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Skating Rinks in New York: Seven Decades of History

[Esta nota se publicó originalmente en inglés en 2018]

Every year, throngs of would-be ice queens and kings teeter on the icy esplanade of Central Park’s Wollman Rink. From talented athletes to young children trying to keep their balance, everyone is looking for their figure eights and pirouettes or just being able to move without falling over. Sometimes it’s hard to keep that New Yorker’s seen-it-all cool when you fall on your back, but it’s the indomitable spirit of the city that gets us back up and ready for more.

The Wollman Skating Rink first welcomed skaters in 1950 as a safer alternative to the unpredictability of skating on the lake, a celebrated tradition since the park opened to the public in 1858. After inheriting a fortune in the stock market, Kate Wollman, a philanthropist and resident of the Waldorf Astoria, financed the construction of the course. He hoped that it would “bring happiness to the children who use it”. Over the years, Wollman was known to sit alone on a terrace overlooking the action, watching the skaters, and she personally presented prizes for the children’s annual competitions. More than 300,000 skaters visited the rink in its first year, and in 1953 it welcomed its millionth visitor. That same year, a certain Mildred Donnelly tried to avoid the limelight and refused the prize of a pair of skates; The New York Times she assumed it was because she and her friends missed work to go to the track. (She insisted that was not the case).

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Although Wollman is the city’s most prominent public rink, there are dozens of places to skate in New York, from Prospect Park to Coney Island to Clove Lakes Park on Staten Island. In fact, there are plans to turn the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx into a massive nine-lane complex. Skating is a city-wide phenomenon and has been for a long time.

In the 50s, skaters twirled and swayed to bottled music of organ, rumbas and foxtrots. While the course was cleared, guests cooled their heels with caramel apples, hot dogs and 25-cent pizzas. In the late 70s, tracks began to experiment with disco music. (“He drives the skaters crazy,” one manager said in 1979, though it wasn’t clear whether he meant it in a good or bad way.) But early risers who managed to brave the freezing dawn to the Reaching Lasker Skating Rink on the north side of Central Park could skate without music, accompanied only by the brooding whisper of blades on freshly shaved ice.

But the skating rink scene was not always peaceful. In 1961 there was a minor scandal with the announcement that the fees would rise: the days of 10-cent tickets were over, and entrance fees doubled, tripled, even quadrupled. “I find it embarrassing,” 16-year-old Paula Ballan told the Times that year. “The reason they changed the price is to keep out what they call ‘lower class elements’. This is a public course. It prevents children from getting into trouble because they get bored.” (Currently, Wollman’s costs $6 for children 12 and under.)

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Unwanted worlds collided on the track, sometimes literally. The nearby Rockefeller Center skating pond gained a reputation as a place to see and be seen, and Wollman’s, with its more affordable prices (Rockefeller’s had always been a lot more expensive), drew groups of Bronx college kids with Plaza hotel, mink brought together. coats and home decorated skates.

New Yorkers have been sliding, skating and tripping around Wollman for about 70 years. And every year, visitors arrive in waves – undisturbed by the long lines, unconcerned about shoulders in a microcosm of the five boroughs – to brace, fall flat on their faces and get up to try again.

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