Con Edison Banks: A History

Con Edison Banks: A History

Con Edison Banks: A History (Published in Village Psychic January 28, 2024) 


Words by Jeff Haber

The place we’ve come to call the Con Edison Banks is, as you may know, a famous skateboard spot located just outside the entrance to New York City's largest power plant facility at 31st St and 20th Ave in Astoria, Queens. The roughly 300-acre property, now occupied by Con Edison and other energy companies, is completely fenced off and private. Outside the fence is the plaza with the skate spot, which is accessible to the public, though it is within the boundary of ConEd's land.  

It appears that the plaza is meant for pedestrians to use – It abuts the sidewalk that runs east to west on the north side of 20th Avenue, and there is no gate to prevent entry. The average person might find it suitable as a temporary place to rest, eat lunch, or have a conversation. The plaza has seating for about 30 people and the same number could stand or stroll around in it. As plazas go, this place is comparatively small in size, made of uncomfortable materials, and is not very inviting. Visitors are limited to viewing vehicular traffic, a bus stop, a wheel alignment shop, a gas station, and a storage facility. The surrounding area is entirely industrial. 

Since the early 1980s, the plaza has primarily functioned as a skate spot. The earliest evidence of the plaza's importance to skateboarding can be heard in the hardcore band Kraut's song about skating there, Pyramids, which was recorded in 1984 on their album Whetting the Scythe. The song begins with the words, "Do your best to stay on top / vertical, that's a lot." And, in a 2016 No Echo interview, Gorilla Biscuits bassist Arthur Smilios spoke about skating the spot in 1986 or 1987, and how it was the place where the band formed: 

“One night, while hanging out skateboarding at the Pyramids (an Astoria skate spot; essentially a set of truncated pyramids - hence the name - at the entrance to the Con Edison plant on 31st Street and 20th Avenue), Bad Religion was playing on the boombox. Civ (Anthony Civarelli) was singing along with We're Only Gonna Die and Ernie of Token Entry had the idea for him to do vocals for this as-yet-unnamed project because his voice was/is beautiful.” 

I reached out to Civ (the lead singer of Gorilla Biscuits) on Instagram and asked if he could share with me what he knew about the history of the Pyramids. He said I should ask Ernie Parada of Token Entry because he "hung out there a lot." So I messaged Ernie and he said, "I've been waiting forever for someone to ask me that. I am the only person that can tell you that story." 

According to Ernie, in the summer of 1980 he and a classmate of his named Patrick Burns were skating in the courtyard of Burns' building in Astoria. He suddenly asked Ernie "Did you ever take it down to the Pyramids?" He hadn't. They went to the spot and Ernie watched Patrick ride up the side of one of the banks, do a kickturn, and come down without falling. "It was magic. It was glorious. I had never seen anything like it." What's more, he did this unprecedented maneuver with a board that "was tiny with trucks bolted at the very ends leaving virtually no nose and no tail." Ernie credits Patrick Burns as the "person who first conceived the idea" of skating the Pyramids. He then told his other friend Johnny Feedback (the drummer of Kraut) who was into skateboarding and took him there. "Then it caught fire. That's how it all started. Patrick Burns to me to Johnny Feedback to the world," said Ernie. 

He further explained that to his knowledge the spot was the only place in Queens where skateboarding was happening in the early 1980s. The location's importance to skateboarding is intertwined with the New York Hardcore (NYHC) music scene. Gilligan's Revenge, Token Entry, Kraut, Murphy's Law, the Mob, Gorilla Biscuits, NY Hoods, and more all congregated at the Pyramids. The bands The Faction and JFA showed up there at least once. Russell Iglay of Murphy's Law and later Underdog was one of the better skaters, along with Tim Chunks and Jon Soto (a Long Islander).  

Interestingly, Ernie said the skaters in the 80’s actually rode the plaza that used to be on the east side of the entrance to the plant, which was a mirror-image of the one still standing, where the storage facility is now. "We used to line up on the half pyramid (this is the one that's up against the street that leads into the power plant) and drop in to come up the other side. Russ used to run follow-the-leader lines that would go all over the place."

