Space in New York is a precious commodity. Lots rarely sit vacant, building foundations are never left undone, and an open area seldom exists without a security booth watching over its perimeter. The Volcano was an isolated incident. D.I.Y. in New York peaks at the B.Q.E. lot, where a few pillars form quarterpipes and banks, which then get backed into by trucks every few months and ruined. A wide open space is too precious for developers to neglect, and neglect is how every great D.I.Y. story begins.
Shorty’s is the most recognizable D.I.Y. spot the the greater New York metropolitan area today (first brought to the world’s attention by Fred Gall’s “Scum League” series), and it sits in an abandoned warehouse amid an industrial zone outside the city. The nearest train station is a thirty-minute skate away. Skateboarders need to go quite far to be left alone these days.
The spot was started by a bunch of locals living not-too-far-away, in the most ramshackle skate house imaginable. After eyeing the space, the original plan was to cement a few barriers and see how much they could get away with in incremental doses. The volatility with these sort of spaces is high: there’s never such thing as a truly “abandoned” space. All it takes is for one person with oversight to get pissed off about it. Luckily, that *knock-on-wood* hasn’t happened. Shorty’s began with a small volcano in February 2011, and has bloomed into three walls of obstacles.
Though the background of all the footage here features block-letter text synonymous with an iconic late-nineties skate brand, Muska and Smolik have nothing to do with the name. Shorty is a 50-plus-year-old crackhead with the muscles of a 20-something-year-old bodybuilder, which were toned by scrapping metal every day. She used to live in the warehouse before it took on her name, and became an enthusiastic supporter of what the skateboarders were doing. Shorty has since moved on to another living situation, but still stops by to check-in on progress and say hello.
Most of the drug addicts who once lived here have moved on. In fact, all of the negativity associated with the warehouse has moved on. We had pizzas delivered here once and the guy said, “I couldn’t believe where they were sending me. This used to be a crack house.”
It’s not just local skaters who have taken it over. Shorty’s brings positivity to a city with a lot of crime, gangs, and not a whole lot of great things going on for young people. (A few years ago, someone was murdered at the nearest official city skatepark to the spot.) On any given Saturday, there’s a mix of dudes building new transitions around a worksite radio, twelve-year-old hood kids learning to skate, a rap video being filmed around a dented import car parked in front of some graffiti, Peruvian immigrants playing volleyball between a makeshift net, and the occasional goon on a dirtbike zipping through the spot. Cops even send skaters here when kicking them out of street spots.
The roof leads most to believe that Shorty’s is a rain spot akin to an indoor skatepark. Nothing could be further from the truth. Given the dilapidated state of the warehouse, a lot of holes have rusted through the metal roof. Rain gets in easy, but takes forever to dry because the sun barely reaches the puddles. The roof will leak for hours after the rain has ended. Those leaks have become the lifeblood of the spot. There’s no running water or anything as sophisticated as a concrete mixer here, so everything from jugs to buckets to a kiddie pool is put in a position to collect the rain.
Everything at Shorty’s is repurposed. Rain water is used to mix the concrete, empty bottles and cans are used to fill in spaces between rebar and wet cement, and wooden scraps are used to make frames for a lot of the obstacles.
A hat filled with crumpled bills will go around during the height of any session, acting as the spot’s collection plate. Contributions are just short of mandatory; a few friends don’t just build a skatepark out of rain water and thin air. The little neighborhood kid learning kickturns on the quarterpipe might get away scot-free, but don’t think you can spend the day here and not throw in some cash for supplies, or sneak off on a store run when the truck comes back to unload. Some of the dudes who built Shorty’s only skate Shorty’s. They’ll remember anyone not abiding by the strongly implied rules of their spot.
The reason Shorty’s has come closer to looking like Burnside or FDR than your standard foundation D.I.Y. spot is simple, but important: it has walls. There’s a lot more you can do with walls. It would take a lot of work for something like the Jersey City junk spot to elevate anywhere beyond some ledges and low spine ramps, whereas the biggest quarter pipe at Shorty’s is about seven feet tall.
After nearly four years of building and running out of space on the three main walls, the Shorty’s crew set eyes on the remaining fourth one in the central rectangle of the spot. Thanks to the generous support of Levi’s Skateboarding, we were able to get them the resources they needed for the completion of that far corner, some forty-feet away from where the original build began. We’ll be running a video series throughout the next few weeks of how the project went.
[A note to all “You’re blowing up the spot, dude!”-alarmists: Sheckler filmed an episode of Life of Ryan here, Shorty’s is featured in this month’s issue of Thrasher, and there is no Google Map with coordinates present on this page. This entire project was done in collaboration with the guys who started and maintain the spot, with their discretion used the entire way. The spot’s board of governors signed off on everything you see here now and down the line.]