TWS Witness: Gonz in NYC 1987 with Jeremy Henderson and Eli Gesner

What’s better than having a witness? Having multiple witnesses. This story pretty much fell into my lap after I scanned and posted the two black and white photos of Gonz—skating what to me was the “Dune and Billy Waldman Rubbish Heap” spot in NYC back in ’87 (I have since learned those were the 'Chelsea Banks')—to my Instagram account. Shortly thereafter Eli Gesner aka Ocularge (former Shut am and Zoo York OG co-founder) commented that he had been at said spot on said day. As these two photos had been reprinted in our 2004 Photo Annual and were credited to NYC legend and Shut pro Jeremy Henderson—I figured Eli would have a cool story of watching the two legends do their thing. As it turned out, he did. But Eli also took it a step further. He conducted his very own interview with Jeremy Henderson. That's a pro-active witness right there.

What I learned from Jeremy was that it was in fact Paul Mittleman who had shot the two iconic photos (Note to 2004 TWS editors). Paul had shot those photos because Jeremy was in the process of filming and showing Gonz around NYC for what would become the 1989 Vision Street Wear video Mondo Vision. While I had not connected the '87 photos to the '89 video I quickly realized this was the NYC section (Gonzo Goes to New York) in which Mark boardslides the Brooklyn Banks rail, front boards and 50-50s another rail, in addition to containing the very footage from the day at the Chelsea Banks. On top of some of the first handrail footage and true raw street lines ever filmed (much of it from the car by Jeremy and by Don Hoffman [son of Stan Hoffman of Upland Pipeline fame) on a $60,000 Betamax camera from Vision), it would also be during these first stays with Henderson in his art studio that Mark would take inspiration for creating his own art, not to mention sparking his lifelong love for NYC—his current residence. If you are one of the few humans still commanding an attention span long enough to read extended text—this one's for you and you won't regret reading. If not, check out the photos bro.

Gonz. Frontside crail tap. Chelsea Banks, NYC. Photo: Mittleman. Reprinted TWS Photo Annual 2004.

Eli Gesner on Gonz at Chelsea Banks 1987:

Can you break down this day?
Eli: I was just a teenager skating in NYC at the time. Shut Skates had just started. We all knew who Gonz was but no one ever thought we would actually see him because no one ever came to NYC to skate. Every once in a while the Bones Brigade or Hosoi would show. That was it. Except for John Grigley. He actually lived in NYC but I was too young to skate with him regularly. This is way before cell phones and the internet so basically you would wait around your house for a phone call and then, when someone called, you and whoever was on the other end would make a 'plan' to meet up. It was all done on faith that the other person would show up. And then you would just leave your house, take the subway wherever, and wait and hope that everyone would link up. Shockingly, 90-percent of the time people actually showed. These were different times. On this day, what seems to have happened, is that Jeremy Henderson hooked up with Gonz through John Grigley to be Gonz's tour guide while Don Hoffman would shoot video of him for Vision. Jeremy called Paul Mittleman to come and watch Gonz. I lived a few blocks from Paul so he called me and we went down to the ‘Chelsea Banks' to catch a glimpse of the legend. When we got there, most of the NYC crew was already there waiting.

Where are/were those banks? Is that the same spot from Rubbish Heap ('89)?
This spot is long gone. We called them 'Chelsea Banks' because they were on the West Side Highway in Chelsea, directly across the highway from, what is today, the Chelsea Piers Skatepark. Today this spot is a little green triangular park, but back then it was a shit show. The homeless and drug addicted lived in the park and would always fuck with us, which was sketchy but the daily situation back then. The spot itself was essentially an asphalt bank that went up from the park to the height of the highway. At the top of the bank, the city walled off the edge with Jersey Barriers to keep cars from rolling down into the bank. So, on one side of the jersey barrier, there was the bank, and on the other, an active highway. If you did a rock and roll and lost your board it was crushed instantly. Or worse, you could fall right into a highway and die. Also, this was before people decide to stop littering and start recycling. So the spot was always full of broken bottles people would toss out of their moving cars. You would always need to grab a cardboard box and sweep the glass away. For me, this was the apex of street skating in NYC. Essentially, it was skating a bank to wall, but with a vertical lip. Being born and raised in NYC I had zero 'vert' skills so I would do things like boneless up to tail on the top, but that was it. But finally, on that day, when both Jeremy and Gonz, who killed vert, showed up? Minds were blown. And yes—same spot from Rubbish Heap.

Gonz. Backside grind. Photo: Mittleman. Reprinted TWS Photo Annual 2004.

How did Gonz connect with Jeremy Henderson? Where they good friends by then?
As the story goes, Vision wanted to shoot Gonz in NYC for Vision Street Wear. Grigley had put Jeremy on Vision and gave Gonz Jeremy's phone number. That's how they met. Then Jeremy let Gonz stay at his loft in the LES and from there Jeremy, Gonz, Hoffman, and the guys from Vision plotted on how to shoot the footage with a 25-pound Betamax Camera. This footage would later become a Vision promotional video called Mondo Vision. If I remember correctly, both Ian Frahm and Pepe Torres were in the video as well, in Vision gear. Not sure of their roll in this but they were both two of the best rippers in NYC back then.