The spot earned the name the Pyramids, and later the ConEd Banks, because it possesses undeniably unique architectural elements. Namely, four brick pyramids with embankments that are flush with the ground. These pyramids are technically built in the style of what is known as a "truncated square frustum." A commonly-known example of this type of pyramid with the top cut off can be seen on the backside of a $1 dollar bill. 

The ConEd Banks consists of four pyramid-shaped embankment structures made of red brick - this encompasses ¾ of the entire plaza. Each pyramid has four side faces and they are arranged in a large square layout, with a pyramid at each corner of the square. The ground surface consists of a resin-bound gravel, which is very rough. The pyramids are connected east to west with a smaller, lengthier bank, on both the top and bottom of the square. There is also a subterranean square inside the layout, which you enter by descending three stairs. Within the interior are two concrete benches that face each other. 

The remaining ¼ of the plaza at the easternmost side is taken up by a more rectangular embankment structure. It is the exact same size, north to south, as the pyramid-square section. This rectangular structure has embankments at the top and bottom end and on the left side, which are all flush with the ground. It also has two of the same concrete benches built into it. These benches are separated by a long bank in the middle and two skinner ones at each end. On top of the rectangular structure is a planter with four medium-sized trees. 

Whatever the design intention was, the layout and architectural elements make this plaza very intriguing to skateboarders. Relatively speaking, the brick embankments are somewhat of a perfect wave, if the attraction of a skate spot can be traced back to the surfer-origins of the activity. Also, a ledge between two banks that are flush to the ground is basically unheard of in terms of street spots. Obviously, street skateboarders can enjoy various kinds of obstacles in the found environment, but embankments are among the most attractive because they are rare, especially in NYC.  

To expand on that rarity, the ConEd Banks are not underneath a highway overpass or in any way connected to a highway road system, which is where these features are more typically found, if at all. One could argue that this spot does not measure up to the more famous Brooklyn Banks in Lower Manhattan, concerning brick waves and their sidewalk-surfability. But, I would suggest the ConEd Banks present a wider range of creative options as a result of the architecture. A given skater's straight-forward skill at this place is not as relevant as their ability to interpret the design of the plaza. 

Even though from a design perspective the pyramids are theoretically perfect or akin to structures built at skateparks, the spot is extremely difficult to skate. Its reputation in modern skate culture is synonymous with the difficulty factor. The resin-bound surface of the ground is what presents the most resistance because of its impermeability. When you skate on the ground you glide across a composite of many tiny pebbles glued together, which leads to a slickness that simultaneously, and almost immediately, eats all speed. 

Whatever approach a skater takes at the ConEd Banks, they need to generate as much speed as possible. Logistically, gaining that speed is complicated. If you start across the road with two-way traffic you need to gauge the flow of vehicles based on busyness or the traffic light. An approach from 31st Street has one advantage in that it is downhill toward the obstacles, but that option limits which obstacles can be hit, as well as the the angle of approach. Meanwhile, if you start in the bike lane you are contending with the sticky, graded green surface meant for inflated tires. If you begin on the sidewalk, you'll encounter numerous cracks and the unevenness of the pavement, as well as branches and other industrial area debris. Starting within the plaza means you are limited to a sprint-and-throw-down or a medium-speed drop in, with maybe one or two pushes before execution. All in all, nothing about the approach, regardless of which obstacle you are skating, is easy.  

The speed factor and the overall roughness of the spot deters many skaters, seasoned and novice alike, from actually skating here. Swapping out harder wheels with cruiser wheels that have a lower durometer can be beneficial because they increase grippiness. For those interested in blasting airs, this can be a good choice. At the same time, a softer wheel will prevent skaters from being able to do any type of slide grinds on the tops of the pyramids or on the benches. Trick selection, energy level, and willingness are all part of how a skater approaches the ConEd Banks. Indeed, those ingredients are mixed together for any skate session anywhere, but at this spot skaters need to be very deliberate and calculating to find success, particularly for tricks that haven't been done before (NBDs). One of the greatest benefits of the spot is that you can expect to skate it as long as you like. No one is likely to kick you out, be it neighboring business owners, local residents, ConEd employees, or police. Therefore, if you have the drive, the commitment, and the creativity you can express yourself for an indefinite amount of time. 

