23 April 2007
remember when i had my birthday at the roxy?
well, look at this article from today's times. i mean, aren't you so happy that we went?
The Last Lace-Up
Kelly Shimoda for The New York Times
THE GOODBYE GLIDE The 66-year-old Empire Roller Skating Center in Crown Heights, one of the city’s last roller rinks, will close Sunday.
By JENNIFER BLEYER
Published: April 22, 2007
ON Tuesday night, a blurry mass of people could be seen flying and shimmying around the 150-foot-long “miracle maple” rink of the Empire Roller Skating Center in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. The bass thumped and the lights were dimmed. Boys wearing baggy jeans and Yankee caps in every color of the rainbow whizzed along the curves. Gamine girls in halter tops and dangling earrings careened backward on the straightaways.
Empire, as the beloved 66-year-old roller rink is known, sits on Empire Boulevard east of Bedford Avenue on a bleak strip of gas stations, Laundromats and storefront churches. A single-story brick building painted canary yellow and lime green on the outside and decorated with neon palm trees and kitschy murals of dragons and volcanoes inside, it will hold its last day of skating today.
When news of its closing, which followed months of “will it or won’t it?” speculation, was confirmed last month, the announcement rocked the city’s sprawling roller skating community, a mixed-age crowd that revels in a wholesome good time. After the Skate Key rink in Mott Haven in the Bronx shut its doors last year and the Roxy on West 18th Street in Manhattan, a legendary gay nightclub with skating every Wednesday night, closed last month, Empire was the city’s only remaining indoor wooden-floor rink. Its distinction was bolstered by its history as a place where generations of Brooklynites have skated since it opened in 1941 in a former Ebbets Field garage.
The rink, which could accommodate 2,500 skaters, was often so crowded that “if you fell, you couldn’t fall,” said Chester Fried, a former competitive roller skater who grew up skating at Empire.
Attendance dropped in the 1950s with the arrival of television, but it bounced back in the 1970s with the creation of roller disco, said to have originated at Empire. The rink’s traditional organ was replaced with a booming sound system over which a D.J. played the likes of Donna Summer and Stephanie Mills.
In recent years, as young people discovered the thrills of dance skating and speed skating, Empire became a favorite of the hip-hop generation. Young men routinely transformed the rink into something of a human autobahn, linking arms to create a centipede of bodies zipping around the rink.
For many of them, it provided a safe alternative to the wildness of the streets. “I would be in jail if it weren’t for this place,” said Darryl Tyler, a 31-year-old, bucktoothed chef from Bedford-Stuyvesant, who was wearing diamond stud earrings. He had been going there for long so long, he added, “I practically skated out of my mother.”
Although Empire’s building is unremarkable, some regulars tried to save it by having it considered for landmark status, and last month, 200 skaters gathered for a rally outside the rink. But by the time the rink’s fans mobilized, its closing was a done deal. The building had been sold for $4.5 million and was to become a storage facility.
Resigned to Empire’s fate, thousands of people have been circling the maple floor during the past few weeks, including many who had skated there for decades. On Tuesday, Kevon Johnson, a 46-year-old communications supervisor, showed up early to get in when the rink opened at 9 p.m., along with scores of others waiting in a line that snaked down the street. Tying on his custom $800 skates, a high-end pair with black leather boots and Snyder plates, Mr. Johnson recalled when he started going to Empire in 1977 as a teenager.
TOO poor to afford his own skates, he rented pair No. 877 every night. Then, in 1978, Mr. Johnson’s godfather, Marcellus Williams, a skate-dancing choreographer who was known as the poet laureate of Empire, bought him his own pair.
“They were royal blue suede with blue wheels, a blue stopper and blue laces,” Mr. Johnson said with a smile. “When the D.J. saw me, he yelled out, ‘Oh, I see some new skates out there!’ I was in heaven.”
During those years, celebrities like Cher and Ben Vereen made appearances, along with virtuosos on wheels known by their skating nicknames: Pat the Cat. Virgo Black. Ultra Freak. Puerto Rican Mike. Miss Mean Wheels. Roller Rocker Kid.
“From seeing Slinky do a spin and Rap do the first 360, those were the two things I wanted to do,” said Mr. Johnson. “Now I can do a 360 real well. In fact, I can do a 540 and I’m working on a 720.”
As the clock ticked past midnight on Tuesday, many skaters took a moment to mull their options once Empire closed. Some planned to trek out to rinks in New Jersey and Long Island. Some murmured about a new rink that may open as soon as next month in Richmond Valley on Staten Island. Others simply skated, enjoying their last rapturous turns on Empire’s floor.
Posted by annie at 2:13 PM