Skaters mourn the Culver Ice Arena, expected to shutter on Feb. 2 to make way for a rock-climbing gym
By Gary Walker
At just 10 years old, Randy Gardner dreamed of skating in the Winter Olympics.
At the Culver Ice Arena, the skating rink closest to his childhood home, Gardner met Tai Babilonia. The two became skating partners, and the pair would go on to win five U.S. figure skating championships, a world title in 1979 and twice qualify to skate in the Olympics.
“My first day skating was at the Culver Ice Arena. I remember its smells, its size and how cold it was very vividly,” said Gardner, now 55 and a resident of Marina del Rey.
Soon, memories like those may be all that’s left of the 52-year Sepulveda Boulevard landmark — the only permanent ice rink on L.A.’s west side.
Culver Ice Arena is slated to close its doors on Feb. 2 to make way for Planet Granite, a Bay Area-based gym that specializes in rock climbing.
On Monday, more than 50 demonstrators staged a rally outside Culver City Hall to call on City Council members to try to save the rink. Later that night, a coalition of figure skaters, hockey players and recreational skaters presented the council with a petition to save Culver Ice Arena that had garnered more than 11,000 online signatures in just a few days.
Coby Dahlstrom skated as a young girl at the Ice Capades Chalet in Santa Monica, now the site of a Fred Segal store, and said losing the Culver Ice Arena resonated with her.
“I have a lot of nostalgia about going to a local skating rink,” said Dahlstrom, a Westchester resident whose son and daughter now skate at the arena. “Especially now that I have children, I can understand why so many people are sad about losing it.”Gardner, who now runs a skating school that provides lessons at ICE, a winter outdoor rink in Santa Monica, said that not having a year-round venue for Westside skaters and hockey players would force families to travel miles way from their homes.
“Skating is a very healthy recreation, and if Culver Ice Arena is leaving, the community is going to need a new rink,” Gardner said.
Damara Powell, 8, said she learned to skate at the Culver City rink.
“I don’t want this rink to close because I have a lot of fun doing tricks with my friends,” she told the council.
Babilonia implored the city to intervene. She called the ice arena her “frozen playground” and recounted her fateful pairing with Gardner.
The Culver Ice Arena “was where I spent more time than I did at home,” Babilonia said. “It was the perfect babysitter for many young skaters.”
Despite the group’s efforts, the prognosis for saving the rink isn’t good.
John Nachbar, Culver City’s city manager, said because the skating rink’s lease agreement is a transaction between two private entities, city officials have virtually no say over its termination.
“While I deeply appreciate the passion that everyone this evening brings to this issue … realistically there is virtually nothing the City Council can do to ensure that this stays an ice rink,” Nachbar said.
The Los Angeles Kings, which used the Culver Ice Arena as a training facility when Wayne Gretzky played with the team in the 1990s, attempted to lease the venue and continue its current operations but was outbid by Planet Granite, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Mike Karagozian, the owner of the property, could not be reached.
A representative of Planet Granite told the Times that the company sympathized with skaters but sought to accommodate a growing Westside rock-climbing community.
Gardner said losing the Culver City rink signaled “the end of an era” for the skaters who have glided over its ice for more than five decades.
“I grew up in that rink,” he said. “It’s legendary.”