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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The China Banks are some of skateboarding’s most hallowed ground. From being a pivotal filming location for Powell Peralta’s The Search For Animal Chin, to the site of Joe Valdez’s tricks that earned him a devoted cult twenty years after the fact, to the host of numerous NBDs, magazine covers, and even 2018 video part enders — there are few street spots in skateboarding that have been able to endure FOUR DECADES of continued innovation and history.
…but those are San Francisco’s China Banks.
New York‘s China Banks are perfect three-foot-high quarterpipe transitions, which are ideal for a city that didn’t begin getting a surge in actual skatepark transitions until the 2010s. They have gaps between them, a hip, and are the perfect size for anyone looking to have fun learning a transition trick on a natural quarterpipe. The only catch is, of course, that they are made out of perhaps the only surface less conducive to skateboarding than fire or water: cobblestones.
So why have our Chinatown Banks, constructed out of some of the worst possible material for skateboarding, endured as a kinda-sorta-maybe-could-be spot for the past ~twenty years?
You know those friends who always find themselves in “project” relationships, where they try to see the best in the person despite countless red flags, and drain themselves trying to “fix” their significant other? That’s New York skateboarding’s relationship with the China Banks — I mean, have you seen the garbage we skate? We look at bad spots through rose colored glasses, thinking they’re mere steps away from perfection. We’re co-dependent on these bad spots; the plain trick on the bad spot just means so much more than if it’s a hard trick on a recycled plastic bench in a parking lot. Maybe if we approach them just the right way, and apply just the right tweaks to them, the Chinatown Banks will love us back.
Unfortunate for us, things don’t always work out as optimistically as we hope.
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Skate spots are living, breathing things. They shift with the socioeconomic climate of the time, and position themselves to best adapt with people’s needs. Skateboarding has always been reflective of greater society, so it should come as no surprise that our lives were pushed into Columbus Park as we began to get pushed out of the pricier, glossier haunts that we once frequented in lower Manhattan.
Columbus Park sits on ominous ground. It was built on top of what was once America’s first slum: a hotbed of vice, disease, murder and clashes for control that have been documented in many books and films. Though it would take decades for the neighborhood to rid itself of the notoriety it earned throughout the 19th century, the city built Columbus Park in 1897. A hundred years passed, and then a guy from Clifton, New Jersey came along. The park began its second life as one of the few downtown spots you can skate in 2017 without getting kicked out.
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Skateboarding thrives on the meet-up spot and the skate spot. The skate spot requires an obstacle; the meet-up spot does not. And yes, the skate spot can double as both.
But what about the in-between spot — the proverbial comma of the session? It’s the place where you grab a bite, sneak a beer, talk shit, look at girls, kick your board around, and hopefully,
summon the willpower to move on from ignore a “party on so-and-so’s roof”-text to continue skating. Astor Place was a one-time comma between downtown and midtown, but got phased out of popularity by the late nineties.
Even back when New York had actual low-bust plaza spots, Houston Park was unavoidable. In today’s current mode of cruising the Lower East Side until you hopefully maybe could find a propped up roadplate, it’s still unavoidable. Houston Park has metamorphosed with every cultural shift in New York skateboarding. What was once a B-list pitstop in the gilded age of unknobbed marble became a vibrant hub in this era of skating garbage and walls. We felt it only right to honor how far it had come.
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