Saturday, 3 December 2016

Chef Boiardi And The Winton Hotel's Ice Shows


"This was one of the first hotels to feature ice skating. It was a tremendous novelty at the time; imagine ice skating in a hotel dining room." - Joe Williams, The Pittsburgh Press, January 17, 1942

Built in 1916, The Winton Hotel was a historic one hundred and forty nine foot, eleven story high-rise in what is now the Theater District of Cleveland, Ohio. Like most hotels at the time, its restaurant served as 'the' meeting place for the city's elite to see and be seen. Two things made this particular hotel restaurant more unique than others. One was the fact that they were fed by an Italian chef named Ettore "Hector" Boiardi who later founded the Chef Boyardee company in 1928. The other was that while they dined on what I'm presuming was a significant step up from the congealed tomato soup pasta our eyes are feasted upon in grocery stores today, they got to take in some spectacular skating.

In his book "Wonderful world of skates: Seventeen centuries of skating", Arthur R. Goodfellow explained that "Cleveland's Rainbow Gardens in the Winton Hotel (later the Carter) presented its skating revues in the middle of the dining room elevated on a tank four feet off the floor, supported by wooden blocks at each corner resembling a boxing ring. This ice show ran continuously for two-and-a-half years, seven days a week, two shows a day in the 1916-1918 era."


The shows in the Winton's Rainbow Gardens were held at noon and in the evening, an hour and a half long each, featuring a mixture of figure skating and classic cabaret entertainment. The music was provided by The Rainbow Room Orchestra and skaters included Norval Baptie, Gladys Lamb and Lora Jean Carlisle. In 1918, A.A. Hill wrote of Baptie and Lamb's performance at the Winton: "The ease and grace with which they perform seemingly impossible feats on skates, is both startling and enjoyable to the audience." An unusual addition to this particular hotel show was World Champion speed skater Bobby McLean, who demonstrated speed skating in this small boxing ring of a rink. I can't imagine what that would have looked like.

Bobby McLean

Although short lived, the hotel's skating shows were one of the first to gain a real following but daily shows twice a day, it wasn't long before the novelty wore off. Today, the hotel where skating and Chef Boiardi took center stage is a senior citizen apartment building called Carter Manor and the ice shows that once dazzled audiences are sadly largely forgotten.

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