In the early years of its existence, as noted earlier, the plaza served a more traditional purpose by encouraging congregation and community building. More recently, meaning at least since the early 2000s when the spot started to appear in skate videos, skaters by-and-large journey here to prove themselves by way of an individual challenge. In my opinion, the pyramid elements, the out-of-the-way location, and the current isolated culture of the plaza make this spot reminiscent of a religious site. 

One of my goals in writing about the ConEd Banks was to determine its history within the context of NYC, outside of skateboarding. To compare whatever the design intention might have been with the unintended usage by skaters. As it turns out, finding any direct information about the plaza proved to be as difficult as skating it. 

First, I sent an email to the press department at ConEd inquiring about the architect and the construction year. They never replied, even after a follow up email. Then, I contacted the Reference desk at the City College of New York library. I got in touch with John Drobnicki, a Professor in the Library Department at York College. He pointed out that the land has been owned and/or leased by several companies, and suggested that the plaza was probably built by Con Edison, the New York Power Authority, or the Charles Poletti Power Project. He noted that I should try to figure out who owns the property where the plaza sits and reach out to them to inquire about the design and construction. He then recommended I contact the Greater Astoria Historical Society and the Queens Public Library's (QPL) Central branch. I emailed the society and corresponded with Bob Singleton. He was very nice and offered a few leads, but he could not provide any information on the plaza. The Archivist at QPL said they wouldn't have anything on the plaza and that I should contact the Municipal Archives - I did and they said they don't keep any records for Queens.  

However, I ran a search on the NYC Records & Information Services Library catalog and saw that there was a book in the Municipal Archives titled Report on the Expansion of the Astoria Plant, published in 1970 by Milton Musicus and Jerome Kretchmer. I Googled Kretchmer and found that he served as the city's Environmental Protection Administrator for a few years in the early 1970s. The New York Times published a bunch of articles covering Kretchmer's opposition to the Astoria plant expansion, due to health and environmental concerns. He coined the term "Asthma Alley" in reference to the then 10 power plants that lined the East River, which led to unusually high rates of asthma and other respiratory illnesses among city residents, notably in Astoria. The Nature Journal published an article about the expansion project and wrote, "Astoria is recognized as the most polluted area in the country." Mayor John Lindsay, according to the Times and Nature, was initially opposed to the project, but ultimately permitted ConEd to proceed. ConEd wanted to build a new 1,600 Megawatt electricity generator plant using low-sulfur petroleum or natural gas if supplies were available. Lindsay agreed to permit ConEd to install half that generating capacity. Kretchmer and the community opposed the plant because of increased pollution that caused illness, including premature fatalities that resulted from sulfur dioxide poisoning. 

Having read up on this story, I then did more Googling and found the 1974 Power Authority of the State of New York Annual Report. This report states the Authority (NYPA) purchased "a partially completed 826,575 kw fossil-fuel generating plant and related facilities, known as Astoria 6, and previously owned by Con Edison," which was enabled by legislation and cost $100,000,000. Astoria 6 (also called Astoria Unit 6 or Unit 6) is the NYPA name for the original ConEd expansion project. Later, once the power station was completed and generating electricity, it was renamed the Charles Poletti Power Project after the politician. In 2010, the Poletti plant was shut down by community and political efforts, spearheaded by Senator Michael Gianaris, former Council Member Peter Vallone, Jr., and a group named CHOKE. Incidentally, in the same year, Mr. Vallone, Jr., was responsible for the creation of Astoria Skatepark, the 21,500 square-foot concrete oasis in Astoria Park. The skatepark has made the area's skate scene more vibrant and essentially replaced the ConEd Banks as the go-to spot in the neighborhood.  

