Season On The Rink

The years 1978 to 1985 were downtown Indy’s own Ice Age.

January 2018Add a comment

There was a time when skaters came from all over the city to glide on Monument Circle, whether they were doing double axels or just wobbling along bravely on weak ankles. Onlookers poured out of coffee shops and restaurants to watch them.

It was magical. No wonder—the first official skating rink on the Circle was the work of a real-life magician.

Ron Urban, “professional magician and ice skater,” and three workmen installed the first 50-foot-by-80-foot rink with the not-so-successful plan to have it open in conjunction with the lighting of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument on November 24, 1978, according to a newspaper account. But the Indianapolis weather had something up its sleeve that winter, remaining so warm that even after Urban had dumped 10,200 pounds of ice cubes on top of the mushy rink ice, he couldn’t get it to freeze in time. Then, a canvas he had placed on top of the rink in an effort to harden the ice stuck to the surface and had to be cut away.

The weather eventually gave the magician a break, though, and the skating rink was an instant hit. Letters and phone calls poured in from citizens expressing their delight with it. The next year, the rink expanded to twice its original size, taking up the entire eastern basin of the Monument.
Indianapolis Mayor William H. Hudnut was apparently the brains behind the idea. In his memoirs, he wrote that the ice-skating rink was one of the deliberate changes made to the city center during the downtown renewal of the 1970s and 1980s.

Peggy Fleming, the Olympic gold–winning queen of the rink, took a spin on Monument Circle in 1982, the year the city hosted the national U.S. Figure Skating Championships. The competition took place inside Market Square Arena, but special lunchtime activities, including Fleming’s exhibition skate, expanded outside.

Other performers and professional-level skaters strutted their stuff on the rink over the years, too. Although these demonstrations were popular, the rink was most successful as a place for every man, woman, and child to skate at their own level of skill. It was a destination for wholesome winter fun.

The restoration of the Monument, beginning in 1986 and continuing through 1987, closed the rink for those seasons. Then, when two ice-skating rinks opened to great fanfare at Pan American Plaza in 1987, the old space must have seemed, well, rinky-dink. Local skaters shifted to the indoor venue, and no rink ever returned to Monument Circle.

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