How did Jeremy decide to shoot on the streets?
Shooting street skating was kind of new territory and giant 25-pound Betamax video cameras did not help. Apparently, Jeremy got the idea to shoot Gonz skating down the street out of the car that they rented. Jeremy shot the bulk majority of that Gonz footage. Then Dorfman, Hoffman and Vision edited it later. Those were some of the first street skating 'lines' ever shot. Later, when Jeremy and Gonz finally made it to the Chelsea Banks, we were all there waiting to see Gonz. Paul Mittleman had his camera and shot some amazing photos.

How did you get invited along? Shut am?
If you're a native New Yorker, NYC is a just a giant small town.

What else was Gonz putting down on this barrier?
His tail blocks and front lipslides are famous from that day, but what I'll always remember is that there was a little kink between two jersey barriers, like a tiny elbow. Gonz was backside ollieing from one barrier to the next. And he for sure did lots of strange stalls and inverts on it. Inverts were the shit in 1987 and it was all just mind-blowing. Now you see everything on video, but back then no one in NYC had seen anything like this in person. It was like we were trying to shoot three point shots and then Jeremy and Gonz rolled up and were doing 360 slam-dunks. It was superhuman. Actually, it kind of ruined the spot for me. Years later, I did a super long frontside boardslide there that Harold Hunter saw and would always talk about. That was the highlight of my skating at that spot. But after watching Jeremy and Gonz I knew how bad I sucked. It was a life-altering event watching them skate this death trap with 18-wheelers and busses blasting by at 60 mph just inches away. I think that's in the video. I loved that spot.

Where you tripping on Gonz? Had you met him before? Know who he was?
This was the first time I had ever seen Gonz in person. He was LEGEND already at this point.

Last time you spoke to Jeremy? Where is he know?
I just called him on the phone to discuss. Will send you a link to download our phone call. I recorded it for you.

Last time you talked to Mark?
On the street a few months back.


Eli Gesner talks to Jeremy Henderson (11/5/17). Phone audio. Full transcription below.

Bonus Witness: Jeremy Henderson interviewed by Eli Gesner

Eli: So here we go. Can you break down that day in 1987 for us Jeremy Henderson? What was it for and who were you shooting?
Jeremy: In 1987 what occurred was that there was a tradeshow in Atlantic City. And Mark was staying with me before the tradeshow. It had nothing to do with the tradeshow—he had just come back to skate and stay in New York. He was staying with me on his first trip.

First let me jump ahead—give me your relationship with Mark Gonzales. Actually, tell us who you are, why you're in NY and how you met Mark Gonzales. Let's start there.
First of all he called me because people said that I was the guy who knew where to skate in the streets in downtown NY. And he called me specifically because John Grigley (80s Vision pro and Gonz's teammate) gave him my number and told him, "Jeremy rides for Vision. I put him on the team. He'll help you out." He didn't give him anybody else's number that rode for Vision, he just gave him my number. Grigley knew that I had a soul that loved skateboarding. Not a soul that just wants to be down with some famous people or whatever. Grigley recognized my "Old Ghost" soul like his "Old Ghost" soul and said like, "Fucking Gonz is rad, wait until he sees this guy."

Right.
So Gonz comes to New York, basically already seeing that he wants to run away from Vision because they keep telling him all this shit he has to do. And he's not into being told what to do. As a 15-year-old half-Mexican he kind of already has the integrity of the man he is now—which is his own boss. Even at 15, Mark wanted to be his own boss. So we're taking this effort of showing street skating in New York with the idea of putting it into film. In Atlantic City Mark had asked (Brad) Dorfman if we could film in NY and if we could get the guy from Unreal Productions to come out. Stan Hoffman—who built the Pipeline Skatepark in Upland—his son Don Hoffman became the Unreal Productions guy who made all the NSA contest videos. Mark asked Dorfman to send Don Hoffman out with the Betacam—the old big fat fucker. I was the one who knew New York so I said, "No problem. I'll be your tour guide." So Don and I rented a car that day, I had the Betamax camera but Don was afraid to get out of the car. Because the camera was like 60-80 grand so he was terrified to go anywhere in New York with it. I was like "fuck it" I'll film. I filmed the downhill out of the window in that Harlem sequence. I filmed the downtown at night, with fucking crackheads all around me. No one was bum rushing us. We shot all sorts of places.


The resulting video part: Gonzo Goes to New York, Mondo Vision (1989). Filmed by Don Hoffman and Jeremy Henderson.

At night downtown I shot lines. I told Mark, "Ollie up the three, do the round banked pyramid Ollie, go back and Ollie down the three." At that bus stop—that big steep wall angle we used to drop in on. I filmed that line first. We used to do that line. Except Mark would 180 Ollie up the three stair. What the fuck! I was like, "This is the guy to film. He doesn't even have to boneless up the stairs! He could Ollie up them. This guy is amazing." So that night we filmed the first sequences and Hoffman didn't even get out of the car with his wife. They went to go get champagne and dinner while we stayed downtown and shot. So I was the filmer. I was the camera holder and I was the guy that knew all the places. The video that was edited in the end had just Mark doing a few stunts. But in the raw footage we have all sorts of fucking shit.

