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Brooklyn's Ice Palace

Oct 25, 2013 10:40 AM | 3 comments

It's not often we take patrons to the "Morgue," but during our recent Educator Open House, we took a group of teachers down to the basement of the library to see the old clippings and photographs of the Brooklyn Eagle.

Close-up of Celia Mallon and Connie Richichi working in file room or library at Brooklyn Eagle in Downtown Brooklyn. 1953.

While we were down there, I pulled a folder to show the teachers some of the remarkable photographs we have. I pulled, "Klopfer, Sonya*Ice Skater," and as the teachers made comments about the photo, I was more interested in learning about her, especially since I am a huge fan of ice skating.

Klopfer, prepping for the Olympics. November 3, 1951.

Ms. Klopfer was born in Brooklyn to immigrants who fled Germany under Hitler's reign. Although growing up she was very poor, Klopfer's parents encouraged her to skate. She trained in Brooklyn's old ice skating rink, the Brooklyn Ice Palace.  At 15, she became the youngest skater to win the US Ladies Championship and held that title until 1997, when Tara Lipinski won the championship at the age of 14.  Klopfer was a two-time world medalist in 1951 and 1952 and also placed 4th in the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo, Norway. Following her amateur career, she performed in the Ice Capades and Holiday on Ice.

As the case with most research excursions, you set off to research one thing, and go off in different directions. After I learned about Klopfer, I wanted to know more about the Brooklyn Ice Palace on Atlantic and Bedford Avenues, not too far from the current Barclays Center.  Located at 1163 Atlantic Avenue, the Brooklyn Ice Palace opened in 1917. Prior to its tenure as an ice skating rink, it was a roller skating rink and prior to that, a riding academy.

Desk Atlas, 1929.

On January 15, 1917, the Brooklyn Ice Palace opened and was described by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle as the "largest artificial ice rink in the city, with 17,000 square feet of ice."  Brooklynites flocked to the rink and it became a huge success.  However, on March 23, 1918, in an effort to conserve materials for World War I, the State Ice Controller ordered the rink closed to help save ammonia and other articles used in the manufacture of artificial ice.

"Andra McLaughlin, who represents the Brooklyn Ice Palace in speed skating, has just been chosen to represent the U.S. in the world figure skating championships in Paris, Feb. 16 and 17..."

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 10, 1948

The Palace eventually reopened and during the summer was converted into a movie theatre with 2,500 seats and a pipe organ which was used in conjunction with a symphony orchestra.  Using the Ice Palace as a theatre proved to be very innovative; the Palace was one of the first known theatres to have a cooling system. However, it failed to make money with the movie project and fell into bankruptcy. It reopened in 1921 and continued unabated until 1937, when it was torn down and completely remodeled to become, according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, one of the most spacious rinks in the country. The Palace endured two more remodels and new management in the 40s and 50s and in 1955, the rink was closed. It later reopened as a scenery design shop.

Manangement promising a skater the Palace would not close. Brooklyn Eagle, 1954.

While looking up information about the Ice Palace, I learned there was a professional NHL team, the Brooklyn Americans formerly the New York Americans, who practiced at the Palace during the 1941-42 season.  Bill Dwyer (best known as the "King of the Bootleggers" during Prohibition) purchased the defunct Hamilton Tigers from Ontario in 1925 for $75,000. He moved the team to New York and renamed them the New York Americans.  The Americans (or Amerks) went on to become the second United States team to join the National Hockey League (after the Boson Bruins) and played in the newly built Madison Square Garden. The Garden management was so impressed with the popularity of the Americans that they founded their own team, the New York Rangers, in 1926.  The Rangers quickly became the popular New York team while the New York Americans struggled; they only made it to the playoffs three times in fifteen years.

The New York Americans. Courtesy Wikipedia

Financial difficulties caused the NHL to take control of the team in 1936 and Mervin "Red" Dutton was placed in charge of them.  In 1941, Dutton moved himself and the team to Brooklyn.  He promised to build an arena, change thier name to the "Brooklyn Americans" and have them practice at the Brooklyn Ice Palace.  But with most of the team fighting in World War II, the Brooklyn Americans went down to only four players.  The league suspended them in 1942. The team was never revived and the arena was never built. Although little-known now, the team has had an intersting history.

In 2015, Brooklyn will once again have a hockey team--the Islanders are slated to move to Brooklyn and play in the Barclays Center.  This past September, history was made as the Islanders played against the Devils in the first ever NHL game in Brooklyn. 

Comments

11/10/2013 8:19:16 AM #

I learned to skate at the Brooklyn Ice Palace back
in 1944 with Ingrid Lordahl.  I joined Ice Capades, taught for many years and have so many memories of Uncle Billy (in charge of matters of the club), speed skating, competitions and most of my childhood.  Thank you BIP for the only good memory I have of Brooklyn.  I will never forget you in my book.

Carole

12/17/2013 4:42:27 PM #

I skated there, am wondering if the Culver Line
took me there?

vivienne hartman

1/24/2014 10:19:02 AM #

1/24/14..... first view of this site... a flood of memories as my parents ,Barney and Susie, operated a small eatery there called "The Skaters Inn"... I remember Sonja and also Carol Heiss among other skaters. Amateur speed skating races were held at the Ice Palace as did the NY Rangers hockey team practiced there. I watched Dick Button practice the routine that won him a gold medal at the St. Moritz Olympics. Arthur Godfrey had a show put on there. When the Wollman rink opened in Central Park it began the demise of The Brooklyn Ice Palace.

Hank Broer