If buildings could weep, the Culver Ice Arena would do so. The popular facility faces closure February 2nd, because the costly-to-maintain rink cannot meet an almost doubled rent of $63,000 per month.
It is expected to be replaced by Planet Granite, a Bay Area based rock-climbing, yoga and fitness company.
Thousands of past and present skaters and Culver City residents are fighting to keep the Arena open; this past Monday they presented a petition to the City Council and supporters, including champion skater Tai Babilonia, made passionate speeches, begging council members to find a way to save a beloved facility.
Even though city officials say they cannot intervene in a private deal, supporters are holding out hope.
52 years ago, the rink, complete with its “Googie” era sign (left), opened its doors on Sepulveda Boulevard in Culver City. Since then it has served as a training or practice ground for winners — Babilonia, Michelle Kwan, Wayne Gretzky and L.A. Kings players — and thousands of skating enthusiasts, young and old, amateur and professional.
Unlike other facilities that retained affection but lost customers to competing entertainments, like Hollywood Park, the rink, the only one on the West Side, still draws 5000 people a week, according to Shannon Takahashi, right, director of the skating school and youth hockey program.
Its pending closure coincides with the Sochi Winter Olympics, which, says Takahashi, would have brought forth another generation of young girls. “They are going to see these figure skaters and they are going to create their dream that they want to be an Olympic figure skater,” she said, “and they are not to have a rink to come to because we are going to be rock-climbing. That’s terrible.”
On a visit there Sunday, the rink was filled with families, teenagers and older individuals, some stumbling beginners, others gliding confidently like self-proclaimed “Wild Bill,” a highly “interpretative” skater who describes the rink as “a little piece of heaven,” providing an escape from a “hellish” life as builder of high end artistic environments.
Skaters there are expressing bewilderment at the pending closure. Aren’t there already enough yoga and rock-climbing facilities in LA, many asked. What about the fact that the rink has served families in the neighborhood and beyond for decades, forging unforgettable memories for several generations of Angelenos? What about the local businesses that got spin-off business from the rink?
Among those unclear where they will go next were the members of the Theater on Ice Adult Amateur Group, coached by Gina Testa, who has been involved with the rink since she was a child. Near to tears, a young woman called Wendy Mata talked about how she moved to Culver City two years ago and “made all her friends” at the rink. Fellow troupe member Barbara Arajo (right of picture, below, with Digna del Rosario) declared herself “devastated” at the pending closure; the rink she said, provided a sanctuary from a highly stressful job, and is a “huge part of her sanity.”
As to where Theater on Ice will go next, it is not clear what their options are. Bernard Sissel, a member, and father of little girl who also skates at the rink, said, “No clue, maybe sand. . . I dunno, can you skate on sand. . . you can go rock climbing anywhere, you can even put it over the ice arena, but you can’t take the ice and put it on the roof.”
Paige Prodonovich, a nine year-old whose father trains at the rink Tuesday nights with his ice-hockey team, said the rink is a “monument” and more than just a “real estate issue.” It is, she said a “whole community issue.” She plans to speak in front of legislators at the council meeting tonight.
As for what can be accomplished at the meeting, Shannon Takahashi realizes that the Mayor and Councilmembers are relatively powerless to do anything specific. City Manager John Nachbar told the LA Times that the city is upset about losing the rink but there is little they can do beyond buying the rink outright, which is “not a realistic option.”
The rink is a casualty of rising West Side land prices, and its value to the community has been trumped by the land’s monetary value.
Takahashi is still holding out hope however, that the L.A. Kings and AEG, who also bid on the site, but could not match Planet Granite, might still come through. And there is chance, she says, that Planet Granite will be forced to pull out of the lease agreement — when they find the solid layer of permafrost underneath the rink that might make it impossible to build their center.
If you have memories of Culver Ice Arena, write us below. Find out more about the rink and their petition, here.