Philadelphia spent many winters on ice before Dilworth Park came along

     The ice-skating rink at Dilworth Park in Center City will be open seven days a week through Feb. 22. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    The ice-skating rink at Dilworth Park in Center City will be open seven days a week through Feb. 22. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    Sorry folks, there’s nothing “new” about the new skating rink at Dilworth Plaza. I honestly wished the mayor had spent the funds more wisely, but between now and New Years Day, I am going to make a point of stopping by the rink to see my younger myself in the eyes of the happily gliding children.

    Sorry folks, there’s nothing “new” about the new skating rink at Dilworth Plaza.

    As a child, growing up in Penn Wynne, my first skating adventures were limited to a small neighborhood lake on Karakung Drive. When it froze over, my father would strap on his Army Surplus hockey skates, and I would bravely put on my training skates, a double-bladed affair that screamed “beginner.” I was never sure if the lake was really deep enough to drown us, but Mom always made it seem like a 50-50 proposition.

    Later, when I had mastered single-blade skates, Mom would take my sister and me to the Villanova Ice Skating Rink, where I would clutch the rails and gawk in wonder at girls my own age in tiny skating skirts, twirling like the ballerina inside my jewelry box. Admittedly, the best part of these outings was going to The Moo, a milkshake shop across the street.

    When I was 9, an amazing thing happened. Gimbel’s at 9th and Market opened an ice skating rink inside their toy department. In retrospect, they probably did it to compete with the allure of the train on the ceiling of Wanamaker’s toy department — as well as Lit Brother’s Enchanted Village, which featured live baby animals and little people dressed as elves.

    I was bedazzled, even though the rink was not much bigger than my bedroom. Ice skating inside a toy store! What could be better? Gimbel’s had installed little lockers where children could put their shoes and coats while skating. When I came back to my locker, my shoes and coat were there. But not the brand-new handbag my Aunt Betty had just bought me. My first visit to Gimbel’s skating rink was my last.

    When the Penn Center Ice Skating Rink opened across from Suburban Station in December 1958, it was as if the Magic Kingdom had come to Philly. Commuters and shoppers gazed down into the below-street-level rink, marveling at young couples dancing on the ice to holiday music.

    Penn Center was a real rink, not a skimpy affair like Gimbels. It had skating instructors, skate rentals and a Stouffer’s restaurant where you could sip hot chocolate while watching the action on the ice. Okay, it wasn’t exactly Rockefeller Center, but it was the highlight of the holiday season for almost twenty years until the skating rink gave way to 8 Penn Center.

    By the time the Blue Cross River Rink appeared at Penn’s Landing, I had long since given up ice skating and other pastimes associated with fractured wrists, elbows and ankles. I’m a grown-up now. I prefer leisure activities that come with a tub of hot buttered popcorn or a mojito.

    But the opening of the Rothman Ice Rink at Dilworth Park reawakens the child in me. How exciting this must be for every kid who finds a new pair of ice skates under the tree this Christmas. Who holds their parents’ hands for that first brave whirl on the ice, falls, but gets up again and finds their balance.

    I don’t expect this multi-million dollar folly to last long. I honestly wished the mayor had spent the funds more wisely, plugging the deficit in our schools. But between now and New Years Day, I am going to make a point of stopping by the rink to see my younger myself in the eyes of the happily gliding children.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.