The Hubbard Woods Ice Skating Studio

Gazette Article by: Shelley Galloway
Appeared in the Gazette: Spring/Summer 2006

Long before Winnetka opened its public ice rink on Hibbard Road, local skaters of all ages and abilities enjoyed an indoor, year-round ice skating facility in Hubbard Woods. It was located at 915 Linden Avenue (now Green Bay Road), a space formerly occupied by a car repair garage and now home to the Antique Emporium.

Although my family lived in River Forest in the 1950s, we drove to Winnetka to swim at Tower Road Beach and to visit the Hubbard Woods Ice Skating Studio of which my father, Henry Henriksen, was a founding but “silent” partner. Ice dancing was a major hobby for my parents, who met while skating at the Chicago Arena.

The Hubbard Woods Studio was the brainchild of Bill Thomas, a transplanted Canadian, whom my father met at the Chicago Arena where Bill was an instructor with a large student following. When the arena closed, Bill decided to join with fellow Canadian, Steve Kormylo, and my father, to fill the need for a year-round, indoor skating surface. The Hubbard Woods facility was opened in May 1954, with a main surface of 40 by 60 feet and an auxiliary small rink in the back. Not long after opening, the back room was demolished and the rink enlarged to hold four simultaneous classes or to allow five skaters to practice school figures or “patch.” With an ice surface that now measured 60 by 100 feet, piping for the rink ran under the floor and contained a system that distributed brine through the pipes and pumped it through a refrigeration system in the back.

Originally, the ice was laid with a hose and a squeegee system. Later a steel drum was filled with water and rolled across the rink with a rag attached to smooth the surface. If the ice level needed lowering, the refrigeration was switched off, the ice allowed to melt and a squeegee was used to lower the ice level. In the l960’s Bill converted a small tractor by mounting a water tank on the back, adding a blower for the snow and using paper cutting knives to shave the ice. Mr. Zamboni was not interested in designing a machine to serve the needs of the smaller, private rinks. Sand covered the floor pipes and highlighted the beauty and clarity of patch tracings which were rendered more visible with the sand color shining through the ice.

Skating classes were available for all ages and levels. Many local skaters would go on to compete or to join the local Skokie Valley Figure Skating Club. Some of them bought their first skates at the studio, often a custom-made pair of Harlicks for as little as $30. Most competitive skaters bought their skates and skating clothes at the studio’s excellent pro shop run by Steve Kormylo. In the mid-60’s, the studio expanded into the second floor, opening one of the area’s first shops for ski apparel. An offshoot of this was The Ski Chalet which opened two doors down and was run by Steve.

As the rink’s popularity grew, more pros were required. Steve’s brother, Wally, arrived from Winnipeg to teach figure skating and was later joined by Phil Skillings, Janice and Karen Serafine, Frances Dorsey Plumber, and Buddy and Judy Zak of the Ice Follies. Peter Dunfield from Toronto coached the more advanced and competitive skaters. There were three skill levels—basic, intermediate and advanced—each with four tricks to master. Metal buttons were given for each level and a ribbon attached when a skill was passed. Finally, you were promoted into “Figure Skating” and awarded a silver skate pin. A bulletin board in the lobby recorded students’ progress for anxious parents and to keep students motivated. Large glass windows allowed parents in the lobby to watch their children skating.

The most famous skaters who trained at the studio were the brother and sister pairs team of Ronald and Vivian Joseph. In l961 a tragic plane crash killed the entire U.S. World Figure Skating team en route to the World Championships. The Josephs were alternates and were therefore not on that plane. They were expected to carry U.S. hopes in the 1960’s and did so by finishing in the top three in the World Championships from l963 through l965. The Josephs were fourth at the Innsbruck Olympics in l964, but were retroactively named bronze medalists two years later when the German team lost its silver medal for allegedly having signed a professional contract. That decision was overturned in l987.

Unfortunately for the studio, small rink venues declined in the early 1970’s with the opening of large community rinks. Winnetka opened its public ice rink in June l972, and the Hubbard Woods Studio closed its doors the following year. Those of us who skated there remember it fondly and can still recall the beautiful patch tracings on the ice.

 

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