Three Cool Ice Rinks In Hot Historic Spots
One of the first indoor skating rinks in the United States was built at New York’s Madison Square Garden in 1879, crystallizing ice skating’s status as a cherished national cold-weather hobby. Other rinks of the same period, including the 1894 North Avenue Ice Palace in Baltimore and the 16,000-square-foot St. Nicholas Rink in Manhattan, used the same technology—considered cutting-edge at the time—as Madison Square Garden. Pipes beneath the floor flooded the rink with water, which was then frozen using a cold brine, creating a slick, glassy canvas for skaters.
These historic rinks are long gone, but Yale University’s curvilinear David S. Ingalls Rink, designed by Eero Saarinen and completed in 1958, still stands. In 2010, the university renovated the structure, home to the Yale ice hockey team and affectionately dubbed “The Whale.” Work included the installation of a display highlighting the first intercollegiate ice hockey game in America, held in 1896, in which Yale tied Johns Hopkins 2-2.
We’ve rounded up a few more rinks across the country with histories that beg visitors to lace up their skates.
Location: Hot Springs, Virginia
Open: November to March
When skiing pioneer Sepp Kober reinvented Virginia’s Allegheny Mountains as a winter sports haven in the 1950s, he did so in part by outfitting the Omni Homestead with an ice rink and 250 pairs of skates. A popular destination since the 18th century for travelers seeking the perceived medicinal benefits of nearby hot springs, the hotel (now a Historic Hotel of America) was looking for a way to boost winter business. Kober is known as “the father of Southern skiing,” and his plan to convert part of the golf course into a ski slope and introduce other winter sports proved auspicious.
“We did have some sort of skiing or ice skating in the late 1800s,” says Lynn Swann, director of marketing and communications at the Omni Homestead. “But Kober really brought it to the forefront due to modern technology. This became a family-friendly place.”
Today, between 8,000 and 10,000 skaters visit the seasonal rink each year. It has been moved twice from its original location, and has been situated behind the historic main tower overlooking the George Washington and Jefferson national forests since 2012.
The Rink at Rockefeller Center
Location: New York, New York
Open: October to April
Opened in 1936 as a temporary attraction, the Rockefeller Plaza Outdoor Ice Skating Pond—today called The Rink at Rockefeller Center—boasted modern amenities such as outdoor lighting, a heated changing room, a sound system, and a dining area. In the past 80-plus years of annual holiday skating, notable figures including Lucille Ball, Truman Capote, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis have skated the rink, as well as Olympians Kristi Yamaguchi, Michelle Kwan, Meryl Davis, and Charlie White.
A longtime cultural icon, the rink was featured on The Howdy Doody Show in the 1950s, and has since been the setting for films Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Autumn in New York, and Elf. It was also depicted in Snoopy’s fantasy ice-skating routine in the 1969 movie A Boy Named Charlie Brown.
With views of the Rockefeller Christmas Tree and a gilded 18-foot statue of the Greek god Prometheus, the unique rink (now managed by the Patina Restaurant Group) hosts 165,000 ice skaters per year.
“It’s a special experience to skate here, right in the middle of the Art Deco beauty of Rockefeller Center,” says rink director Carol Olsen. “We see many families coming and parents bringing their children to skate, just as they were brought years before.”
Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Open: November to March
Open since 2001, the ice rink at the Renaissance Minneapolis Hotel and the Residence Inn Minneapolis Downtown is located in the original 1899 train shed of the Milwaukee Road Depot. At the depot’s service peak, 29 trains per day departed the attached truss-roofed shed. Featuring a 140-foot tower, an elaborate cornice, and inset terra-cotta wreath ornaments, the Renaissance Revival station was a hub for the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad. In 1971, owner Milwaukee Road Company decommissioned passenger train service at the depot and converted the building into office space.
By the late 1970s, the structure had fallen into disrepair and was scheduled for demolition. Saved through advocacy by the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission, the depot remained disused until 1998, when the CSM Corporation purchased the structure and surrounding property to convert it into hotel, restaurant, and event space, including a seasonal rink. From Thanksgiving Day through March, skaters can rent their gear on site and take in views of the city from the floor-to-ceiling windows.
Update: The Depot ice rink will close permanently in March.