How Long Has Roller-Skating Been ‘a New York Thing’? Take a Look

Roller skaters flying up Avenue of the Americas on their way to Central Park in 1980.

For others, roller skating...

For others, roller skating is a wink at a vibrant past. Bob Nichols, 72, has a 1936 poster on the wall of his Midtown apartment of a woman in a red coat and skates, her hand tucked under the arm of a man. “Halloween Roller Skating Carnival,” it reads. “Bring Your Skates.” The poster was created to promote a party on the Central Park Mall.

A poster for a skating event in Central Park in 1936.

Then, the park was swollen with roller skaters — children, mostly, and their keepers — who looped around the Great Lawn in summer and in fall before the snow choked the streets with slush. Mr. Nichols said his parents used to skate at the Empire Roller Skating Center[1] in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, when he was young. His sister did, too; she had a pair of skates with wooden wheels.

Mr. Nichols liked skating outdoors. He began in the late 1970s, just as roller skating rebounded with a disco beat. Then, roller disco dominated popular culture with the catchy sounds of Gloria Gaynor, KC and the Sunshine Band and, later, the Bee Gees. It was popular, too, at exclusive clubs like the Roxy, in Chelsea, where Mr. Nichols occasionally skated.

“It was a celebrity thing,” Mr. Nichols said of the club. “I’m a baby boomer person. We were young and in good shape and athletic enough. Either that or people made fools of themselves.”


  1. ^ Empire Roller Skating Center (

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