Ice Skating

Click the image to learn more. Pictured here in January of 1897, city residents ice skate on the Milwaukee River near Wright Street.

The Milwaukee area has a rich history of ice skating, providing opportunities for speed skating, figure skating, and amateur and public skating. In 1928, the first United States Olympic speed skating time trials were held in Oconomowoc. In 1949, the West Allis Speed Skating Club’s winning reputation earned West Allis the title of “Skating Capital of Wisconsin.”[1] On December 17, 1966, the Wisconsin Olympic Ice Rink opened and became the training ground for many top speed skaters, earning the nickname “Wisconsin’s Gold Mine.”[2] The Wisconsin Olympic Ice Rink was closed in 1991, and replaced with the indoor Pettit National Ice Center, which opened on December 31, 1992.[3] West Allis has been the home club of at least twenty-three Olympic speed skaters, including most recently Alyson Dudek, a 2010 bronze medalist.[4] Two additional Speed Skating Olympians, Dan Janssen, a 1994 gold medalist, and Chris Witty, a 2002 gold medalist, are from the Milwaukee area.[5]

In 1944, figure skaters from the area founded the Wisconsin Figure Skating Club, which used the State Fair Park Ice Arena before moving to the Pettit National Ice Center.[6] Under the club banner, the Wisconsin Edge Synchronized Skating Teams, delineated by proficiency, were founded in 1985 and rose to national prominence. In 1997, the Wisconsin Edge placed second in the Intermediate division of the National Precision Skating Championships. Since then, Wisconsin Edge teams have won medals at both the Midwestern and National Championships in the U.S. Figure Skating’s synchronized skating program.[7]

Many amateur skaters also relish the sport. Milwaukee County area parks have supported ice skating as a leisure activity, opening public ice skating rinks. In 1913, the city park commission opened the Gordon Park Bathhouse, where ice skaters skated on the frozen Milwaukee River. In January 1926, 30,000 people gathered for an “ice fete” on the river where amateurs competed in hockey, ski jumping, and speed skating. The Bathhouse closed in 1937 over concerns about polluted river water.[8] The department opened the indoor Wilson Ice Arena in January 1970 as part of the larger Wilson Park Recreation Center.[9] In December 1999, the Milwaukee Parks Department completed redevelopment of Red Arrow Park, which included a 9,000 square foot permanent outdoor ice rink.[10] Outside of Milwaukee County, both private and public initiatives have funded accessible ice rinks. In September 1973, the Mayfair Ice Chalet, a year-round rink, opened in the center of Mayfair Mall and quickly became a popular venue. Between its opening and 1986, 125,000 skaters visited the rink, including 18,000 people who took skating lessons.[11] In March 1986, the Mayfair Ice Chalet closed under pressure from business owners concerned that the rink was drawing customers away from their stores.[12] The 1990s brought increased interest in ice skating, and many new rinks opened, including the Ozaukee Ice Center in 1995.[13]

The Milwaukee area has also hosted several major ice skating events and competitions. The Pettit National Ice Center has hosted U.S. National Long Track and Short Track Championships as well as World Cup Competitions.[14] In 2015, the International Skating Union held Skate America at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena.[15] Finally, skating shows including Disney on Ice have entertained Milwaukee area audiences throughout the years.[16]

Footnotes [+]

  1. ^ “‘Wisconsin’s Gold Mine’: The Pettit National Ice Center,” Wisconsin Historical Society website, accessed December 8, 2017.
  2. ^‘Wisconsin’s Gold Mine’: The Pettit National Ice Center,” Wisconsin Historical Society, accessed December 8, 2017.
  3. ^‘Wisconsin’s Gold Mine’: The Pettit National Ice Center,” Wisconsin Historical Society website, accessed December 8, 2017.
  4. ^About WSSC,” Wisconsin Speed Skating Club website, accessed October 27, 2018.
  5. ^Olympic Legacy at the Pettit Center,” Pettit National Ice Center website, accessed December 8, 2017.
  6. ^ Eugene Kane, “Skating Club Will End an Era in Style: Best Skaters Will Show Talents in Finale for Old Ice Arena,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 1, 1992.
  7. ^About Us,” Wisconsin Edge Synchronized Skating, accessed December 8, 2017.
  8. ^ Michelle Maternowski and Bonnie North, “Echoes of Milwaukee’s Gordon Park Bathhouse Remain,” WUWM, accessed October 27, 2018.
  9. ^ Wilson Park Neighborhood Description, 191 Milwaukee Neighborhoods website, accessed October 27, 2018.
  10. ^Red Arrow Park Memorial,” Milwaukee Historic Preservation Commission, City of Milwaukee website, accessed October 27, 2018.
  11. ^ Mario Ziino, “Ice Chalet Brought Poetry in Motion to Mayfair Mall,”, last modified November 9, 2003, accessed December 8, 2017.
  12. ^ Ziino, “Ice Chalet Brought Poetry in Motion to Mayfair Mall,” accessed December 8, 2017.
  13. ^ About Us, Ozaukee Ice Center website, accessed December 8, 2017.
  14. ^ About Us, Pettit National Ice Center, accessed December 8, 2017.
  15. ^ Dave Begel, “Skate America Brings World Championship Figure Skaters to Milwaukee,” October 20, 2015, accessed December 8, 2017.
  16. ^ Piet Levy, “Disney on Ice Coming to Bradley Center,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, February 1, 2017, accessed December 8, 2017.

For Further Reading

Garcia, Jessie. Going for Wisconsin Gold: Stories of Our State Olympians. Madison, WI: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2016.

Shubert, Howard. Architecture on Ice: A History of the Hockey Arena. Montreal & Kingston, Canada: McGill-Queen, 2016.

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