Generations of Sacramento residents grew up skating at Iceland, a small rink with a big heart on Del Paso Boulevard.
Over the years, the distinctive boulevard’s fortunes declined, but Iceland steadily plugged along, providing enjoyment to skaters of all ages and abilities.
Then on March 28, 2010, when kids began to arrive with their gear bags for figure skating lessons, hockey practice, or just to skate, they found smoking ruins: in the middle of the night, someone had driven up beside the rink and started a fire with gasoline, gutting the structure.
Owner Rob Kerth, an engineer, was pragmatic from the start, observing the debris with professional curiosity. His first inspection showed him that despite dire appearances, the metal pipes below the ice surface and chiller next door were intact, making reopening as an open-air rink feasible.
A wave of volunteers some 700 strong soon assembled to help clear the rubble, and sooner than later, Iceland was back in business, albeit in a very rudimentary fashion.
“We learned a lot,” Kerth said. What they learned was, all you really need are ice and kids, and fun automatically results. Roof, pro shop, snack bar, lockers and other amenities are secondary. Rental skates are slightly more necessary, and Iceland has worked to rebuild its stock of those through fundraisers.
A silver lining to the fire was the way the community rallied around Iceland in its hour of need, said Shannon Mullins, rink manager.
“It really brought everyone together,” she said. “We had an amazing outpouring from the community.”
Unfortunately, police have not found the culprit to date.
Over the past seven years, Kerth and his sister Terri have fund-raised to upgrade the bare-bones rink, put a roof back on the structure and return it to year-round operation. Finally, pieces are falling into place. Plans have been drawn up and a strategy designed to restore the rink’s amenities in stages.
Half of the capital has been raised, and Kerth hopes to be able to borrow the rest, which somewhat rests on a good winter skating season.
“We need things to go right – but it’s not a long shot anymore,” said Kerth.
An outdoor rink can be magical in the right weather, but last year, with its torrential rains that unfortunately tended to pour down on weekends, crowds dwindled. Iceland stays open in most weather – but most people don’t find it enjoyable to skate underwater.
“It was a rough year, yeah,” Kerth said, shaking his head. “Mother Nature.”
Iceland is holding a holiday ice show this weekend, with a good turnout expected. Fundraisers underway include sales of glass blocks that will make up the front windows of the rebuilt Iceland. The blocks, which duplicate the original art-deco inspired exterior, are to be personalized with a message or logo.
Besides open skating sessions, Iceland offers hockey, pond hockey (similar to hockey but with shoes, not skates) broomball (also played in shoes) and figure skating lessons as well as providing a venue for parties.
Built in 1940, Iceland is now the second oldest ice rink in California, the first being the Paramount in Southern California (built in 1939).
With or without a roof, Iceland “gets in your blood,” Kerth said, adding that he has a list of about 400 Sacramento residents who either met their significant other at Iceland, or went there on their first date.
“There’s something magical in the air at Iceland,” Mullins said. “I’ve tried to describe it, but I can’t.”