Vallely also ollie’s over this thing, after they installed a metal fence around it to stop people skateboarding. This is one of the crazier things that we have seen from the Brooklyn Banks, the day before he completed it he almost impaled himself. This fence is so high, it’s insane that he manages to get over this and does it so confidently.

Jeff Pang on the cover of Thrasher, February 1993
Cover: Jeff Pang - Backside Shifty Photo: Ortiz

The famous 9 stair that is divided by a rail features in majority of the footage that is out there of the Banks. This also made the cover of Thrasher in October of 1995, featuring a 5-0 by Chad Muska. Another famous clip is the Jamie Thomas line, which starts with a grind down the 9 stair and ends with a 50-50 down the larger 13 stair set on the larger bank side of the bridge. There are countless famous tricks to come out of this place over the decades, these are just a few.

Chad Muska 5-0 grind at The Brooklyn Banks. Cover of Thrasher October 1995.
Cover: Chad Muska – 5-0. Photo: Dalgart

The skateboarding community has had to save the banks on multiple occasions. This has mainly been pushed by skateboarder and community organiser Steve Rodriguez. Steve is considered the Mayor of NYC skateboarding, with over 3 decades of skateboarding the city. He is one of just a few skateboarders who were riding everyday throughout NYC during the 80’s and 90’s. During the 80’s he would skate the city doing deliveries and other errands, in which he was able to discover many skate spots. Apart from saving the Brooklyn Banks, he has his own company called 5Boro skateboards and has been a part of organising many contests and designing skateparks.

Steve Rodriguez skateboarding The Brooklyn Banks during the 1990's.
Steve Rodriguez Photo: Gunars Elmuts

In 2005 New York City agreed to keep the larger banks after the city remodelled over half of the skate spot, yet the little banks were destroyed. It was during this same year that Steve Rodriguez started the annual Bank to the Banks competition to raise money for restoration for the area. Yet the fight was short lived. During 2010 New York City turned the space surrounding the larger banks into a storage facility for the Brooklyn Bridge restoration project and the entire area was closed off for well over a decade. During 2014 a petition was created to reopen the Banks, without avail.

The smaller banks of the Brooklyn Banks being demolished.
Smaller banks being demolished.

Fast forward to 2020 with the Banks still shut, the city began removing some of the red bricks from the area, this started a panic within the skateboarding community, taking to social media with #ripbrooklynbanks. It was during this time that another online petition was set up called Save the Brooklyn Banks this initiative was created by collage student Jonathan Becker. With help from Steve Rodriguez, the petition has gained over 54,000 signatures. This petition also caught the eye of The Skatepark Project, originally the Tony Hawk Foundation. Who agreed to help out with the planning and restoration of the area.

What has now kicked off is Gotham Park, an initiative by Brooklyn Bridge Manhattan, a New York State not-for-profit co-founded in 2021 by Steve Rodriguez. Gotham Park is the development of a new public space that will act as a central junction for the greater Manhattan Suburbs. In this plan along with the help from The Skate Park Project, is for the smaller and larger banks, (plus surrounding areas) to be rebuilt, and reopen this skateboarding mecca.

During May of 2023, stage one was opened which included the famous 9 stair with rail. Stage two of this project is set to commence during 2024 once the bridge work is finally completed. Rebuilding the small and large banks along with the plaza are scheduled to take place during stage two.


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