January 12, 2012

Roller Skating at the Arcadia Roller Rink

Bill Matteson
Uptown Chicago History Correspondent

Roller skating at the Arcadia was what we all lived for: A Saturday afternoon skating on the new blue plastic floor with live pipe organ music.

I bought my first pair of shoe skates for $20, case included, at the Arcadia for a couple of bucks down and .50 cents per week. You could own your very own shoe skates; they would be kept at the rink until they were paid for.

Life was simple in those days; boys skates were black, girls were white. Now that I think of it our ice skates were the same

In my skate case I had two sets of wood wheels: regular wheels, two inch diameter and a one inch width, for normal rink skating and racing, and another set for dancing 1-1/2 inch diameter and a two inch length, also a small wrench for replacing the wheels and a spray container of dry graphite. I had another set of composition wheels for street skating.

Also in the case I had to have a decal of a pin up girl on the inside lid; these we bought at the dime store.
We would skate around in a clockwise rotation keeping to the tempo of the music, sometimes fast and sometimes slow. If we started skating too fast the organist would slow down the tempo, and at times we would have to skate counterclockwise.

Then we would have announcements over the speaker, "Ladies Choice" or "couples only." Now this was the fun part; we would have our "dancing wheels" on, find a girl to dance with, and then standing side by side put your right arm around the waist of the girl and her left hand in yours, skate around with the girl of your dreams. We would take turns skating backwards. First I would and she would steer me around then we would switch and she would skate backwards.

The center of the rink was left open for more advanced skaters and dancers, while the outer perimeter was left for beginners and novices. It was always a rite of passage to skate in the "inner circle."

In the early to mid 40's we skated on a hardwood floor. One day they closed the Arcadia down for a couple of weeks, maybe even a month, and when it opened, we couldn't believe our eyes.  A solid deep blue plastic floor; it was to us the same as when Dorothy opened the door and realized she wasn't in Kansas anymore.

We soon found out the if you skated fast and then touched someone they would get a static shock; we had fun with that caper.

My favorite skating music was "I'm Looking over a Four Leaf Clover" and "Pistol Packin Mama." I'm sure that I had others but they are long forgotten.

Every Friday after school a "hawker" from the Arcadia would give out discount passes; we could skate all day noon to 5pm for 12 cents. They would hold races before closing and the winners would win a free pass for the next week. I would win because I would enter a younger age bracket; I did this until they got wise to me.

I skated there until I went high school in 1950. The Arcadia burned down somewhere in the mid 1950's, and a lot of old memories went up in smoke.

Ah yes the good old days; do kids roller skate today?


bill Matteson said...

from a reader and former uptown kid

I too went to the "rink" loved Adele Scott at the organ and although I never learned to skate backwards, they was a gal named Carolyn who did great and the guys were great.

Anonymous said...

They tore down Rainbo and that's something they should have more of on the north & south sides. Those roller rinks were great on the weekends and kept kids off the streets.

They've sorts figured that out with the ice rink at Wrigley which is great because you don't have to trek downtown to Millennium Park.

They should have mini roller & ice rinks just like the old days. It's good exercise in the winter as well in spring & summer.

George Whitey Heist said...

Hi Oldtimers,
I was thrilled to find this site. I skated at the Arcadia in 1952-1954. I skated in the speed club and the Junior Roller Derby. Leroy Bernadine was the rink manager at the time. I skated in the RSROA speed meets all over the midwest and qualified for the Nationals in 54 in Denver. I loved skating at the Chicage Coliseum on the banked track when the Chicago Westerners were in town. Thanks to to Internet in recent years I have located some of my old Arcadia friends. I would love to connect with more. George "Whitey" Heist E-mail
I have many memories and stories from the years that I skated at
4444 N. Broadway.

Jerry Seltzer said...

My father who invented Roiler Derby at the old Coliseum (torn down) co-owned the Arcadia.....I learned to skate there and eventually took over the management of the Derby.

Many of the great skaters of the 40s-60s in the game started here.

Joanne said...

Hi Jerry! Thanks for your comment. We just picked up an old decal and ticket from the Arcadia, so I'll post it later today.

bill Matteson said...


I am truly enjoying reading your blogs of Uptown Chicago History. I happened to come upon your blog by searching for the Arcadia Roller Rink. Although I was only 6 or 7, I remember the rink well, and remember mom dropping my sisters and I off at the Arcadia and if you had a certain year dime, that got you in on Sundays. I also remember a young fellow my age by the name of Danny Killian or Killier or something that we would skate together.

I can't forget stopping for penny candy and Prince Castle ice cream on the way to the Sunset drive in.

I was born at Cuneo Hospital in February of 1947. I do remember living on Paulina street near Rogers Park until I was about 4 or so, we went to the Bug theater then. We moved and lived on the corner of Winchester & Balmoral until I was in 5th Grade at St. Gregory The Great. The Edens expressway was just built and just opened when we moved to Norridge near Cumberland & Lawrence until 1964.

