72nd Street Lake, Central Park, 1894. Photo from NYC Parks.
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 a few of those photos:
Lullwater, Prospect Park, 1892. Photo from NYC Parks.
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.
Want more vintage photos? Check out Vintage NYC Photos: A 17-Year Old Stanley Kubrick Takes On New York City.