Aging ice rink still thrills


The acoustic tiles on the walls are worn, the carpeting is threadbare in some places, and a note posted along the edge of the Pasadena Ice Skating Center rink reminds skaters that “our nostalgic facility is very old.” Hockey parents complain that the boards don’t bounce right and that the puck often gets lost during games.

But on a recent “free skate” night, the magic of the ice was still alive and well.

Under a series of massive, rusting iron chandeliers, a toddler wrapped in a heavy purple jacket took tentative steps across the ice, a teacher encouraging her. A couple clasped gloved hands together as they slid effortlessly across the ice. And 9-year-old Emma Linde, her red hair pulled back in a ponytail, a velvet skirt peeking out from under a fleece jacket, practiced a series of complicated-looking moves: a camel spin, a toe loop and other twirls.


The aging skating rink is increasingly an anachronism in downtown Pasadena, which has seen dramatic redevelopment and growth in the last decade. The rink is across the street from the Paseo Colorado shopping mall and a few blocks from the refurbished California Mediterranean-style City Hall and bustling Old Pasadena business district.

Plans are underway to replace the creaky old rink with a state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly ice center elsewhere in the city. It would include two NHL-regulation size rinks, a pro shop, party space and snack bar.

Pasadena is in the midst of a two-year, $150-million renovation of its convention center, of which the ice rink is considered a part. The city has long planned to return the 17,000-foot space to the use that it was originally intended. The space, with its dozen arching windows, was once a grand ballroom of sorts, attached to the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, and in the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s, was home to everything from cotillions to tractor exhibits.

“I think it’s inevitable,” said Emma’s mother, Leslie Croyder. “Everyone thinks this is closed already.”

Michael Ross, chief executive of the Pasadena Center Operating Co., which runs the convention center, said that many of the former ballroom’s old decorative touches are still there, ready to be reborn: hardwood floors where dancers once promenaded, those period chandeliers that hang above the ice rink, a little worse for wear, and decorative ceilings that are hidden now under a protective silverish coating. “It’s going to take a lot of time and money,” said Ross, “but we are going to work . . . to make sure that it gets back.”

The former ballroom space was turned into an ice rink in the mid-1970s, after a famed rink on nearby Arroyo Parkway, where Olympian Peggy Fleming had once trained, closed. At the time, the city was in the process of building its convention center, and planners thought that the ballroom space would not be needed once the convention center was complete.

Over the last 30 years, generations of Pasadena children have skated on the ice, held birthday parties on an upper floor overlooking the rink and sometimes glimpsed world-class skaters in their midst. Mirai Nagasu, the 2008 U.S. ladies national champion and an Arcadia resident, trained at the rink.

But for all the nostalgia, there is general agreement that Pasadena deserves a better, more advanced, skating rink.

About 10 years ago, city officials started thinking about what to do about the old ice rink, which they deemed increasingly inadequate. It was too small, lacked space for spectators, and the historical aspects of the building prevented much-needed modernization.

They began planning a new facility, to be located elsewhere in the city -- eventually deciding on a strip of land in East Pasadena. The design calls for a 65,000-square-foot facility, complete with a mezzanine for spectators. But the process has been anything but easy.

The location, away from any street or utility access and adjacent to a flood-control channel, required about $4.5 million in site-specific upgrades, including a special piling foundation to support the weight of the rink.

And after the budget of the project jumped dramatically last spring, the City Council rejected all developers’ bids on the project as too costly and directed the project’s architect to come up with changes that could lower the total cost.

“You won’t see any difference in the size of the rink,” said Martin Pastucha, director of the city’s public works department. “You will see a difference in the exterior treatments. We didn’t dumb it down; we became a little more economic, with better use of the entrances and of the framing itself.”

Still, the project’s total budget now is estimated to be $26 million, with construction costing $19.5 million--up from an initial $12 million. And earlier this week, Pasadena City Manager Michael J. Beck urged city officials to think about how they could find money to help jump-start the construction process in light of the increasingly tight credit market. Three-million dollars have been set aside for the project from the convention center renovation, and the rest of the money would have to be raised by the city.

In a meeting last week, several City Council members said that although they are enthusiastic about the possibility of a new rink, they are leery of the financial ramifications.

“This is big money,” said City Councilman Sid Tyler. “I’m not sure where this is going to fit in at the end of the day.”

In an interview later, Tyler said that he worried that in the current economic climate, with a credit crisis and an ongoing budget shortfall for Pasadena, committing so much cash to an ice rink may not make sense.

Pastucha said that there was optimism within the city that the financial crisis has “created some turmoil in the construction marketplace” and that when the project is sent out to bid again early next year, costs will be more favorable for the city. He said he hopes that construction would begin next summer and last about 16 months.

Jon Dudley, vice-president of the Pasadena Maple Leafs, the region’s oldest hockey club, which operates out of the Pasadena rink, said that the process of building a new rink in Pasadena had been slow, but “it’s the city, and they don’t want to rush through something that doesn’t work.”

Back at the ice rink, 10-year-old Justin Wang was getting ready to step onto the ice. Dressed in black, a mask obscuring his face, Justin said that he’d started hockey after a friend had had a birthday party at the rink. He’d given up soccer to skate, he said, and now came there twice a week. “It’s kind of old,” he said of the rink. “And we have to share the ice with” other players.

Justin’s mother, Rosita Wang, said that she wished there was a warm room for hockey parents, but “at least there’s coffee” in the present space.

“I like the parties, the people and the coaches,” said Justin. “I have friends here.”