In your blogs, you mentioned a lot about Sheridan Plaza Hotel, Wilson Ave, etc. My grandfather,started Sheridan Plaza Bus Lines that was located at Wilson & Sheriden. The buses would take people to the horse race tracks, Aurora Downs, Maywood Park, Arlington Park, etc. It was the expressways that finally put my grandfather out of business in the 60's. I believe that my grandfather had the first limousine for hire in Chicago.

Well, thanks for the memories, I still have a lot of your blogs to read yet.

Anonymous said...

How wonderful to find your site. I was born in 1931 at the Ravenswood hospital and grew to 14 in Uptown living at 4714 No Racine and later at 819 Lawrence. Went to St Thomas of Canterbury School. Went to the Uptown and Riviera and Pantheon and Deluxe theatres on weekend evenings and Saturday afternoons. When old enough, I learned to skate at the Arcadia and loved the music of Ted Day at the Wurlitzer Organ. Most of my years, the floor was wood. I had regular skates and saved for precisions which I really enjoyed. There were so many great things in the neighborhood. We could go to the 'rocks' which we called the jumble of huge boulders piled along the lake front during the war. My folks took me to the Aragon to hear Kay Kyser and Eddy Howard and even Tommy Dorsey. In winter, we could swim at the pool in the New Lawrence Hotel. For a super roast beef dinner we could go to the dining room at the Sheridan Plaza Hotel. We could shop at Goldblatts. Get chocolates and taffy apples at Fannie Mae candies next to the Riviera Theatre. Moved way west for seventh grade and have thought about Uptown and all the fun I had there as a kid for a lot of years. Thanks for making your great blog on Chicago.

Joanne said...

Anonymous, Thanks for visiting the blog! If you have any photos of your days in Uptown that you'd like to share, or details of a favorite adventure, let me know. You can contact me at editor@compassrose.org and I'll be sure to post them.

bill Matteson said...

Anonymous..Thank you so much for your wonderful commnets
My Wife (Eileen Griffin)went all 8 years at St.Thomas graduating in 1950
her Best friend is Gail Scholl...
we both loved the rocks swimming off Lawrence Ave.please revisit us

William said...

Roller skates are a great way to stay fit while having fun. Skaters must pay attention to the rhythm and timing of the music to make certain moves.

Unknown said...

I jUST stumbled onto this site. What a great asset to those of us trying to reconstruct obscure and faded memories. My mom, was a regular at the Arcadia when she was a teen. From the family stories, I know that this was a amazing time. My Mom was Barbara Brod at the time. She had a girlfriend Iris, who joined the derby for a few years. Ny mom wanted to join also but Grandpa, a strickt, German heritage guy, said: Hell No. My mom talked about a number of roller skating friends, few of which I can name names, But I do remember a guy she called Willy Lump Lump. As a kid I can remember a few trips to the homes of old Arcadia friends that were in very questionable neiborhoods. Iris, of roller derby history remained a friend of my mom for years afterward

Unknown said...

I am not sure why that the previous comment was attributed to Jon Fidel but it was in fact contributed by me. Anybody with memories of the Arcadia can write me at craig.wiegel@icloud.com

Unknown said...

I am not sure why that the previous comment was attributed to Jon Fidel but it was in fact contributed by me. Anybody with memories of the Arcadia can write me at craig.wiegel@icloud.com

William said...

Roller skating is never out of fashion. Kids, teens and even adults enjoy this type of sport. The good thing about roller skates is that no specific season is needed for these people to go out and practice some tricks.

Dorothy Johnson said...

It's a nice post. Roller skating is so fun.

Unknown said...

Actually Arcadia as a roller rink had two fires. The first in 1946 that caused an estimated $100,000 in damage. That's when Seltzer and Morelli purchased the rink and made the repairs. It re-opened January 4, 1947 with the new floor to a record crowd, described by Bill above and Chicago's "only" plastic floor! Gloria Nord was present for the festivities. Nord was a regular at ARcadia and in the fall would make appearances to practice her new routines for Skating Vanities. In January 1959 the second fire occurred, after which the building was demolished.

A new book is in process about roller skating in Chicago during the Golden AGe or 1937 - 1959 in which 18 Chicago rinks are featured with stories of both their origins and demise. One such story is the Roller Bowl...did you know it was haunted?

Or how about Madison Gardens rink started out as a cable car barn, once owned by the West Chicago Street Railway Company.

Anonymous said...

Pam Smith Melanie Cole from Speed Club late 50's anyone remember.

Anonymous said...

Yes I do. I remember them skating with a guy name Terry. He and Pam were in Speed Club.

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Sharon said...

I lived to skate at the Arcadia in the early, mid ‘50s. I had a skating outfit and my own skates (in a metal case) and thought I was “it” at the time. I was there every weekend and hated to leave. I also skated at Riverview and liked it there, too but was at home at the Arcadia. I lived on Lawrence and Malden at the time and went to Our Ladies of Lourdes school and when we moved a little further north (Olive and Clark) attended St. Gregory’s High School. I met my first “boyfriend” Pat Ryan while skating. He went to St. Benedicts (one of our rival schools). Wow! This really brings up so many memories. I’m so glad I found this site.


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