I happen to be acquainted with Mr. Vallone Jr., aka Pete, because he's my neighbor. In 2022, I was randomly the victim of a pellet gun drive-by outside his house while walking my dogs. During the two-hour wait for the NYPD to show up, Pete kindly chatted with me and his other neighbors and then we exchanged numbers. When writing this story I texted him to ask if he knew anything about the ConEd Banks. He didn't, but he did say, "the skatepark is one of my proudest accomplishments!" Pete also gave me the backstory about how the skatepark ended up underneath the Triboro Bridge. According to Vallone, he had been trying to find a location for the park for years, but kept running into neighborhood opposition. Then he noticed that the plot under the bridge was "taken up by old construction equipment behind a big fence for years and wondered why." The land was leased for that purpose, but the lease was up, and he deemed it the safest, most sensible location. He still faced opposition from folks on 19th Street, which runs parallel to Astoria Park, but he went forward anyway. "An awesome side note," Pete told me, "the leaders of the opposition came to me a year later [2011] and said 'You were right,' which probably never happened to me before or after in public service." 

ConEd's lack of response and the elimination of the Poletti plant meant that the only remaining entity that would have some record of the plaza would be the NYPA. In 2021, I randomly spoke to a local resident near ConEd who told me the Pyramids were built in the 1970s as part of what he described as a beautification program. Given that the Astoria 6 expansion effort was started in the same decade, I had a hunch that the Pyramids were probably built between 1970 and 1974. I sent an email to Maura Balaban, who handles communications at the NYPA. I relayed that I believed the plaza was constructed as part of the ConEd expansion project and asked if she could help me identify the architect and the year it was built. She forwarded the inquiry to the NYPA Records Department, which reported that the Acquisition Agreement of Astoria 6 in 1974 references a contract and purchase order with a company called Ingram & Greene, Inc. to build a "mini park & new fence," dated November 6, 1972. Additionally, they stated "records show that Ebasco Services was the 'Architect/Engineer' for the project." The NYPA Annual Report confirms this information, "Unit 6 was engineered and designed by Ebasco Services, Inc. under the overall direction of Con Edison." Ingram & Greene was a firm that handled concrete foundation construction in New York, though I couldn't find their last-known address. Ebasco Services was a multi-million-dollar company based in the United States that designed and constructed energy infrastructure around the world, including a number of nuclear power plants that are still standing today.  

For further context, I called former Environmental Protection Administrator Jerome Kretchmer, who is now 89-years-old, and asked him about the Astoria expansion project. He admitted he did not recall anything related to the plaza, but was willing to discuss the time period in which it was constructed. 

Was the reason for the expansion a power crisis or just greed? 

It was 50/50. There were very few times when there wasn't enough power. There has been more of that more recently. Remember, by 71 or 72, there wasn't the number of air conditioners, no computers - so demand was nowhere near [what it is now].

Why did the mayor ultimately approve the project even though it was so opposed? 

Because they [(ConEd)] were stronger than I was. If you're the Environmental Protection Administrator, it's pretty easy to have a position and maintain that position. If you're the mayor and everybody is banging you around and you have to worry about whether the city's going to have enough electricity, you might not be able to support that decision. He [(Mayor Lindsay)] never stopped me from saying what I wanted to say, though. He did what he had to do, and I did what I had to do, and to this day I believe that those plants were a mess. And there was really no way at the time of dealing with the environmental output from the generators. There are some options today, I guess, but there weren't any then, so there was no such thing as clean electricity when the source was coal-burning generators. 

Was the plaza, now known as the ConEd Banks in skateboarding culture, built as a sort of gift from the evil power company to the community of Astoria? Probably. An August 1, 1970 article in The New York Times, titled "Con Ed's Plans for Astoria Opposed by Kretchmer," describes how my neighbor Pete's father, Peter Vallone, then Executive Chairman of the Astoria Civic Association, represented the community's opposition to the expansion. Not only did they try to convince the community of the energy-based need for the project, ConEd also "backed up its explanations with some promises of civic improvements…the company pledged to construct for community use a sports complex on a vacant portion of the utility property; two small parks, one of them along the East River waterfront, and a new 20-block-long fence, which would be 'esthetically pleasing.'" In addition to the main plaza at the plant's entrance, there is also an even smaller one on 20th Avenue at 26th Street, with similar features (not at the waterfront), but the banks are not flush with the ground. 

