Skating in Central Park circa 1890.
Ice skating in New York City is one of those time honored winter traditions. Before the specially designed ice skating rinks like Bryant Park, Central Park and Rockefeller Center were built in the 20th century, skating was done on frozen ponds and lakes. The Lake in Central Park was labeled specifically as a “skating pond” on Olmsted and Vaux’s original Greensward plan.
The park officially opened in 1870 but the skating pond opened before the park’s completion and became one of the top attractions. Even in other parks of the city like Prospect Park and Sunset Park all had skating ponds that were immensely popular. So much so that in the 19th century there was a tradition of “raising the red ball” on Brooklyn streetcars to let people know that skating conditions were favorable. Once skating starting taking ground as a favorable pastime, skate houses were built and rental prices started appearing (back then for a nice 25 cents an hour).
The first manmade skating facility opened in Queens in Flushing Meadows Corona Park originally for the World’s Fair in 1939-40, becoming operational in 1952 as an ice and roller skating rink. In 1949, philanthropist Kate Wollman donated $600,000 for the construction of Wollman rink in Central Park as a memorial to her parents. The rink opened in 1950 giving New Yorkers winters of uninterrupted skating because of the rink’s artificial nature. The rink, since its opening been a major success.
Kate Wollman also funded many more similar projects in the years to follow with another artificial rink opening in Prospect Park. Since the 1950s, ice skating as grown as a popular activity in the city. With the addition of indoor ice rinks, like the Chelsea Piers Sky Rink, ice skating has been able to turn into a year round activity.
NYC Parks has put together a wonderful collection of vintage photos on The History of Ice Skating in New York City. Here are those photos:
72nd Street Lake, Central Park, 1894
Lullwater, Prospect Park, 1892
Interior of the New York City Building, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, 1939
New York City Rink Team, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park
Wollman Rink, Central Park, December 5, 1950
First Annual Figure Skating Championships, Wollman Rink, Central Park, April 10, 1965
Figure skating class, Wollman Rink, Prospect Park, 1962
Abe Stark Rink Dedication on Coney Island: Dorothy Hamill, Abe Stark, August Heckscher, April 8, 1970
From the New York Public Library, here is a selection of photos from a collection titled Absurd Vintage Skating Photos Even Non-Sports Fan Will Love. Note that some of these might not necessarily be taken in New York City.
Want more vintage photos? Check out Vintage NYC Photos: A 17-Year Old Stanley Kubrick Takes On New York City.