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Roller Disco: End of an Empire

In April, the death knell sounded for Brooklyn's 66-year-old Empire Roller Skating Center–with its sale, New York City lost its last indoor roller rink, and a monument to style, finesse, and high-speed fancy footwork played out on 150 feet of maple-wood flooring.

Photographer Christopher Franko, 40, shot the final few months of rocking, skating, rolling, and bouncing with his collection of toy and vintage cameras. "At Empire, skating took on a whole new meaning," writes Franko via email. "It was the self-proclaimed 'Home of Roller Disco' and the skaters were amazing. Many of them had been skate doubles in music videos and movies like Roll Bounce. There were all kinds of people: gay, straight, black, white, whatever... Empire was like a big playroom and lots of skaters had [a] kind of free-spirited freakiness to them. But there was one dude in particular [who was] a total enigma. He always skated alone, always laughing to himself. He came dressed each week in '90s hip-hop drag–like if the RZA had a little brother–only he'd accessorize his look with glo-sticks and goggles. I always wondered what his story was."

Musically, Empire was caught between the old and the new, playing a particularly NYC-style mix of R&B and soul classics along with dancehall hits and house jams. "Tracks that will always make me think of Empire [are] 'Boogie 2nite' by Tweet, 'Never Stop' by Brand New Heavies, 'Where I Wanna Be' by Shade Sheist, Kurupt, Nate Dogg & Snoop, and 'Goin' to See My Baby' by Fatback Band," recalls Franko, who, like so many patrons, will now have to drive to Staten Island to practice his crazy legs.

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