It was during this era that the Portola-Louvre Café on Powell Street opened an ice rink for its customers that became wildly popular. In 1916, the Café Bristol in Los Angeles followed suit, installing a 26 X 60 foot tank for its patrons. The state better known for its stars than Salchows was slowly going skate crazy.
In the fall of 1932, the Skate and Ski Club of San Francisco formed, meeting twice a week at the New Iceland rink on Sutter and Pierce Streets in San Francisco. It was the first club from the Pacific Coast to be admitted to the United States Figure Skating Association. In May 1933, Helen Howes wrote in "Skating" magazine of competitions staged by the California Skating Association, which was not affiliated with the USFSA at the time. The first Pacific Coast Championships were held in Yosemite on January 25, 1936, with Eugene Turner and Mary Taylor emerging victorious.
During the thirties, an ice skating rink was installed in the southern section of the Sutro's Baths resort and became the San Francisco club's home. In her book "Indelible Tracings", Patricia Shelley Bushman offered a wonderful description of the rink: "Getting to the ice at Sutro's was an adventure. Skaters had to bypass the other pools, which had morphed into museums filled with Egyptian mummies, exotic birds, San Francisco memorabilia, and peculiar oddities and photographs from the late nineteenth century. Next came the daunting stairs. The rink was at the bottom of 140 steps, right next to the ocean. The large scenic windows were painted black so that the skaters would not be distracted by the majestic waves, seals basking in the sun, or the incredible view. The Zamboni ice machine shed its snow right on the beach. The ice was uneven at Sutro's because the proximity to the ocean caused constantly varying humidity; the ice tended to crack and the whole ice surface sloped, slanting down in one corner towards the ocean. The rink was noisy. Skaters were bombarded with shrill whistles from the nearby aviary and the roar of the ocean. 'On one stormy day,' a club member said, 'the waves beating against the rocks rose to such a height that they dashed against the windows and showered broken glass over one corner of the rink. However the glass was quickly swept up and the skaters went on about their business.' The skaters loved the space." The revenue from the skating club wasn't enough to keep Sutro's open. It was slated for demolition when it was destroyed in a 1966 fire. The ruins remain to this day and are notoriously reported to be haunted. And you know what? I think that's a great place to leave our reflection on San Francisco's early skating history... with the ghosts of the past.
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