Not only are thousands of people lamenting the likely closure of the Culver Ice Arena but preservationists are starting to ask what might happen to the building’s period sign (grandfathered in because Culver City no longer allows such tall signs) and to the fiberglass statue posing over the entrance. Jason Groman did some sleuthing and explains who she is.
Did you ever want to know who that lovely nine-foot woman in true blue regalia who greets you as you enter the Culver City Ice Arena?
Many sources believe it was “The Sweetheart Of The Ice” Donna Atwood. In 1938 the 13 year old Atwood had just moved to Los Angeles from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and her father took her to see Olympic figure skating champion Sonja Henie at the famed “Polar Palace” in Hollywood. Watching Henie impressed her so much that her future was cast. Donna primarily taught herself to skate and became good enough to compete in the Olympics.
But Atwood’s father died and during World War II the Olympics were cancelled. The Atwood family had no money and Donna never got the chance to follow in her heros’ skates. She did however become a performer and a provider.
In 1941 John H. Harris, producer of the ”Ice Capades” was scouting new talent and offered the 16 year-old Atwood a contract. Within a year Donna was the headliner. A true star indeed. Even Walt Disney used her a human model for the ice skating scene with Bambi and Thumper in the cherished Disney film “Bambi”.
Atwood married John Harris, 27 years her senior, and they had twin sons. But they still were on the road performing over 6000 shows throughout the U.S & Canada. Donna retired a age 31 to focus on the family. The relationship was a tough one for Harris and Atwood and they divorced in Santa Monica in 1957. She never remarried. John died in 1969.
Donna passed away January 21st 2011 at the age of 85, leaving behind her twin sons Don and Dennis and her daughter Donna.
Many reports say that the fiberglass statue now adorning the entry to Culver Ice Arena was built in the late 1950s for the Ice Capades Hollywood Corporate office. While at the Ice Capades office the statue spun on a block of ice over the entrance in front of a huge logo neon sign. In the late 1960s, the statue was moved to the West Covina Ice Arena and this 9 ft fiberglass hottie finally made her home at The Culver City Ice Arena in the early 1980’s.
Where will Donna’s likeness go after February 2nd ? Hopefully, the rink will be saved at the 11th hour; if not then let us hope she will be put high above one the last of the remaining ice rinks in Southern California.