Willowbrook Park

The Daily Plant : Thursday, December 19, 2002


Dear Professor Ginkgo:

I recently learned there was more than one skating rink in Central Park. My discovery got me thinking: how many other rinks are there in the city? Which one was the first rink? I know ice skating existed before ice skating rinks, but how long has the sport been around?


Miss I.C. Waters

Dear Miss Waters:

Thank you for you question. It’s been awhile since I’ve thought about ice skating (I misplaced my skates more than a decade ago and have been off the ice ever since).

Ice skating, you can be sure, has been around for a long time. Thousands of years before Central Park, New York, or even the first European discovery of America, people ice skated. Evidence of this has been found at the bottom of a lake in Switzerland, where a pair of ice skates were discovered that date back to 3,000 B.C. The skates were made from the leg bones of large animals with holes in them that were attached to the feet with leather straps. Back then, of course, ice skating only occurred on lakes—something which is much less common today. In New York City, for example, people used to skate on the frozen waters of Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, Central Park in Manhattan, Willowbrook Park in Staten Island, and at other smaller ponds and lakes around the city. In fact, in Olmsted and Vaux’s original Greensward plan, the Lake in Central Park was labeled a "skating pond."

The first artificial ice rink (mechanically refrigerated), the Glaciarium, was built in 1876 at Chelsea, London. The first one in New York City did not arrive until three-quarters of a century later. Central Park’s Wollman Rink opened in 1950, thanks to a generous donation from Kate Wollman. Over 300,000 people skated there in the first year alone. Lasker Rink, a rink at the northern end of Central Park, was built in the 1960s. During the summer, Parks & Recreation converts the rink into a public pool.

The rink in the New York City Building at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park has quite a varied history. Built in 1938 for the 1939-40 World’s Fair, it was used for ice shows. After the fair, it became a full-fledged public ice and roller skating rink. In 1946, a $2.2 million renovation converted the building into a temporary site for the newly-formed United Nations. In 1952, ice and roller skating returned to the building. Since then, it has gone under several renovations and currently operates from mid-October through April.

If you’re in Brooklyn, you can point your skates in the direction of Prospect Park, where the Kate Wollman Rink is located. Built in 1961, the rink was constructed on a site formerly known as Music Island where music concerts were held during the 19th Century. If you get bored of the boardwalk at Coney Island, Abe Stark Rink Staten Island is rich in history and a fun place to skate, to boot. It was formerly the site of the Ravenhall Baths, a privately-owned facility offering swimming pools, locker rooms and a sundeck to beach goers. Finally, if you’re on Staten Island, visit the Staten Island War Memorial Ice Skating Rink in Cloves Lake Park which opened Thanksgiving Day in 1970.

All this talk is starting to wake up the old bug I used to get every winter (when my head had more leaves). Great Scott! I just remembered where I left my skates. If my memory serves me well, they are in my secret locker in the triple-sub basement of the Arsenal. No time to waste, I must be on my way. See you on the ice.

Sincerely yours,

Professor Ginkgo


"It is not your aptitude, but your attitude, that determines your altitude."

Zig Ziglar

Directions to Willowbrook Park

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