The ConEd Banks sit quietly near the entrance to a mysterious 300-acre parcel of land that has been a site of energy, pollution, and controversy for over 100 years. Whatever the intention of the design, the plaza was built during a very tumultuous period in NYC's power history. I would guess that neither Ebasco Services nor the contractor Ingram & Green knew that what they built would become an iconic skate spot, due to its unique brick pyramid-embankment features. Perhaps ConEd originally wanted to attract the community of Astoria to use the plaza to sit, chat, or walk around and be aesthetically pleased in the shadow of a power plant that might kill them. Be that as it may, the unintended use and purpose of the ConEd Banks has been overwhelmingly as a skate spot, and it has drawn local, national, and international skaters for the last 40 years because of its sustainable uniqueness.



Email Interview With Ernie Parada of Token Entry / Hellgate Industries


  1. Based on your knowledge, when was the first time anyone skated at the Pyramids in Astoria? 

It was the summer of 1980. I was in the 7th grade. I had been interested in having a skateboard and my parents bought me one from Sears. It was a fiberglass board with seagulls on it. This was like top of the line. The goal of skateboarding was one thing: stay on it going down a sidewalk for longer than the next guy. Period. It was a game of duration. Who can stay on the longest.

Ok, somehow, I learned that a kid in my class at the time named Patrick Burns also had a skateboard. I met up with him and we would try to do circles around the courtyard of his apartment building. He was MUCH better than I was, he could stay on without thinking even about how long he stayed on! One day he said this thing to me, "Did you ever take it down to the Pyramids?" 

The Pyramids were, and to a degree still are, the entrance of the Con Edison power plant. They are a set of four pyramid shaped structures with their peaks cut off, making them flat on top. They are connected by a long, slightly shorter structure of the same shape on the north and south sides; and on the east and west, they are divided by stairs leading into a pit in the middle with benches. I have NO idea what they were thinking when they built these things. Did they think people would stop and have lunch there? Beats me. 

"Did you ever take it down to the pyramids?" I said I had not. The ground there is kinda rough concrete and I would fall off in way less than a minute. He said he's been trying to skate down there recently so we went down to take a look. His skateboard was tiny with trucks bolted at the very ends leaving virtually no nose and no tail. 

He put the skateboard down on the ground - pushed once and went UP THE SIDE of the pyramid - lifted the front wheels and put them back down - and came back down in one piece. No broken bones. It was Magic. It was Glorious. I had never seen anything like it. Obviously I did not DARE try this. But I did try later when he wasn't around and did not get two inches up the side without falling off. I was literally the second person to EVER try to skate a pyramid and he was the person who first conceived the idea of it. I then took this new information to my friend Johnny who was the drummer in Kraut and he was starting to like skateboarding. I brought him down there and then more people and then it caught fire. That's how it all started. Patrick Burns to me to Johnny Feedback to the world. 


  1. About how many people were part of the skate scene in Astoria in the early 80s?

It grew considerably soon after that. We had 10-30 people hanging out there most nights during the summer. A big part of this is the music scene. Astoria is a huge part of the NYHC scene. We started Gilligan's Revenge, which later became Token Entry. Skateboarding and everything associated with it was a big part of Gilligan's Revenge. When JFA or the Faction or other bands like that came around they were celebrities to show up at the Pyramids. 


  1. Was the Pyramids the central spot where skateboarding took place in Queens in the early 80s?

To the best of my knowledge, that was the ONLY place where skateboarding was taking place in Queens. 


  1. Did skaters gather in large numbers at the Pyramids and use the spot as a location to build the skateboarding community? 

Yes. No question about it. 


  1. What type of skateboarding went down and what was the overall vibe at the Pyramids in the early 80s? 

It was an excellent inclusive vibe for a very long time. The type of skateboarding took a real step forward when we brought Russell Iglay who was then in Murphy's Law down there. He came down and did ollies and inverts off the top of the pyramid. He was incredible.


  1. What era/brand of skateboards and equipment (wheels especially) were used and where did the skaters purchase these goods? 

The only place to buy anything in the early days was Paragon. My first "real" board was a Variflex Eric Grisham with Gullwings and pink Bones. My favorite board I ever had was the Madrid purple deck with Indy 169s and OJ's. 


  1. Could you cite specific tricks that were executed, as in, bonelesses, no complys, finger flips, ollies, kickflips, etc? Did anyone air off the top of the pyramid, from one side to another? I'd like to get a gauge on the overall style and skill level, as well as how advanced the skaters were at the time. 

