Fed up with the corporate structures of the Chuck E. Cheese's and Putt-Putt Golfs of the world, promotor Lucas Gardner established Lucas' DIY Children's Playhouse in 2009. Gone but not nearly forgotten, the DIY Children's Playhouse brought children with new ideas—children who had grown weary of more mainstream children's party venues—together to celebrate their birthdays in a more "anything goes" environment, where do-it-yourself culture thrived.
Lucas Gardner, founder of Lucas' DIY Children's Playhouse:
When I found the space, it was not much to look at, just a dirty little room in an equally dirty little building in Brooklyn. It had previously been used for many different things over the years: a studio space, a DIY punk venue, even just a place for the building's janitorial staff to store their cleaning supplies. But I knew it had potential. I could see that with a new coat of paint, a good dusting, a nice patching-up of the holes in the floors, and a quick asbestos check, it could make for a great, unique children's party venue.
Then, instead of painting and dusting and patching up the holes and doing the asbestos thing, I just opened it to the public right then and there and christened the space "New York's Premiere DIY Children's Party Mecca." Word spread pretty quickly and DIY-minded parents from all over the city started bringing their kids in for birthdays.
Toby, an 11-year-old:
The first time I went to Lucas' DIY Children's Playhouse it was for my fifth birthday. It was my first DIY birthday experience ever. Before that I had only celebrated my birthday at my house in the backyard or at the park. I didn't know there was this whole other world of children like me, and their parents, who had new ideas about children's parties. The DIY Children's Playhouse was where we all got together. There was this raw energy to the space that you couldn't find anywhere else in the city.
As a kid it was just a great place to have your birthday party. In the back corner there was a kiddy pool filled with golf balls. That was the ball pit, and it was my favorite. And of course there was the arcade—there was an old Nintendo GameCube hooked up to a shattered TV that worked half the time. It was gritty, but it was a blast.
Brian, a 14-year-old:
I was 8 when the DIY Children's Playhouse opened up. So many kids got their start there. Brian, Kevin, Ethan, Clarke. All these kids are older and more well-known now, but back in those days, no one knew who they were yet. They were just starting out. So many great birthday boys called that place home. Ryan, Steve…
Tony Capullo, landlord of the building:
I didn't totally understand what Lucas was using the space for, or why all of a sudden there were so many kids hanging around the building. At first I thought maybe a bunch of child runaways had gotten into the building and settled there, but when I tried to kick them out, they'd start crying and screaming about how I'd ruined their birthday party. Sometimes when their parents would come to pick them up, they would really chew me out for spoiling their kids' "big day."
When I found out the space was supposed to be some sort of venue for children's parties, I had to look into it because I assumed there had to be some kind of special license you needed for that. But I couldn't really find anything so I guess it was perfectly legal for Lucas to just let parents drop their kids off there to party. But I did find out that Lucas didn't have a live music license, which was a problem. He had a Wiggles cover band, The Waggles, that played there a lot. I understand The Waggles got their start there.
Louis Faulk, lead singer of The Waggles, the 3rd highest-selling Wiggles cover band in the world:
God, I miss that place. The DIY Children's Playhouse is where we started out. Those shows were so fucking intense. Those kids knew how to fucking party. They'd get wasted on soda and candy and when we started playing, they'd just fucking freak out. Bouncing off the walls, screaming at the top of their lungs, it was nuts.
A lot of kids lost their teeth. I mean, they didn't get knocked out—it's not like we let the kids mosh or anything—it's just a lot of kids happened to have their baby teeth fall out at that venue.
I remember the place always got busted by the cops, because of the issue with the live music license, but I think that really gave the place its reputation. So many kids had their birthday parties broken up by the police.
"Maxy," self-described "punk-dad" father of Brian:
I remember I was so sick of the typical children's party experience. I had been bringing my kids to the same old shit every year for their birthday. Chuck E. Cheese's, bouncy houses, roller rinks, just awful shit. And then one day a friend of mine said, "Hey man, you gotta check out this new place." So I brought my son Brian there for his 8th birthday, and we knew right away it was something special.
I had never been to a venue with such a DIY approach to children's games. There was a "pinata" corner, where there was a big pile of garbage bags on the floor filled with candy and then a big pile of hammers next to it and you could smash the bags open with the hammers. There was this makeshift skeeball table—they had cut a big hole at the end of an old portable mini bar and you were allowed to bring rocks into the venue and if you could throw a rock into the hole from across the room you'd win tickets which you could exchange for prizes from a stolen Toys-for-Tots bin. There was a magician too, and he fucking ruled.
Lucas Gardner, founder of Lucas' DIY Children's Playhouse:
The place was finally shut down because we never got that live music license, and The Waggles had essentially moved into the venue so they were playing all the time. Plus a lot of kids got hurt, what with the hammers and the holes in the floor and all that, but so many performers—so many children's sing-a-long musicians and clowns and magicians and balloon animal artists and caricaturists—will never forget what it was like to play there in the early years, and so many children will never forget what it was like to party there. Long live DIY.