By Ann K. Williams
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,”
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
Gardner recently shared some of his memories
of the rink he and Babilonia began frequenting
“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
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
“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.
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
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.