Revisiting the Park: Will this be the year?

In the aftermath of the Great Depression and WWII, children had gotten used to staying indoors. The blackouts kept our days short, but we finally found freedom toward the end of the war and enjoyed it to the fullest. Maybe we were just energetic, as unfearful boys can be, but when we walked to J. J. McGilvra we discovered the thrill of running and sliding on small frozen bodies of water (as in chuckholes). Even the alleys were icy and begging for recognition.

 Where Bert’s Red Apple is now there was a parking lot that filled up with water and then ice. We ran and slid where others might have dared to skate.

We were thrilled when one of our parents took us to the Civic Ice Arena. It was built in 1928 and later it was called the World’s Fair Arena, the Seattle Center Arena, and the Mercer Arena. This is where we transferred our running and sliding skills and applied them to ice skates. Just standing atop those thin blades was a feat. A few bruises later and much wetness, we gave up, turned in our ice skates and opted for the dryer version — roller skates. We even designed a fashion of skate keys attached to our jackets. Roller skating from school was doable about half the way but had to take them off on other sections of rough sidewalks. The best place to skate was the tennis courts but the players always shooed us away.

Roller skates were the best bet pre-bike. When the strap clamps wore out, we nailed the wheels to a board and turned an apple box upright (for steering) and voila’ we had a scooter. We had races to test our skills. One kid put wheels on a plain board and used it as a scooter without the steering mechanism (box) and called it a board skate. Really? What a dumb name and it would never catch on. A simple multi-million-dollar enterprise gone in a minute. *

In our early teens a friend drove us to an actual roller-skating rink, The Ridge Roller Skating Rink on 85th and Greenwood. We were pumped and we could hear and smell it before we even saw it. Fresh hot dogs wafted into our nostrils, and we heard the music we would skate to. After checking out skates and noticing GIRLS, we gathered by the refreshment stand. Lacing up our skates we journeyed out to the rink and noticed a new trick: people skating backwards and doing jumps! We caught on to a few of the maneuvers receiving a few bruises here and there but at least we weren’t wet.

This roller rink had special skate groups like kids under 12 couples, women, and men.  We chose men (I think we were 13). A man was playing the organ in one corner protected by a wire screen. The music started playing faster and faster, the skaters were skating faster, and it was getting hard to keep up. I took one corner full throttle and ran head on into the wire screen. The music was too loud, and I found a large tattoo of the screen on my larger than average forehead and blacked out. Coming to, we all laughed and skated to the refreshment bar for hot dogs, coke, and GIRLS. Some of us exchanged phone numbers so we were able to call the experience a success.

Another roller-skating arena was the Renton Bowl. Now this was a rink! There were mostly regulars but others there were not received well because of their mannerisms. This was skating with big kids with an attitude. A fashion began here, and the label was “Rink” which depicted the style and the person. Jeans with big cuffs, belt buckle consisted of a bottle opener, keys, pocketknife, and a lighter. These guys usually wore leather jackets with the collar turned up, a T-Shirt with short sleeves turned over a pack of cigarettes to show the brand (usually Lucky Strike with the circular logo showing) and hair styled in a pompadour doused in 40 weight oil. All of them had sideburns, some straggle-y, some perhaps penciled in. Top all of that off with a non expressive stare and it was a “Rink”!

At the refreshment stand there were GIRLS of course but the combination of perfume and the Rinks’ cigarette smoke was not refreshing. We skated by the Rinks and saw they were checking us out, but they began skating backwards around us. One of my friends said, “Did you see that chick? She smiled at me!” She wore makeup and perfume. Here is where one should know the word “caution”. After a hundred laps or so we paused for hotdogs and GIRLS. We sat at a table with a few of them and discussed our schools. They thought Edmund Meany and Garfield were tough schools. Oh yah!

The Rinks joined our table, and one guy kissed a gal there (showing off). Another Rink sat near me and said, “You’re tough Garfield & Meany, Gee!” This was not a friendly greeting. As we resumed skating, it was no longer pleasant, there was a lot of shoving and bumping. When it got a bit to rough, we decided to plan our egress. One by one, we peeled out of there with our driver waiting in his car for us.

In the early 70’s Seattle had a long cold spell. Many delivery trucks were stranded and the word in the Madison Park Bakery was, “The arboretum is frozen!” This was a must-see event, so camera in hand we managed to get there to see people walking on the ice at the north end of the park! The second indication was the ponds were frozen-- ducks were landing on their butts. A dog tried to step onto the lake but backed out unsure of the firmness. One of my friends put her skates on and chanced it, she is still alive. The cars parked nearby all played music on KJR and others joined in and skated in unison. There was a thin film of ice on the shallow end of the lake in front of the Edgewater apartments, but no one tried it.  Many a pipe was frozen, so most of us learned that they must be wrapped during these cold spells.

All the years living here in the wintertime, we would have to call in “unable to commute”. Coworkers from Burien and other areas had no issues. Good for them.  Good for us. Unbeknownst to us Madison Parkers there were alternate routes that we hadn’t discovered. It was more fun to stand at the payphone in front of the dry cleaners next to the pharmacy and call-in kind-of-sick and join the revelers at the Red Onion and watch the snow fall making sure the snow did not fall into our schooners.

*Our makeshift scooters found their way to a soap box derby in Pike Place Market in the mid 70’s taking advantage of the myriad of downhill alleyways from Pike and First Street to lower Post Alley and Madison.