At that time there was definitely boneless, but it was handplant inverts if you were REAL good. Russell and his friends could do that with no problem. Johnny could do it, too. I broke an ankle doing it. Also ollies at the top. Slides of all different kinds. There was no kickflip or finger flip or anything like that yet. 


  1. Which obstacles at the Pyramids were the most popular? The pyramid-structures themselves, the long smaller bank connected to them, the benches that you can ride-on grind, etc? 

We used to line up on the half pyramid (this is the one that's up against the street that leads into the power plant) and drop in to come up the other side. Russ used to run follow-the-leader lines that would go all over the place. 


  1. Could you name some of the skaters who were part of the scene, what neighborhood they were from, and/or identify who was considered the best, aka the hometown hero? 

Jeez, there were so many people. People still come up to me and say that they were there and I don't remember them at all. But I would say the hometown hero was Johnny Feedback from Kraut, Jaybird, and Russell. They were really good. Tim Chunks came later and he was really good, too. Jon Soto from Long Island... there were many.


  1. Were there any legendary tricks that went down at the Pyramids that became part of the folklore of the spot? 

The folklore of the spot was the camaraderie between the originals. Mainly the people associated with the bands. Gilligan's Revenge/Token Entry, Kraut, and later Gorilla Biscuits. 


  1. Was the Pyramids always seen as a difficult spot, given the roughness of the ground, the challenge of how to approach the obstacles, and the speed factor? 

Nah. It was great. It's not perfect by any means. There was a time that we heard that kids were skating the Brooklyn Bridge banks. We went there to see what it was all about, but somehow the Pyramids were better. 


  1. Did anyone ever skate the smaller plaza with similar pyramids (not flush to the ground) on 20th Ave at 26th St? 

Ha, thats crazy that you know that. Nah. That was way out of the way. 


  1. Did anyone in the neighborhood other than skateboarders use the plaza? If so, what for? 

Well, a lot of people used to use it to get drunk, and now it's mainly where people walk their dogs. The Pyramids on the east side, the ones we skated are now gone, and there's a storage facility there now. The ones on the west side are still there, and you will see people filming and photographing skaters there all summer long. 


  1. When did the Pyramids become a destination for skaters outside of Astoria and how did the word about the spot spread? 

Beats me. I know that it was huge after a while. We brought JFA there, and that was pretty much the Holy Grail as far as I was concerned. But yeah. I actually did a video interview for an Italian movie about the YouthCrew years and the Pyramids a few years ago with Walter. 


  1. Was the skate scene created at the Pyramids one of the first to exist in New York City history? 

I don't know, but to me and the people I knew, yes. 


  1. Was anyone documenting the skateboarding that took place at the Pyramids? If so, was that documentation photography or video? And, do you have any of those photos or that video footage? 

Nah. Who knew? Who knew that this would boil up into something that we'd be speaking about more than 40 years later?


  1. What role did the Pyramids play in the local hardcore music scene? Could you name the bands that formed/played/skated there, etc? 

Oh man. Queens was a main part of the NYHC scene. I mean it all starts with the Ramones right? Gilligan's Revenge, Token Entry, Kraut, Murphy's Law, the Mob, Gorilla Biscuits, NY Hoods, that's just what I can think of right now. 


  1. I was able to find the song "Pyramids," by the band Kraut - did any other bands write/record songs about the spot? If so, could you share the details? 

Yes. I don't know if there were any other songs about them, but long before Kraud did the song, Gilligan's had planned a release called "It Was All The Weathers Fault" and I remember taking pictures holding skateboards on top of the pyramids covered in snow. 


  1. The New York Power Authority informed me that the plaza, aka the Pyramids, was designed by Ebasco Services and built by a company called Ingram & Greene in 1972. Based on my research, it seems the plaza was made as a sort of civic improvement "gift" by ConEd to the neighborhood because of the unpopularity of the plant expansion, which increased the already very severe amount of pollution in the area, leading to various illnesses. Could you share any info you may have as to how or why the plaza was built? 

WOW!! That's more than I knew!! There was a time that they would come out and chase us away, but they gave up on that pretty quickly. That's all I know about that!!




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