Saturday, April 3, 2010

Grand Plans and Grand Ballrooms: A Story of Open Space and Ice Rinks

The city has scrapped plans to build a 50,000 square foot ice skating rink and parking for 150 cars on this open field adjacent to Eaton Wash. This field, which lies between Orange Grove and Foothill, will remain open space. The ice rink will stay at the Convention Center.

Like everything in Pasadena, there's some history to tell here. There is the saga of ice skating in Pasadena. And there are the plans for this unassuming field -- grand plans that never caught on. It all goes back about 80 years.........


We start in 1932 when plans were adopted for Eaton Canyon Park extending from the mouth of Eaton Canyon all the to Pasadena's southern border. This was the first grand plan for the Eaton Canyon and Eaton Wash. It called for continuous parkland on both sides of the wash -- kind of a modest version of the Arroyo Seco on the west side of town. The field pictured above was smack in the middle of the plan.

The grand plan doesn't seem to have stirred much of a following. East Pasadena was still the city's countryside -- the place of fields and dairies and open land to spare. Some probably thought, "there will be time to build the park, but not now."

Meanwhile, ice skating was on its way to Pasadena's downtown. In 1940, the Pasadena Winter Garden opened. It was home to a hockey team and figure skating classes. The Garden was a popular weekend hangout for folks who enjoyed live organ music and couples only skates. However, it is most famous as the original home of figure skater Peggy Fleming, who went on to win the only American gold medal at the '68 Winter Olympics.


Fast forward 25 years.

Maybe live organ music didn't cut it in the hip 1960's. Or maybe interest in ice skating just subsided. For whatever reason, in 1966, the Winter Garden closed. Pasadena was without an ice skating rink.

As it happened, about this time, the city's attention turned to Eaton Canyon and open space along the Eaton Wash. The stage was set for an improbable marriage between Eaton Wash open space and ice skating.

In 1967, Pasadena's Director of Parks approved a grand plan for Eaton Canyon Development. This was truly a remarkable plan. The focal point was a hiking, biking and bridle trail along Eaton Wash. There was a wild bird sanctuary a the Eaton Wash Reservoir and ample amenities spread out along the wash trial.

The plan called for a cluster of attractions between Orange Grove and Foothill. No doubt aware of the Winter Garden's demise, the plan called for a new ice skating rink in this area. The new rink would be part of a group of active venues including an outdoor roller rink, an amphitheater, an animal farm and a swim club.

The plan never took hold. With the 70's came a city-wide push for development. The city's vision for the area turned to industrial and residential development.

Meanwhile, ice skating returned in the mid-1970's . At that time, the city developed a a series of buildings around the Pasadena Civic Auditorium that would serve as a convention center. The new buildings made the old Grand Ballroom expendable. The Ballroom was converted to an ice rink and has been used as an ice rink ever since.

Fast forward 30 years.

Several years ago the city made plans to renovate the convention center. Part of the plan was to return the Grand Ballroom to it's original use. But, the city had a problem. There was an ice rink in the Ballroom and the city had a long term lease with the ice rink operator. If it wanted to restore the Ballroom, the city would have to find a place for the ice rink. Where could the city put an ice rink?

Well, you guessed it. There happened to be an open field over on the east side of town. Somehow this field had escaped development and it was now solution to the city's problem. Plans were made, permits obtained. It looked like the field was destined for an ice rink and parking lot.

But, times change. By 2009, a shaky economy caused the city to rethink the wisdom of risking public dollars on the construction and operation of an ice rink. On reconsideration, the council voted not to risk the funds.

But there's another sea change at play here -- a change in how the public regards its remaining urban open space and a new awareness of how our actions impact our environment. When the ice rink solution appeared a few years ago, the city was just starting to explore what it meant to be a "green" and sustainable city. The city is now further along that road and has often stated its aspiration to leadership in environmental awareness and action.

Though the economy may and hopefully will change for the better, I hope an ice rink on this open field is now a nonstarter. For an environmentally aware city, the incongruity is striking. Why would Pasadena want to build a giant refrigerated box and a parking lot on some of its last remaining open space?

Yes, times have changed and with the passing years so have attitudes and values about what should be built, what should be preserved and what should be pursued. All of which brings me back to where we started. Now, about those trails in the '67 plan....

Oak-lined Eaton Wash immediately to the west of the former ice rink site.


Bellis said...

Let's hope times have now changed and we'll get that trail along Eaton Wash. Thanks for this very interesting post, Michael.

Cafe Pasadena said...

Love the history. Almost makes me wanna put another history post myself.

Almost. Thankfully, we have blogger's like you who can run with this stuff!

Thal Armathura said...

Michael, thanks for summarizing our past and present dreams and hopes. I still hope somehow we will be able to reopen the ice rink in what remains of the Pasadena Winter Garden, the Public Storage Facility. It makes so much sense to have such a recreational facility located next to a Gold Line stop in Old Pasadena in one of our most notable Streamline Moderne buildings, memories of the long gone Pan Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles. And if the Julia Morgan designed YWCA can be reused as a recreational facility, it being located right next to City Hall, I would be doubly pleased. These are some of my fondest wishes!

Michael Coppess said...

Thank you for your comments.

Bellis: Yes, let's hope! I tend to err on the optimistic side on this stuff.

Cafe: Hey, I'll scratch around for another food post, if you'll dig up some history over at your site.

Thal: I'm sure I first learned about the Winter Garden from you. See, folks do pay attention.

Petrea said...

Lovely post, Michael. Your research and knowledge are much appreciated. Thanks for this.

altadenahiker said...

I knew I'd have to bring a snack to read the whole story. Done.

Weighing in on the glass half-full side, the economy may have saved more places than we know. At least for now.

Michael Coppess said...

Thanks Petrea. The research is enjoyable stuff. The hard trick is to package it all in a blog post that is interesting and fun, a la PDP!

Hiker: The one snacker comment is really funny. Thanks for hanging in there. I think there have been some silver linings to the bad economy, like halting or slowing development of open space.