Civic Center — A Profile of the L.E.S. Skatepark at Ten Years

Words by Ian Browning
Photos by Christian Kerr

“Tell me how someone shits on a wall?” Nestor, who works for the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, says to me between bites of a ham-egg-and-cheese on a roll. The first Parks employee at Coleman Playground is supposed to unlock the bathrooms upon arrival, but the men’s room is out of service. Nestor is the second person from Parks to show up — a lawnmower driver is sitting in the bleachers by Market Street, waiting for a lawnmower to be dropped off — and there is a piece of paper that reads “Bathrooms OOS” taped to the door of the bathroom. Nestor dances around what’s actually wrong in there, but the situation is severe enough that a second Parks employee reiterates that it is closed before I can say a word to him.

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Meet Me At The Mall — The Skateable History of Allen Street

According to The Street Book: An Encyclopedia of Manhattan’s Street Names and Their Origins, Allen Street gets its name from William Henry Allen, the youngest Navy captain in the War of 1812. (Our then-recent ex, Great Britain, was beefing with Napoleon while America stayed neutral. The U.S. was trying to send a flow box to France, and Britain felt some type of way about it. Like any bitter ex who sees someone else wearing your hoody after a messy break-up, they went to war.)

Legend has it that Allen was in the English Channel on the hunt for opposition, when he stumbled on a Portuguese cargo ship carrying wine. Him and the squad had a wild night with the haul, but unfortunately, got caught slipping by the British on the following day. Allen and his crew’s colossal hangover would be their last: British canons shot off his leg, and he would die on August 18, 1813.

200 years later, L.E.S Skatepark was born.

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Farewell Sunshine, Skate Premiere Institution

Though they announced that the building had been sold in 2017, yesterday, Sunshine Cinemas confirmed that it will shut down for good on Sunday, January 21.

In its time, Sunshine probably screened as many skate videos as the living room TV in your average Brooklyn skate house. Initially pioneered by Josh Stewart in the late 2000s (I think…), skate videographers from all walks of life — huge corporate companies, right down to the guy going broke repairing his VX1000 every month — flocked to Sunshine to premiere their videos. While plenty of other smaller downtown theaters dubbed skateboarders personae non gratae unless you had a backer to fork over a giant security deposit, Sunshine’s modest fees made it a go-to for anyone with a video to play.

Sunshine was a steady thread in New York skateboarding’s extracurricular life. Like China Chalet, or the belated KTV, it was a place where we all went to be, for lack of a better term, bad. And they let us live: often looking the other way on letting people sit in the aisles when it got too crowded, sneaking in adult beverages as long as it was not painfully obvious, and sometimes leaving a cloud behind once the premiere was over and people were done screaming at the screen.

Like the rest of the theaters that no longer wanted to put up with our shit, in 2016, we became unwelcome thanks to people taking this too far and deciding it was ok to do graffiti inside the theater. Until that point, it was an unlikely and indirect supporter of a culture that often lives on the fringes of employment, yet still holds value in the community that comes together for a good video premiere in an actual movie theater.

Thank you Sunshine. You will be missed, probably more and more each time someone wonders where to premiere a video not-in-a-bar, or in, …Brooklyn ;)

BUT FEAR NOT, where there is an end, there is also a new beginning, and another equally important Lower East Side institution will return next week. You can add a second floor and digital kiosks, but you can’t take the Delancey out of Delancey McDonald’s. One of the city’s most iconic Golden Arch locations will reopen BIGGER and BETTER on January 15.