The green bench is in Tompkins Square Park right now.
If you’re a skateboarder — or a former skateboarder, or at least somewhat skateboarding-adjacent — and live in New York City, that sentence cannot be read without an exclamation point. The green bench! That’s because this particular 300-pound piece of steel street furniture has become one of the most storied objects to skate around and on, and its arrival on the East Coast adds a coda to a two-decade saga of discovery, theft, loss, reconstruction, and a particularly hard-won switch backside noseblunt slide across its 13-foot arc.
The bench started out as one of a pair, bolted down in front of a medical building in Santa Ana, California. In the late 1990s, skateboarders discovered that the benches’ long, gradual arcs could make any slide or grind look incredibly sick. Some benches (and rails and ledges) are higher or longer or more difficult to skate, but the particular curve of these two was just right. They were, however, set back amid some shrubs, making the approach less than ideal, and some unnamed skaters decided they had to be moved. By the 2000s, both had been sawed off their bolts by enthusiasts and taken from the site.
One of them, it was eventually revealed, had been taken by friends of the professional skateboarder Anthony Van Engelen, known as “AVE.” (He recounted this story this year in a short video documentary for skate blog Quartersnacks.) After sitting in a Santa Ana garage for some time, it was hauled to Downtown Los Angeles for the filming of The DC Video, a classic skate video from 2003 in which AVE and other pros do various tricks across its wonderful curved edge. During the couple of months while the film was being shot, the bench was chained down outdoors overnight. “It was either going to get stolen or someone was going to go there and do something better than you did,” AVE says in the Quartersnacks video. Eventually, someone cut the locks, so “then we put U-locks on it,” AVE continues. “But you know how skaters are — they were like, Fuck it, and they brought a grinder.” The bench was gone again.
Then in 2019, AVE got a direct message telling him that a guy had it in his garage in Huntington Beach. When he went to pick it up, it still had a U-lock around one of the legs. He soon set it up in a parking lot and began shooting another video (at 42, he remains an absurdly good skater). After a few days of shooting, AVE was annoyed with having to drag it back to a garage after he was done skating, so he chained it up in the lot one night. And you can guess what happened: Someone stole the bench a third time.
So he did what any well-off, middle-aged professional skater might do in such a situation: He commissioned a duplicate. Having hauled the thing around a fair bit over the years, AVE knew its length and width, and he went back to the original Santa Ana park and measured out the exact arc of the curve based on the sawn-off bolt nubs that still stick out of the concrete. And then came the real surprise: As the new bench was being made — in heavy-gauge steel by a fabricator that does bridge construction — AVE got a call. The second Santa Ana bench was sitting in someone’s parents’ garage in Orange County and was his for the taking.
It was on that one, set up in yet another parking lot, that he managed to land a switchback noseblunt slide — a ridiculously difficult trick — in last year’s Dancing on Thin Ice video from Fucking Awesome World Entertainment, the company AVE skates for and co-owns. FA, as it’s more commonly known, just opened a new store on East 9th Street over the weekend — mere blocks from Tompkins Square Park. And the proprietors knew exactly what to bring to the East Village to celebrate the opening: the original Santa Ana park bench No. 2.
“It was a mission to get it out there,” as one of the bros at FA put it to me, sounding exactly how you’d expect a California skater to sound, when I called to ask how it got to New York. The first time this thing was liberated from a park, it was tied to the roof of a car; for this trip, FA hired a freight forwarder at significant cost. And as far as AVE is concerned, it’ll remain here. “I hope it stays at Tompkins forever,” he told Curbed. You might think (as the guys I talked to at FA did) that with the bench’s history, there would be a serious security apparatus surrounding it at night. But according to AVE, the bench’s future at Tompkins is being left to fate: It’s just sitting out there for everyone to skate.
Correction: This story has been updated with more detail about the benches’ original and current locations.