9 Historic Ice Rinks Where You Can Take a Spin
There’s nothing quite like ice skating to embrace the freezing season. The grinding sounds as you glide across the ice and the sizzling swoosh when you come to a stop are the quintessential winter soundtrack. Ice skating was originally created as a necessity; archeologists have discovered ice skates dating back to the Bronze Age, when people in Scandinavia and Russia built skates from polished animal bones for transportation during the winter months.
Ice skating became very popular during the 19th and early 20th centuries when, after several very cold winters in the Northern Hemisphere, ice skates began to be mass-produced, making them affordable for the general public. Today, ice skating has become a beloved pastime and sport.
Whether you’re landing toe jumps or tottering on the ice for the first time, you may want to add these nine historic ice rinks to your winter travel plans, and if you want to read about more historic ice rinks check out these past stories from Preservation magazine.
High in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, Yosemite National Park has always attracted winter sports enthusiasts. The Yosemite Park & Curry Company built the original Curry Village Ice Rink in 1929, when Yosemite was being considered for the 1932 Winter Olympics. It was a 60,000-square-foot rink built where the parking lot stands today.
Today, the current concessioner (Yosemite Hospitality, Inc.), constructs a temporary ice rink at Curry Village Recreation Center in winter. It is located at the base of the Half Dome rock face, an iconic landmark that makes for a stunning backdrop while gliding on the ice. Enjoy the alpine air and warm your frosty toes by rink-side fire pits.
On the other side of the country, the community of Lake Placid, New York, also built an ice rink to compete for the 1932 Winter Olympics, and they ultimately won the bid. The James B. Sheffield Speed Skating Oval is an outdoor speed skating oval located on the front lawn of Lake Placid High School. For the 1932 Olympic Winter Games, it was the site of the opening and closing ceremonies as well as the starting and end points for cross-country exercises, dog racing, and ice hockey matches.
The city was also awarded the 1980 Winter Olympics, where speed skater Eric Heiden won five gold medals and set a world record in the 10,000-meter event that has not yet been broken. The speed skating oval recently underwent reconstruction, which included making geometric adjustments to meet competition requirements as well as an improved entry plaza, new Oval building, and modern lighting. See how fast you can go!
When you think of ice skating in New York City, your mind may immediately go to Rockefeller Center; however, nothing beats the picturesque background of skating in Central Park at Wollman Rink, which opened for skaters in 1950. It was designed to be a safer alternative to the unpredictable tradition of lake skating, which the public enjoyed ever since the park opened in 1858. Kate Wollman, a philanthropist, financed the construction of the ice rink. She hoped it would “bring happiness to the children that use it.” The rink has been a popular spot for residents of all ages from all five boroughs and tourists alike. It has also been featured in several movies, including Love Story, Serendipity, and Night at the Museum.
Established in 1634, the Boston Common is the oldest city park in the United States. Originally used for grazing cattle, the park transformed into a public park in the late 1800s. The Frog Pond is at the heart of the Common, and it is the only pond remaining of the original three. Visitors enjoyed skating on natural ice and artificial ice for generations in the park; the current ice rink was revived by the city in 1995. However, if you’re squeamish about amphibians, there is no need to fear. According to the Boston Frog Pond’s website, “the only animals you’ll see frolicking at today’s Frog Pond are squirrels.”
The West Brook Ice Rink in Biddeford, Maine, recently celebrated its 100th anniversary thanks to community volunteers. It’s a preservation success story; the rink closed in 2017 after many years of increasing disrepair. Community members bandied together to save it, and one of the biggest supporters was Biddeford native and NHL player Brian Dumoulin who grew up playing hockey on that rink. The Heart of Biddeford, the downtown development district of the town, is one of the 2022 Great American Main Street Award (GAMSA) winners from our partners at Main Street America.
Deadwood Historic District in Deadwood, South Dakota (listed in 1989 and 1990 as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places), brings the fabled past to life for visitors. Since its founding in 1876, Deadwood has been synonymous with the Wild West. Did legends like Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane ice skate? That’s unknown, but you can skate over where they have tread on the Glice Rink in Outlaw Square. As the name implies, the rink is made from synthetic ice from Switzerland, a zero water/energy alternative to traditional ice rinks.
Another GAMSA winner from 2019 is Wausau, Wisconsin. Since its establishment in 2002, the Wausau River District revitalized their historic downtown after decades of blight and big box stores. Their efforts sparked a remarkable transformation by creating a thriving downtown area with unique public spaces that showcase the character and natural beauty of their downtown. The crown jewel is the 400 Block, a centrally located park that hosts events in the warmer months, but is also a popular ice-skating rink in the winter.
Evergreen, Colorado—just 45 minutes from Denver—is home to Evergreen Lake. Charles Vail, a municipal engineer who built municipal water systems, dams, railroads, and highways, constructed the lake in 1914. He worked with municipal water staff to plan a dam and lake for recreation—fishing, boating, ice skating, and golf to help Bear Creek Valley become a tourist destination. From 1900 to 1941, summer resorts flourished in Evergreen as tourists flocked to fresh alpine air.
The area is resplendent in winter as true to its name, evergreens surround the area as well as snowcapped mountain vistas. The 8.5-acre rink is the largest Zamboni-groomed ice rink in the world. After taking a few turns on the ice, skaters can warm up by the giant stone fireplace in the Lake House with hot chocolate and snacks from the concession stand.
Finally, don’t miss out on ice skating under palm trees. Skating by the Sea at the Hotel del Coronado in Coronado, California, is a remarkable experience. Bringing a little bit of winter to Southern California, the beachfront ice rink offers spectacular views of the Pacific. After skating, warm up with roaring fire pits and holiday libations from the Frostbite Lounge. The hotel was built in 1888, and its founders dreamed of creating a beach resort that would be “the talk of the Western world.” It is a living legend as well as a member of Historic Hotels of America. Founded in 1989 to promote heritage tourism, Historic Hotels of America is the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation for recognizing and celebrating the finest historic hotels.
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