“We got a new waiver form you can sign that’s pretty beast,” the manager of Skate Space 198, David Filchak, tells Bushwick Daily. He guides guests to an iPad placed near the newly-opened skate spot’s nondescript metal entryway. Behind him and another door, some twenty or thirty people ricochet off the walls, rapidly propelling themselves on skateboards inside a well-lit room of newly built cement ramps.
The appearance of street iconography indoors–or maybe just its sheer newness–gives off an uncanny effect; ramps, strategically-placed garbage cans and handrails, all once meant to imply the leftover space of parking lots, here look shiny, almost as if made of pewter. Another ramp, made of exposed brick, brings to mind a recently-remodeled apartment.
Newly open and free to anyone able to haul their skateboard during scheduled hours to the Jefferson Street L, Skate Space 198 is the latest project of Vans, the pop punkish-affected sportswear brand that arose out of the dust of suburban California’s ‘90s skater-adjacent scene before it was bought by an outdoorsy apparel multinational called the VF Corporation. The brand’s last sponcon project had been a small warehouse wedged between Williamsburg and Greenpoint that it had christened the House of Vans, which opened in 2010. A New York Times writer later likened it to “a concrete box,” and it shuttered its doors in 2018 after an extended concert series.
“We’re trying to stray away from the concerts,” Filchak says of the programming planned at the company’s new, somewhat smaller Bushwick location. A nondescript warehouse that previously housed some of the neighborhood’s Citi bikes, it is located within the grey maze behind Flushing Avenue that’s become a hub for quirky bars and indie rock venues. Filchak, a former elementary school teacher who says he’s a part of the city’s skateboarding scene, is hopeful that what is, by his account, Brooklyn’s only indoor skatepark will be a hub for people to practice “in the winter months when it’s unbearable to be outside.”
Visitors entering the space will encounter a kind of waiting room populated by chairs decorated in the style of the company’s recognizable checkerboard slip-ons, once worn past the end of their late ‘00s heyday by Kristen Stewert. A copy of Jerry Hsu’s coffee table photo collection “The Beautiful Flower Is the World” sits largely untouched on a nearby table, and the walls are studiously filled with canvas-sized prints of photos of young people in the midst of zipping past grungy-looking streets–the more brightly-colored shots bring to mind Bart Simpson’s moves in the extended version of the Simpsons intro. Another Vans representative named Zach Sheats tells Bushwick Daily that the selection of work by the photographer the Jonathan Mehring–who the company sometimes sponsors–is the first of many “skateboard-related” displays that will mark Skate Space 198’s engagement with the arts.
“Cultural things inspired by skateboarding are going to happen,” Sheats adds.
The constant engagement of brands like Vans with skateboarder street cool has become vital to the soul of the sport today. As the NTY mag writer Willy Staley put it just last year in a story on Supreme’s big-ticket signing of Tyshawn Jones: “It’s perhaps helpful to think of skate companies as being like monks who sell cheese: By letting outsiders buy goods imbued, vaguely, with their magic, skaters can go on living in their strange, cloistered world.”
For a vector of a fashion conglomerate, skateboarding also signifies the open pockets of new affluence. In the ‘90s, Washington Square Park and, later, Tompkins Square Park, had become hubs of New York’s gangly, graffiti-streaked take on California’s bordering culture–scouting the neighborhood out, inadvertently or not, for the sterile world of cocktail bars and redeveloped condos that would come in their wake.
Located adjacent to a recently-shuttered Nicaraguan restaurant that received acclaim two years ago for its menu of rums, Skate Space 198 arrives to mark Bushwick’s place in the procession of the sport’s never ending pursuit of highbrow cool.
“I don’t think it’s a secret that Bushwick is kind of changing and becoming a much different neighborhood,” Sheats says, “It’s a neighborhood where an artistic and younger creative class is starting to live.”
Sheats adds: “Williamsburg is still a wonderful place but it’s not so much the creative hub that it once was.”
Skate Space 198 is currently open for skateboarders from Thursday to Sunday, but prospective borders are told to RSVP for free via Eventbrite.
Photos by Jonathan Mehring for Vans
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