Photos by Justin White
The transience of DIY skate spots in today’s society is well known.
Even when you think you have something on lock the unexpected and, depending on your level of pessimism, inevitable can always still happen.
In the winter of 2012 a community of skaters living in the Ironbound neighbourhood of Newark, New Jersey poured their first bag of cement in an abandoned, decrepit, condemned warehouse. Over the following five years “Shorty’s,” as it was soon named (after one of the structure’s residents named Shorty who gave the group her blessing), became a beacon for DIY skate spots. It attracted pros who preferred its dust, gloom, and rough transitions to the bright lights and slickness of Street League at the nearby Prudential Center. It lured skaters from New York City who could rarely be caught outside of Lower Manhattan let alone in New Jersey. It became a necessary stop for any skater visiting the state. It even got a visit from Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and his office, who, at least verbally, approved of the space when they saw the now full-fledged “rec-center” vibes of Shorty’s. And then that all changed when, this past Friday, the key group of skaters who built and skate Shorty’s, and treat it like a second home, received a text alerting them to a wrecking crew ripping the walls down. They all rushed over after work to discover that this was indeed true. Rumours started flying and people started placing blame. Once it became known that the city had nothing to do with it they began spreading the word on Instagram in an effort to get the facts straight and point all the energy towards keeping Shorty’s alive. I hit up John Cruz, one of Shorty’s founding members, to further that mission to use our efforts positively for the future of Shorty’s and DIY skate spots the world over.
How did you feel when you first heard the news?
I don’t know. Numb. I don’t really know how to describe it. Our friend sent us a message that there was an excavator knocking down walls. No permits. No fence. They just started knocking stuff down. We went over there Friday night when we got home from work—they had blown out the front of the building and part of the side, the roof came in on the new section. Social media kind of went into a frenzy and everybody started blaming the mayor and the city of Newark. So Saturday morning we all went down to see if they were still working on it. They were and the city rolled up in two trucks and cops came and kicked everybody on the demolition crew out. Apparently they illegally knocked down part of the building without owning it.
So on Saturday they got kicked out. What were the next steps?
We started cleaning up and taking everything out brick by brick. Whatever we could without heavy machinery. It was rad—a lot of people came out to help. We met with the city on Monday and apparently the city was in negotiations with leasing the property to somebody but they were under the impression it was just a parking lot for trucks and the skatepark would stay. They want to do whatever they can to help us clean up and get it going again. There’s definitely an end date but we don’t know when. Nobody really knows what’s going on.
There’s other plans for that space? No plans to give it to you guys?
No. As of now there’s no plans to give it to us. We’re still allowed to occupy it and keep skating there. We’re supposed to meet with the city again in two weeks and see where everything’s headed and how we can go about cleaning it up properly. They did it illegally and recklessly without permits so we’ll see what happens.
Does it change your viewpoint on Shorty’s and DIY spots as a whole?
No. When you build stuff like that you know it has an expiration date. There’s a really great skateboard community in Newark and we’d all get the ball rolling on another spot. We’d all put as much love and effort into another spot as we did at this one. It sucks if it gets demo’d but we were there illegally as well. You care so much about a place and “you’re not allowed to do that anymore.” But at the same time it’d be really rad to start something new. And we’ve all gotten better at building things. There’s another spot to build somewhere. Mayor Ras Baraka is down to help us look.