Standing on the corner of Washington and Prytania, beneath a yellow barn-shaped building, you’ll hear it. Wild stories about the history of the building.
“Right in this spot in 1884, the city of New Orleans opened an ice skating rink.”
“For two years, this building was an ice skating rink, then it became a mortuary.”
“Ice was imported from the North, so guests could skate.”
The guides’ stories are varied and incredibly detailed. Some go as far as to discuss the technology of creating an ice rink in this era. The first ice rink was opened in London in 1876 and it created ice by running glycerin and water through copper pipes. This remarkable technological breakthrough was developed eight years before this Garden District landmark was built.
So the technology was there, but….
The simple truth is there was indeed a skating rink in this spot but it was a roller skating rink. It was called the Crescent City Skating Rink.
Roller skating was not new to New Orleans in 1884. As early as 1870, many conference and meeting halls in the city allowed guests to roller skate on their floors at varying times throughout the city. These events charged a quarter for admission and were announced in the newspaper. Frequently, one can find listings in the Times Picayune advertising skating hours at Exposition Hall, Oddfellows Hall, and Minerva Hall. Roller skating was very popular and reported to be “an exercise peculiarly adapted to young ladies, developing their physique and giving them an easy graceful carriage (Times Picayune, 16 Jan 1870).
It may be possible that the Crescent City Skating Rink was one of the first buildings built in New Orleans exclusively for this purpose at the time. It was certainly the largest. In fact, at the time of its opening, the Crescent City Skating Rink was advertised as the largest in the country. The dimensions of the building were 105 feet by 141 feet and the rink itself was constructed out of kiln dried maple that measured 70 feet by 119 feet. It was boasted that 500 people could skate at once, with 1000 people spectating. Also included in this building was a concessions stand (yay snacks!), dressing rooms, and an area for a band to assemble and play the night away….Free skating classes were offered, and memberships were encouraged. (Daily Picayune, 31 December 1884)
The Crescent City Skating Rink opened in December 1884 and for the next 4 years was a popular place to get some exercise or watch professional skaters visiting from all over the country. Lectures, private parties and even Mardi Gras Balls were held in this space as well. Sadly, this building’s use as a recreational facility was short lived. In January 1889, The Times Democrat reported that a fellow named John C. Bach bought the property to convert it into a horse stable with 200-300 horse stalls, and spaces for carriages. Don’t own a carriage? That’s cool. You can rent one, he had plenty stored in this building. He even had drivers available around the clock, should you need a carriage ride at the wee hours of the morning. One of the major technological breakthroughs mentioned in the article is the use of “telephonic communication”, which would have made ordering a carriage (early taxis, I guess) easier.
It would appear that the stable also did not last long in this space as in 1912 it was leased to Tharp-Bultman (a company related to the stately Bultman Funeral Home on Louisiana and St. Charles, perhaps?) Then, by the 1930s this building became a Texaco Service Station operated by the Steiner Brothers. That’s right, a gas station. The transformation from the elegant skating rink to gas station was done without regard to the building’s historical context or aesthetic appeal. An article from the Times Picayune in 1978 described the building as,
Shabby and rundown, its original façade has been obscured by tacky additions over the years. At a glance it isn’t even obvious that the corner is occupied by a single large building – one tacked on wing was added to house a shoe repair chop, another served as the expanded entrance to a super market, and sections of one corner were cut out to create a service station. It looks hodgepodge of little businesses all jammed together. (Times Picayune, July 23, 1978)
Luckily, this building was bought and lovingly restored to its former glory to become The Rink that we all know and love today. I start all of my Garden District Tours in front of it, and we end across the street with a brief chat about this building’s history, which is incredible enough without saying that it was an ice skating rink.
- Various Times Picayune Editions
- Various Time Democrat Edition
- Times-Democrat Newspaper, 16 February, 1885, accessed from Wikipedia
- Times Picayune Newspaper, 23 July 1978, accessed from Newsbank