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Fantasy on Ice

By Ann K. Williams
Staff Writer

October 11 -- Balmy temperatures, festive decorations, and ice -- real ice. Visitors to Downtown Santa Monica will have it all this holiday season, when they’ll be able to glide, spiral and spin in a real winter wonderland.

The parking lot at 5th Street and Arizona Avenue will be transformed into a 60-by-100-foot ice skating rink this November, thanks to a partnership between the Bayside District Corporation and Starbucks, Inc., and to Ice Rink Events/Frozen Water, L.P. which will install the fair-weather ice.

“Our goal is to bring an exciting holiday experience to the downtown area,” said Debbie Lee, director of marketing and communications for the Bayside District.

“We hope it will become a tradition,” Lee said of the winter season attraction she hopes will continue for three to five more years.

The rink marks an extension of the annual downtown decorations and festivities, she said.

”We have a lot of holiday events at the Promenade,” said Lee. “We really wanted to create a fun and festive atmosphere downtown off the promenade.”

In keeping with this year’s planned decor featuring the radiance of the season, the rink will be ringed with “glowing globes of light,” she said.

Figure skating stars Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner will add even more luster when they MC the grand opening on November 21.

No strangers to Santa Monica, World Figure Skating Champions and two-time Olympic contenders Babilonia and Gardner practiced at the Ice Capades Chalet at 500 Broadway when they were young.

The Chalet, which sported a glittering disco ball and was the scene for Sylvester Stallone’s courtship of Talia Shire in the first Rocky movie, closed in 1983, much to the disappointment of skating fans.

Gardner recently shared some of his memories of the rink he and Babilonia began frequenting in 1972.

“Training at the rink was a lot of fun,” Gardner said. “In the summer, we would skate in the somewhat cold ice rink, then run to beach midday for beach-time, then return to the rink for more skating. Lots of skaters were jealous of our situation. Who wouldn't be?”

The pair watched as Santa Monica Place went up across the street, where “a rundown gas station and little markets” used to be, Gardner said. And they watched as the Downtown and Third Street Promenade developed “into the great place that it is.”

”Henshey’s was the big anchor store there, but there were mainly closed storefronts with just a few little antique shops and a few specialty stores,” Gardner reminisced.

As the Downtown transformed into an international destination, Gardner and Babilonia became household names. They were U.S. and World Champions and joined the U.S. Olympic teams in 1976 and 1980, all the while training at the rink that would soon be torn down to make way for Fred Segal’s.

”We did our major training at that rink in Santa Monica,” Gardner said. “It took me several years to walk back in there after the property was sold and became a Fred Segal’s. But, they kept the big mural on the east wall!

”All and all, we did our growing up in Santa Monica because we spent our daytimes there training.”

Gardner, who along with Babilonia will host and produce the grand opening event November 21, is looking forward to hitting the ice again in Santa Monica.

“I've always thought that Santa Monica would be the perfect place for an outdoor rink, especially during the holidays,” he said. “As I currently live in Marina del Rey, it will be a hop, skip and a jump away for me to get to. I might even coach a few lessons there. Who knows!”

The foundation for these dreams will be the ice, of course, and keeping it frozen in Santa Monica’s summer-like climate is up to Project Manager David Fies of the aptly-named Ice Rink Events/Frozen Water L.P.

Fies explained the seemingly magical process from the ground up.

When his team arrives, the Bayside District will already have covered the parking lot with “a huge sand box,” perfectly leveled to support the ice, Fies said.

Then his crew will cover the sand with rows and rows of tubing connected to a large refrigeration unit. The tubing will contain proplene glycol, chilled to 18-degrees Fahrenheit.

They’ll cover the tubing with half an inch of water, let it freeze, and then paint the ice white. Otherwise, Fies said, the skaters would be able to see the tubing. Then his team will add another half-inch of water to make an inch-thick perfectly level surface.

There are plenty of precedents for this winter’s rink in Santa Monica, Fies said.

Just in California alone, his company maintains two rinks -- one by the beach at the Del Coronado Hotel in San Diego, and another fanciful creation in San Jose that allows skaters to glide among the palm trees.

And the company is the creator of one of the world’s largest outdoor rinks -- a 240 by 120-foot rink in Mexico City.

“We can build them any shape, any size, in any climate,” Fies said.

While the Santa Monica rink, which can accommodate 300 skaters, will be designed to stay solid in temperatures 75 degrees or lower, extreme heat is no challenge for the innovative manufacturers.

Temperatures soared to 100 degrees when Wayne Gretzky made his 1988 debut with the Los Angeles Kings on an Olympic-sized rink they built at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, a feat that’s led to repeat contracts for outdoor rinks with the National Hockey League, Fies said.

So tourists and locals alike can be assured that the ice is safe and the fun’s guaranteed when they lace up their skates and glide into a fantasy of winter fun by the sea.

The rink will operate for two months, from November 21 to January 20, and will be open to all.

Readers Fine Jewelers Advertisement


“We hope it will become a tradition.” Debbie Lee


“I've always thought that Santa Monica would be the perfect place for an outdoor rink." Randy Gardner


“We can build them any shape, any size, in any climate.” David Fies


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