Construction to renovate the Tompkins Square Park ball-field — better known as the T.F. — began today. Posted signs say that it will reopen on December 1st. However, we’ve been around long enough to know that the city takes its time, and that date could get extended into the future.
We outlined the basic changes occurring to the park in the post announcing the construction: new asphalt fixing all the cracks, obviously no AstroTurf, a painted track on the floor, no more dugouts, more benches (though they are the 1939 World’s Fair benches), and an end to all permitted sports allowed in the space (meaning no more Sunday hockey in the fall or District Attorney softball in the summer.) The skateable obstacles that were in good condition were placed in storage. The ones that were falling apart were discarded.
Though the overall function of the park will not change, there is something bittersweet about it all. Even skaters who turned 21 this year have observed that the neighborhood has undergone profound changes just since the pandemic began — anyone who has spent 10, 20, 25 years in this park has witnessed eons of change from Cafe Pick Me Up to San Loco to Mamani’s to …Blank Street Coffee. The space hasn’t been redone since the early-90s, when Tompkins was emerging back into public life after the Tompkins Square Riot of 1988, and I’m sure the people who saw those changes knew it was the dawn of something else in their time.
Though Tompkins appears in skate footage going back over three decades, it didn’t crystalize into the nucleus of the New York skate scene until the weeks following the September 11th attacks, when it was impossible to skate anywhere adjacent to a tall building in Manhattan, which accounted for about 98% of spots then. It was a support center at a time when nothing felt like it made sense.
Tricks that were learned over those cracks in the asphalt took some people around the world. Lifelong friendships were forged on those benches. Over time, new cracks will form in the ground, and new friendships will form on the benches between people who never sat on the old ones. Regardless of how mystical you want to get about the place, it was a profound part in the life of anybody who spent time there. It’s not disappearing, but it’s changing. But that’s New York. All it does is change.
On our last session there last week, some O.Gs resigned to the familiar refrain of how it will never be the same. Others remarked that nobody will even talk about the renovation a week after the park has reopened to the public. (That latter part depends on how well / hard the asphalt sets.) The fact that the #savetompkins campaign of 2019 that saved the park from being covered in AstroTurf would go on to yield the Parks Department taking consideration in offering to store ramps, or referring to the space as Tompkins Square Skatepark on the closing signs is the marker of a different era than when the cops used to caution tape off the benches so their buddies could play softball unbothered.
It’ll always be the same park. How much you want to read into the changes is really up to you ❤️