Roller skating has experienced waves of popularity in New York City from its beginnings in the 1860s through the present day.
In 1863, James Plimpton patented a new roller skate design that allowed for a smoother motion while skating, making the sport something that people actually wanted to do. In the same year, Plimpton also opened the first roller rinks in the United States in New York City – naturally – and also in Newport, Rhode Island.[i] While not immediately popular in Brooklyn, in 1867 the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that roller skating was the “feature of the season’s entertainment”[ii] and by 1877 there were roller rinks throughout the city.
From the late-19ththrough the mid-20th century, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle is filled with advertisements for roller rinks in the neighborhoods of Bay Ridge, Brighton Beach, Crown Heights, Downtown Brooklyn, and at the border of Bedford Stuyvesant and Bushwick. Roller skating also spilled out into the streets. In the early 1900s, people gathered to skate on the streets of Brooklyn at what were called skating “carnivals.”[iii] In one incident in 1908, four people were arrested after repeated complaints for skating on Stuyvesant Avenue near Putnam Avenue. It was reported that the smooth pavement at that location was attracting between 200 and 500 people each day, skating with “horn and whistle accompaniment.”[iv]
The image above of two women valiantly attempting to roller skate along a bumpy dirt road in Bensonhurst in 1925 illustrates Brooklynites’ enduring enthusiasm for the sport – an enthusiasm that continues, even today. True, the Empire in Crown Heights– touted as the “birthplace of roller disco” – closed its doors in 2007,[v] and Coney Island’s Dreamland Roller Rink survived for only two years, from 2008 to 2010.[vi] There are no longer hundreds of people roller skating in hordes on the streets. Still, roller skating in Brooklyn is not dead. Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 2 opened in May with a new roller rink,[vii] and the new LeFrak Center in Prospect Park offers roller skating, roller derby and roller hockey, attesting to Brooklyn’s continuing interest in all things roller related.[viii]
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Author: Halley Choiniere
[i] http://amhistory.si.edu/sports/exhibit/removers/plimpton/index.cfm (Smithsonian Institution)
[ii] “Sports and Pastimes: Skating,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 4, 1877
[iii] “Roller-Skating,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 27, 1911
[iv] “Of 500 Roller Skaters Just 4 Are Arrested,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 3, 1908
[v] Bernard, Sarah, “The Last Go-Round,” New York Magazine, October 25, 2007 (http://nymag.com/homedesign/greatrooms/29415/); Bleyer, Jennifer, “The Last Lace-Up,” The New York Times, April 22, 2007 (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/22/nyregion/thecity/22empi.html?_r=0)
[vi] Durkin, Erin, “Coney Island Lola Staar’s Dreamland Roller Rink loses bid to renew lease at Child’s Restaurant,” New York Daily News, May 5, 2010 (http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/brooklyn/coney-island-lola-staar-dreamland-roller-rink-loses-bid-renew-lease-child-restaurant-article-1.444866)