Who has that footage? Where did it go?
Mark sent me that footage on VHS tapes. Charno (Rick Charnoski) digitized it for the documentary (Deathbowl to Dogtown [2009]) and I have digital copies from that.

I would love to privately own that. I was actually there and ran into you guys at the bank to wall at Chelsea Piers. Tell us a little bit about that spot.
(Paul) Mittleman was taking black and whites. With the girl from Stussy—Stussy's girlfriend—some chick I forget her name. But Paul sent me the black and white photos. He sent me two bad ass ones of Mark. He was there the whole time.

Jeremy Henderson center-spread with inset in his art studio and painting on the top right. Photo: Vuckovich. From our NYC Feature in our Jan. 1990 issue, Vol. 8, No.1. Click to enlarge.

I remember Mark doing Ollies over the Jersey barrier gap.
That was one thing, but Mark was doing frontside disasters on it. I was doing boardslides across two of the sections. In '84 (Jamie) Mosberg was shooting us. I was doing crail taps on it and hopping back into the bank.

Just as a sidebar for Mackenzie, if he's transcribing this, the spot we're talking about used to be literally across the street from the Chelsea skatepark.
It's on the Westside highway. It was a Jersey divider against the highway. We only had eight to twelve inches on the other side to being run over. If you did lip tricks on that thing it was gnarly. No one even knows that there were fucking busses going by at like 60 mph and you're doing a trick right there. Give me a fucking break. It's so much gnarlier than the West Coast. I'm sorry. I don't mean to sound like a bitch complaining about not getting attention. But it's not about the lack of the truth. Mackenzie, it's not about the lack of the truth of this spot being gnarly. But it is about—Mackenzie, if you can take note of this—Jamie Mosberg and Don Hoffman filming there but never easily exhibiting how dangerous it was. They just filmed the stunts. They didn't show the actual environment and how gnarly it was.

What else stands out? That was also when Gonz famously did the handrails.
Most importantly it was the beginning of shooting lines in skateboarding. That's what Video Days ('91) is all about. Shooting a line. You didn't do one trick. It's not a bunch of one trick (clips) like now a days.

Eli Gesner with some iconic NYC photographic gold of his own. Photo: Gee. TWS, June 1998, Vol. 16, No. 6.

How was it filming with that giant camera?
Holding it out of the car window in Harlem was hilarious. The Betacam. It was like 25 pounds and it was awkwardly long. Getting it out of the window was hard and then holding it up was hard too. I shot Mark a lot from the car. And that footage rarely got used. It was such bitchin’ footage man. I can't believe these SoCal dudes are so into the stunt. The maneuver. Put some day glow around it. It was so gritty. The shit we had was so righteous. Later on that's why Charno had to use it. He asked me like, "Can I use this?" We called Don Hoffman and he goes, "Jeremy, I'll sign off on it for you. Because you shot it."

How did you end up in New York as an artist? How did you get Gonz involved in art?
Mark came over to my house. When he showed up at my house as a "fucking completely never met the guy weirdo" he was like, "Well, you know (John) Grigley gave me your number." We sat down with a pot of Earl Grey tea and started drawing (inaudible) on that red table. I put out so much paper. That guy. Within the first two hours—I guess he had a lot stored up—he had a lot of explanations drafted. He didn't talk as much as he drew. He drew a moat with a castle and all this skateable stuff around it—the first day I ever met him I have the drawing from. I just recently found it and was just like, "Holy shit!"—the castle moat with the quarterpipes and all this stuff.

Amazing. How you ended up in New York and your relationship with Gonz is sort of seminal to what skateboarding ended up being. I don't really know—and who knows what could have happened otherwise.
Thank you for saying that. Because I would say that we were the creative nebulae—that goes in an astrological or astronomical perspective—we were the icon archetypes that were not being used whatsoever. So we could do… We were free.

 

Huge thanks to Eli, Jeremy, Paul, Gonz and NYC skateboarding at large.

Follow Eli Gesner on Instagram: @ocularge
Follow Gonz on Instagram: @krooked

Follow Shut Skates: @shutnyc
Follow Vision Street Wear: @visionstreetwear
Follow Paul Mittleman: @paulmittleman

Finally, Mark Gonzales wanted me to mention that Don Hoffman is currently working on a documentary about Pipeline Skatepark in Upland and has been attempting to raise money for the film here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1017944751/badlands-an-off-the-wall-skateboard-story.

Help make an important chapter in skate history a reality and donate today!

Late Correction (12:45 11/13/17): Mark also wanted to stress (upon reading this article) that his interest in art and NYC was initially born from reading about artists like Keith Haring and Andy Warhol in magazines. Long before he met Jeremy in ’87. —ME