COMMENTARY: Some thoughts on the latest developments surrounding the former practice home of the Los Angeles Kings, the now defunct Culver City Ice Arena.
CULVER CITY, CA — Nearly six months after it closed its doors for the last time in its most recent incarnation on February 2, the Culver City Ice Arena is still in limbo.
Today, the only signs of life at the rink, if you can call it that, are automobiles parked in its lot, which was rented to a nearby auto dealer for storage of its inventory.
Indeed, the building is dark, the ice melted away months ago. Despite that, the rink is still “breathing,” as owner Michael Karagozian cannot do anything with the building, other than operate an ice rink, due to zoning restrictions on the property.
The latest development is that on July 28, the City Council of the City of Culver City will consider declaring the property a City Cultural Resource, which, depending on the classification, could prevent the property owner from demolishing, removing or altering the exterior appearance of the building, “…in whole or in part, without first obtaining a Certificate of Appropriateness or a Certificate of Exemption.”
Architectural Resources Group, Inc. (ARG) studied the nomination of the Culver City Ice Arena and found a “…preponderance of evidence that the Ice Arena is eligible for listing in the California Register [of Historical Resources] under Criterion 1 (association with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of California’s history and cultural heritage).”
Specifically, ARG concluded that the Culver City Ice Arena qualifies as a City Cultural Resource because of:
- Its association with post-war indoor recreation that catered to youth of the baby boom generation in a developing suburban context and;
- Its association with ice skating, both for recreation and as organized and professional sports in the form of figure skating and hockey, providing a place to support and cultivate local interest and talent, including individuals who became national and Olympic champions.
Following suit, on April 22, 2014, the Culver City Cultural Affairs Commission voted unanimously to recommend that the City Council declare the rink a City Cultural Resource with the Cultural Resource Designation of “Significant.”
The City Council could also find that the rink does not meet the criteria for the “Significant” classification, in which case they could declare it as a “Recognized” cultural resource, which would offer no protections whatsoever, or they could refuse to declare it as a City Cultural Resource altogether.
The highest classification, “Landmark,” does not appear to be under consideration at this time.
Should the City Council adopt the Cultural Affairs Commission’s recommendation, rink supporters would have more leverage towards development of the property into a state-of-the-art rink.
But is the Culver City Ice Rink worthy of that historic/cultural designation?
One look at the nondescript structure is not likely to convince anyone that it is, although the landmark “Ice Skating” sign (pictured above) and the figurine of the figure skater that sits over the main entrance stand out—they are rather unique and have been fixtures there for many years.
Nevertheless, the story of the Culver City Ice Arena, and of its historic and cultural significance, is not rooted in its architectural history. Rather, it is about the people, including many famous, or otherwise significant, athletes, who skated there.
To be sure, there were prominent figure skaters, including some who went on to become medal-winning Olympians, including Dorothy Hamill and the pair of Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner.
But as a journalist who has covered the Los Angeles Kings and the National Hockey League for many years, and grew up as a Kings fan with them practicing at the Culver City Ice Arena from childhood to my adult years, I know a lot more about the hockey-related history of the Culver rink.
Indeed, hundreds of NHL players practiced at that rink during the more than twenty years the Kings called it their practice home before they moved in 1994 to what was then Iceoplex in the San Fernando Valley.
The most notable Kings players to skate at the Culver rink were (listed alphabetically):
- Rob Blake: defenseman; won Stanley Cup as a player and as an executive; will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in November 2014
- Paul Coffey: defenseman; four-time Stanley Cup winner; honored member of the Hockey Hall of Fame
- Marcel Dionne: center; won multiple NHL scoring titles; honored member of the Hockey Hall of Fame
- Butch Goring: center; won four Stanley Cups with the New York Islanders
- Wayne Gretzky: center; greatest player ever to play the game; four-time Stanley Cup winner with the Edmonton Oilers; honored member of the Hockey Hall of Fame
- Jari Kurri: right wing; five-time Stanley Cup winner with the Edmonton Oilers; honored member of the Hockey Hall of Fame
- Larry Murphy: defenseman; four-time Stanley Cup winner; honored member of the Hockey Hall of Fame
- Larry Robinson: defenseman; six-time Stanley Cup winner with the Montreal Canadiens; honored member of the Hockey Hall of Fame
- Luc Robitaille: left wing; won Stanley Cup as a player and as an executive; honored member of the Hockey Hall of Fame
- Rogie Vachon: goaltender; three-time Stanley Cup winner with the Montreal Canadiens; the first Kings superstar
Out of that list, the only player who was not considered to be a bona fide NHL superstar was Goring, and the only player on that list who did not win the Stanley Cup was Dionne. Also, Goring and Vachon are the only two on that list who are not enshrined as honored members of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
But it was not just the Kings who practiced at the Culver rink. In fact, visiting NHL teams also practiced there when they were in town—hundreds of NHL players skated on that ice multiple times for more than twenty years.
Although the list below is rather long, and even though there is no way of confirming that a particular player actually practiced with their team on a given day, the following players played for teams that practiced many times at the Culver rink, a list that really only scratches the surface of former NHL stars who would have skated there over the years (listed alphabetically):
Of the players listed above (including former Kings players, listed earlier), 71 are (or will be) honored members of the Hockey Hall of Fame (three will be inducted in November 2014). They have also won 87 Stanley Cup Championships combined—many of them multiple times each—and 13 Olympic medals, six of them gold.
Again, there is no way of confirming that a particular player practiced with their team at the Culver rink in years past. However, given the number of opportunities each player had, it is safe to assume that each of them skated there, and the vast majority would have done so multiple times.
That each of these legends practiced at the Culver City Ice Arena is significant to the history of hockey and as the list indicates, the Culver rink has had quite the impact on the hockey world in the United States, in Canada, and internationally.
Closer to home, on top of the contributions the Culver rink has made to hockey at its highest levels, it was also a major contributor to growing the game among youth and adults from its earliest days to the early 2000’s in the Los Angeles area.
Considering the overwhelming significance and depth of the contributions that the Culver City Ice Arena has made to the game of hockey alone, to the NHL, to international play, and to growing the game locally, the City Council of the City of Culver City must declare it as a City Cultural Resource at the “Significant” level. Any other action would be unjust and would ignore, or worse, diminish, the site’s deep history and contributions to the local and broader communities.
- Culver City Ice Arena Declared A Significant “City Cultural Resource”
- Open Letter To Culver City City Council on Culver City Ice Arena
- Profit Was Not The Primary Goal For LA Kings’ Now-Dashed Plans For Culver City Ice Arena
- If Granted A Reprieve, What Should Happen At Culver City Ice Arena?
- From Youth Hockey To The LA Kings, Culver City Ice Arena’s Hans Matzel Has Seen It All
- Ice At Culver City Ice Arena Was Just Half Of The Story For The LA Kings
- Los Angeles Kings Reminisce About Their Days At Culver City Ice Arena
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