Hit the ice at Prospect Park!

Brooklyn Currents | 11/04/2014 | 0 comments

Ice skating
                                                                                           Brooklyn Currents photo / Eric Lima
Brooklyn Currents associate editor

As the rides at Coney Island hibernate and the chairs at the outdoor cafes in Williamsburg become cold, we suggest you break out your thermal underwear and head out to the the newly renovated Lakeside Ice Skating Rink at the Lefrak Center inside Prospect Park.

The new ice and roller skating rink opened last December, after three years of construction that cost the city $74 million. The new rink replaced the Kate Wollman Rink, which was in roughly the same area from 1961 to 2010, but fell into disrepair as park attendance dwindled through the 1980s and '90s.

 See Brooklyn Currents publisher David Glenn's memories of the Wollman rink, below

 Ice skating has returned, but only during the coldest months of the year. This year it began on Oct. 26 and is to end on March 30, when the rink goes back to roller skating until next October.

Wendy Peace, Lakeside programming director since January, conducts ice skating classes and clinics at Lakeside. Lakeside is a member of the United States Figure Skating Association, and Peace and all the other instructors are certified by the USFSA.

Converting the roller rink to an ice skating rink is no easy task for Jimmy Henry, the ice-maintenance manager for both Lakeside and the rink at Bryant Park in Manhattan. To transform the roller rink into the ice rink, Henry and his crew install dozens of thick wooden panels around the 32,000 square feet of ice, slide a glass partition over each panel and then attach a net from the ceiling of the rink to the top of the glass with suction cups. (The net prevents the ice-hockey puck from going over the glass and possibly injuring someone outside the rink.)

Beneath the rink is a refrigeration system that freezes the water. Once the water is frozen it is still clear, like an ice cube, so it needs to be sprayed with white paint to conceal the surface of floor. Finally, a truck with a razor sharp blade smooths out the ice. The truck is called an Ice Resurfacer; some refer to it as the Zamboni, in honor of Frank Zamboni who invented it in 1949, or an Olympia, after the name of another manufacturer.
Henry was born in the Caribbean, but spent most of his childhood in France before moving to New York City.

In the interview with Brooklyn Currents, Henry patiently listened to every word before responding. Wearing a Global Citizen or Global Unity t-shirt, with shoulder-length dreads, he talked about growing up in France and how soccer was his favorite sport. He said he practiced so much he almost joined the Paris Saint Germaine, the French soccer team, but chose instead to move to the United States.

He didn't know how to play baseball or football, "but I knew how to ice skate," he said "So I'd go ice skating a lot and someone said to me, 'Why not get a job ice skating?' – so I got a job as a skate-guard helping people who fell down to get back up, and the next thing I know I'm driving the truck.

"This is my second season at Lakeside, but I worked 12 years at the Chelsea Piers Ice Skating Rink. I've been doing this for about 18 years now."

Although you'll see more couples and large groups ice skating together at Lakeside, and more girls than boys roller skating, Prospect Park residents are thrilled with the new rink.
"This whole area had been in neglect. It has definitely re-invigorated this side of the park, drawing people in,"" said Steven Ramsey, a resident of the area for the last ten years. Originally from Rochester, Ramsey works as a lighting technician for the motion picture industry. He recently finished work on the new Steven Spielberg film, "St. James Place."

Ramsey said he wasn't very attracted to the area before the renovation; he described the old parking lot that was next to the rink for many years as "ramshackled." He said many residents preferred the Aviator skating rink on Flatbush Avenue.

"It was really ugly, as attractive as an old bowling alley," Ramsey recalled. Today, his two pre-teen boys are enrolled in hockey classes at Lakeside.

Don't be surprised if you bump into sports figures or other celebrities at Lakeside. As one of the hockey instructors and a hockey fan, Jimmy Henry has a hockey stick signed by players from the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils, who occasionally skate at Bryant Park. Henry says that as soon as word gets around about the new Lakeside Skating Rink, they'll probably come to Lakeside,  along with Olympic hopefuls.

But you don't have to be a hockey athlete or Olympic aspirant to enjoy the new ice at Prospect Park. If you're just starting out, you'll probably fall a few times, but there's nothing better for your self-confidence than getting up after a few stumbles and then, sooner than you expect, gliding along a stretch of ice.

Rent skates there or bring your own – either way, it's a great way to spend the winter months.

Monday Closed
Tuesday 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Wednesday 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Thursday 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Friday 11 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Saturday 10 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Sunday 10 a.m. - 6p.m.

Check the LeFrak Center at Lakeside  website or call the rink at 718-462-0060 for updated information.

Adults: $6; $8 on weekends and holidays
Children (12 & under): $6; $8 on weekends and holidays
Skate Rental: $6

Lakeside offers classes to toddlers as young as 3. There are tots classes weekend mornings from 10to10:30 a.m., and a program every Tuesday from 9:30 a.m. to noon for children ages 3-5 offering ice skating as well as other activities such as arts and crafts – and, of course, snacks. The Lefrak Center offers hockey and ice skating classes, and is available for events and parties with a year-round outdoor cafe.

The Q train to Parkside Avenue leaves you right at the entrance of the rink.

Frozen in time

Brooklyn Currents publisher

Although I certainly welcome the impressive new ice facilities at Prospect Park, it was sad to learn in Eric's article that the Wollman rink fell into such disrepair after years of neglect.

I have very vivid memories of Wollman during the late 1960s. It was somewhat of a tradition at Lincoln High School that we would go ice-skating there about once a week. It was a great way to socialize in a non-pressured way, get invigorating exercise, and warm up with a Styrofoam cup of freshly made hot chocolate.

I had no illusions of Olympic stardom – I was just thankful not to take a flop.

But I gradually got more confident on the ice – and since I was terrible at baseball (the other kids would fight over which team would not get me on it), it helped greatly with my self-esteem. I even made my parents buy me my own pair of skates (which had gold-colored blades rather than the usual silver).

I kept those skates even when I moved (temporarily) to Arkansas to help start a newspaper there – there was actually a year-round indoor ice rink in Little Rock (I can think of no better way to cool off in the summer than to go ice skating!).

Even before Lincoln, I had another good memory of Wollman. It was the venue of my first actual date, which I thought I was ready for in the seventh grade.

It took me about seven weeks to work up the courage to ask her to go ice skating with me (I even wrote myself a little script and practiced it).

Actually,  I thought of ice skating rather than a movie or going out for pizza, because I felt comfortable at an ice skating rink, particularly at Wollman. Besides, she didn't know how to skate, and I could teach her.

I don't remember at all what we talked about, and I soon lost contact with her (I don't even remember her name now, which I'm sure my wife is thankful about). But, just like it gave me confidence that I could do something remotely athletic, ice-skating also showed me that I could have a pleasant, non-threatening time with an actual, real, live girl.

I've resolved to head out to Lakeside soon – I no longer have those gold-colored skates, so I'll have to rent them. I'm sure I'll enjoy it, but I know it won't be the same.

It can't be.


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