By Chriss Williams
Community Board 7 unanimously approved a resolution to name the Riverside Skate Park, in honor of Upper West Side resident and New York City professional skateboarding pioneer, Andy Kessler.
The board’s decision Tuesday, March 3 will be reviewed by the New York City Parks Commissioner for official approval before the skate park reopens in May after a $2.8 million renovation.
The timing of the resolution was intentional, said Elizabeth Caputo, co-chair of the Parks & Environment Committee. She told the board there was no question, that the park—located inside Riverside Park near 108 street—should be named after Kessler upon its scheduled spring re-opening. Committee member Susan Schwartz added, that the park naming had received a lot of support from residents wanting to honor Kessler’s legacy and that the community board received “really touching letters and support from every elected official that’s ever been in New York.”
Kessler grew up on the Upper West Side and was one of the founding members of the Soul Artists of Zoo York, an iconic group of graffiti artists and skateboarders in the 1970s who helped adapt the Southern California-based sport to New York City’s streetscape. Deathbowl to Downtown, a 2009 documentary chronicles the evolution of New York City’s skateboard culture and features Kessler and friend Jaime “Puppet Head” Affoumado, who attended CB7’s full-board meeting to voice support for the name change.
“I’ve known Andy since I was 12-years-old and we skateboarded together until the day he died,” Affoumado told CB7.
Kessler was instrumental in the growth of New York City’s skateboard community and culture. In the late 1990s, Kessler convinced the city to build one of its first skate parks inside Riverside Park. Kessler, also well-known in advocacy circles for mentoring troubled youth by introducing them to the sport, designed the park to include several wooden, bright blue ‘vert’ elements, to challenge skateboarders of all ages and skill levels.
The skateboard pioneer’s sudden death in 2009 from an allergic reaction to a wasp’s sting he suffered in Montauk, Long Island, “was a huge blow to the skateboard community” said a long-time friend of Kessler and member of New York City’s Skate Coalition, Ian Clarke. Kessler was 48-years-old at the time of his death.
Aaron Aniton, a grassroots skateboard advocate present at the community board meeting, never met Kessler but spent the last decade getting to know his circle-of-friends within the skateboarding community. Aniton held back tears as he thanked CB7 for honoring Kessler by approving the park re-naming. “It’s awesome to see the skateboard community and local government come together and create an environment for kids to enjoy for generations,” said Aniton.
Kessler’s friends and fans have fought hard to keep his vision of the park alive. Affoumado, Aniton, Clarke and Ivory Serra, another friend of Kessler, sat side-by-side inside Mt. Sinai’s conference room B where the community board meeting was held. The four men celebrated with hugs, high-fives and arms raised in victory after the resolution passed. “It’s a great honor for us to see this, after all he did for us,” said Affoumado.
“He [Kessler] was really part of this neighborhood and it really brings tears to my eyes,” said board member Doug Kleiman, “I remember him fondly.”
The park is still under construction and scheduled to reopen in May. It will feature new landscaping and design elements such as an elevated concrete plaza with staircase, a quarter-pipe for beginners, half-pipe and bowl for more advanced skaters.