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It's Nice on New Ice : When the Pickwick Ice Arena Faced Extinction, Skaters of All Levels Joined to Keep It Going. Now They're Together Again at Its Reoping Because. . .

October 11, 1991|LIBBY SLATE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Slate is a regular contributor to Calendar

In June, 1990, Walter Stavert and his son, Edward, who own the Pickwick Ice Arena in Burbank, announced that they would permanently close the San Fernando Valley's only Olympic-size facility that October, citing the high costs of sorely needed repairs.

Upon hearing this news, members of the Los Angeles Figure Skating Club, which has been based at the rink since 1963 and which provides the United States with 25% of its national, Olympic and world-level competitors, promptly banded together to picket the rink in protest.

Aroused skaters explained the importance of the rink to their lives.

Todd Sand, who lived in Thousand Oaks and trained at Pickwick for years en route to becoming the Danish national champion before switching to pairs skating, said: "There aren't any other local rinks of that size. It's actually 15 feet longer than Olympic size. It definitely serves the needs of figure skating and hockey. If you lost Pickwick, there'd be a hole in the community. It's not only a rink, but a quality."

Several figure-skating and hockey enthusiasts formed a "Save the Ice" committee, which held a rally at Buena Vista Park and launched a massive letter-writing campaign that drew support from the likes of Los Angeles Kings owner Bruce McNall, Walt Disney Co. CEO Michael Eisner and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In a story line that could have been formulated by one of the rink's many neighboring film studios, the Staverts, faced with overwhelming evidence of Pickwick's importance to the skating world, not only reversed their decision but promised to provide the rink's supporters with a new, better-than-ever arena. And when the rink did close July 15, it was for two months of extensive refurbishing at an estimated cost of $500,000. It opened to the public again Sept. 28.

This weekend, the rink is sponsoring a grand reopening celebration beginning with this afternoon's ribbon-cutting by 1988 Olympic bronze medalist (and former Los Angeles Figure Skating Club member) Debi Thomas.

The highlight of the three-day event will be Saturday's two performances of "Icestravaganza," an exhibition by the figure skating club's members, starring Thomas, current U. S. men's silver medalist Christopher Bowman and U. S. pairs champions Sand and Natasha Kuchiki. On tap Sunday is a 90-minute scrimmage by members of the Celebrity All-Star Hockey Team, tentatively set to include Richard Dean Anderson, Jason Priestley and Dave Coulier.

The weekend also commemorates the 30th anniversary of Pickwick's opening in September, 1961.

In those three decades, the facility has served as the practice arena for the L. A. Kings and Sonja Henie, and the training site for two-time world champion-1980 Olympic silver medalist Linda Fratianne and other stellar amateur skaters.

Also frequenting the rink are the California Golden Bears Youth Hockey Club, the Burbank Skates and the Burbank Senior Hockey League, whose 21 teams encompass a variety of groups, such as from the police, Korean and gay communities.

The problems that almost led to the rink's demise had been building throughout those 30 years, according to longtime rink manager Cary Adams, who played hockey on Day 1 as a 13-year-old and has worked at the arena in various capacities for 26 years.

"The central concern was that the ice floor was uneven," he said. "The ground was not packed correctly when the rink first opened. The ice was very thin, and there were cracks caused by the ice hardening and contracting and by the weight of the Zamboni," the ice resurfacing machine. "Moisture would go through the cracks and flow under and around the 15 miles of pipes underneath. When it froze, the pipes would heave--push up the floor in different locations."

This summer, the entire refrigeration and piping systems were replaced, as were the boarding surrounding the ice surface, the roof, the ceiling, the rubber floor matting and the Zamboni. Newly installed is a system to control air temperature and humidity, which allows more consistent ice conditions. The interior has been repainted four shades of blue, and the dressing rooms have been refurbished.

"We figured if we were going to redo it, we wouldn't do it halfway," Edward Stavert said. "So we put in a state-of-the-art ice rink. We had a significant loss of revenue for the two months we were closed, but it was worth it. We hope that people will find that out."

Some already have.

Said Joanna Ng, U. S. junior ladies silver medalist: "The ice is great. It's much more flat and not as hilly as before. I have a better spring on the ice when I take off for jumps, and I skate better." Ng has trained sporadically at Pickwick for several years and will perform in "Icestravaganza."

"The reaction among our skaters has been nothing but positive, from dancers to those who are here every morning," said Eleanor Schultz, who is chairing the event. "And it also looks very, very nice."

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