From Titanic To Trump: High Society Skating In New York
Prussian born hotelier George C. Boldt once told his maitre d' Oscar Tschirky, "We must make this hotel a haven for the well-to-do. Pad on the luxury and ease of living. There are always enough people willing to pay for these privileges. Just give them the chance. Make the Waldorf so convenient and comfortable they will never go to another place." Under Boldt's management, New York City's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel blossomed into THE place for the upper crust of high society to be seen and doted on when visiting 'The Big Apple'. The opulent design included tapestries, draperies and vases imported from Europe and the hotel also introduced a new dining luxury to its visitors known as room service. One of the other features of the lavish space was its rooftop garden that was imagined by Boldt's cousin and one time co-manager John Jacob Astor IV, who perished in the sinking of the Titanic in 1912.
When the rooftop garden was installed in the hotel, it was so popular a dining spot in the summer and in the winter of 1917 that it was turned into - you guessed it - a skyscraper skating rink known as the Starlight Roof. The elite of New York and well-to-do hotel guests purchased admission tickets and enjoyed private skating parties with one of the best views around and even formed their own organization 'of ice skating enthusiasts' called the Waldorf-Astoria Roof Club.
Unfortunately, with refrigeration methods as they were the Roof Club didn't last. There were constantly issues with the ice melting. The January 4, 1917 edition of the New York Herald notes that "Mrs. Harvey Patterson invited a host of young people to go to the Waldorf-Astoria roof garden yesterday to skate, but the artificial ice, although it had been frozen the second time during the day, was too moist, so her guests danced instead." The March 28, 1917 edition of the New York Herald recalled one of the final rooftop skating parties of that year's season: "Members of the Waldorf-Astoria Roof Club, an organization of ice skating enthusiasts, have been invited by the management of the hotel to a skating party and contest Saturday night. The rink, which has been a popular gathering place for lovers of the winter sport, will have its last public session Saturday afternoon. The club will be guests in the evening of Mr. George C. Boldt, Jr. They will be entertained in the rink and skating will be followed by dancing in the sun parlor. Mrs. Boldt has offered a cup as a prize for the best skater, and Mrs. Alpheus P. Riker will present a cup to the best waltzer on skates. Mr. Walter Jarvis, the roof manager, will present another cup in a contest to be announced later."
Skaters in Central Park long before the Wollman Memorial Rink
In 1929, the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel would be torn down and its property sold to the developers of the Empire State Building and two years later, a second Waldorf-Astoria was opened on Park Avenue. The hotel's connection to New York City skating history wouldn't end with the demolition of the Starlight Roof. According to Gwenda Blair's book "Donald Trump: Master Apprentice", the Wollman Memorial Rink opened in Central Park's southeast corner "was a gift from Kate Wollman, an 80-year old banking heiress who lived in the Waldorf-Astoria tower and had never been on a pair of skates." Her donation of six hundred thousand dollars to get the Wollman Rink started made an important contribution to skating history that lives on today under the name Trump Central Park Wollman Rink. Don't take that as a personal endorsement. I don't care for the angry man with the orange pancake make-up any more than you do.
That said, from John Jacob Astor IV and George C. Boldt to Kate Wollman to (as much as it pains me to say it) Donald Trump, generations of New York's upper crust have more than done their part to keep skating alive in the city. Whether or not a skating reality show on ice where Trump tells skaters who cheat their jump landings that "they're fired" is next remains to be seen. Let us just cross our fingers and toes he doesn't end up with a more important job.
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