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The “Coolest” Place To Be In Pasadena

If you can do it on ice, you can do it at the Pasadena Ice Skating Center.

Story by Mario Boucher, Images: Sara Smola

When things heat up in Pasadena, ice skating has been a popular cooldown for nearly 80 years. In addition to casual family recreation, Pasadena’s ice facilities have nurtured competitive hockey clubs and world-class figure skaters. Recent Olympic medalist Mirai Nagasu of Arcadia is the latest in a long line of champion skaters who have called the Pasadena Ice Rink home.

“Pasadena has had ice skating since the 1940s and obviously it’s been a staple since,” says Mike Ross, CEO of the Pasadena Center Operating Company (PCOC), who was instrumental in moving the rink to its current location next to the Pasadena Convention Center.

Pasadena’s skating history goes back to 1940, when Cliff Henderson built the Pasadena Winter Garden on Arroyo Parkway, one of only three ice rinks in the Los Angeles area. It was home to the Pasadena Panthers hockey club in the 1950s and the Blade and Edge figure skating club, from which Olympic champion Peggy Fleming emerged. The Pasadena Maple Leafs hockey club, one of the oldest in SoCal, was established there in 1964.

The Winter Garden closed its doors on Dec. 31, 1966, and was converted into a postal facility, but its new owners soon noticed a problem. “Apparently, the permafrost from the ice, when the ice was gone, went down 10 to 18 feet and so the floor was always messed up,” Ross says. It was eventually converted to its current use as a Public Storage facility.

It took a few years before a rink resurfaced. After the new Convention Center opened in 1973, some space in the old exhibition hall offered an opportunity to bring back some coolness to Pasadena.

It cost $125,000 to build a rink where the Ice Capades could practice, though lack of space meant the ice surface was only three quarters the size of a normal NHL rink. The other issue was the ceiling fixtures—the space was the former Civic Auditorium ballroom. Despite (or perhaps because of) the fancy ceiling treatment, the rink proved popular with its new tenants for 35 years.

When it came time for a new rink, the city turned to PCOC to find a new location. It didn’t have to go far. “Because it had been so busy and popular, City Council asked our company, PCOC, to see what we could do,” Ross says. “At that point, I decided that we could move the old ice rink into what was called the Pavilion at the time, the tent-like structure adjacent to our conference building.”

The brand-new Pasadena Ice Skating Center opened in 2011, continuing the city’s skating tradition. A Michigan native, Ross knew the value of an ice rink, particularly one which now attracts 150,000 people a year. “It brings a lot of people to downtown Pasadena,” he says. “We have one of the best ice rinks in Southern California.”

The venue employs up to 60 people, including figure skating and hockey instructors as well as college students. In addition to encouraging kids of all ages to learn how to skate, the center encourages participation in a number of ice sports. “This includes not only figure skating and hockey but also curling and broomball,” notes Randy Winship, the center’s general manager. “We try to provide something for everyone.” Of course, you can’t overstate the benefits of exercise that is as fun as it is good for you. “Some of our senior skaters are up into their 70s and 80s,” Winship says. “It’s a lifelong sport once you start, and it doesn’t matter what age you start.”

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