When the Ice Palace was built after Expo ’74 on Spokane’s Havermale Island, its architects could have probably guessed the structure’s fate: Like many before it, the ice skating rink would one day be demolished, and something new would be built in its place.
But most people are not architects. Can you blame them for grieving?
Even though it was expected for years after voters approved a $60 million makeover to Riverfront Park, and even with a $2.2 million ice ribbon set to open in November to replace it, the patrons and lovers of the Ice Palace finally saw the end of Spokane’s only outdoor skating rink on Sunday.
With saying goodbye comes the seven stages of grief.
Shock and denial
Ernest Powell has been coming to the Ice Palace for 13 years, including 12 as a season pass holder. In fact, for his last skate at the rink, he’s brought all 12 of his passes, which are strung up and hanging from his beige Carhartt jacket.
“I never thought they would do it,” he says while taking a break from skating. “I thought they’d keep it open forever.”
He’s been a fan since buying a pair of skates at a yard sale when he was about 4. He’s been coming to the Ice Palace every winter ever since.
Now that it’s closing, he says he’s skeptical of the new ice ribbon – he doesn’t agree with it being open to the elements.
“I’d rather fix this up a little, make it new,” he says. “I don’t know how they think it will work without a roof overhead.”
He says he’ll continue to skate at Eagles Ice Arena in the summer, since it’s indoors. But as for skating at Riverfront Park?
“Nope,” he says. “This is the last time I’m doing it. This is the last hurrah.”
For 59-year-old Greg Hicks, the shock of the rink’s imminent end may have dissipated, but the pain certainly hasn’t. Two years ago, he bought a season pass and has tried ever since to spend at least three hours each Saturday and Sunday skating while he can.
“I was one of the first people on the ice,” he says, reminiscing about Expo ’74 and how he was an undergrad at Gonzaga University at the time. “That’s why I wanted to be here today. I want to be one of the last ones to come off of the ice.”
Hicks says he’s not ready to boycott the ice ribbon, but he has his doubts. And skating indoors just isn’t the same.
“There’s just something about being outside,” he says. “The air in your face.”
Based on designs and descriptions, 47-year-old Bonnie Harper says she doesn’t like the idea of an ice ribbon “at all.”
“I’m old school,” she says, before heading out on the ice again to get her fill. “The ribbon seems a little sketchy.”
The mother of five says many of her children learned to skate on the rink, and one of her daughters was with her Sunday to commemorate its storied past.
“When I was a teenager, there was an older couple who taught me how to dance-skate on this rink,” she says. “With a ribbon, you can’t do that.”
While dozens of people skate counterclockwise around the rink to pop music, Bianca Soto practices her figure skating in the middle of the ice, moving with grace and precision as she nails move after move.
As often as she can, the 25-year-old makes the trip from Coeur d’Alene to the Ice Palace to practice. This month, however, has been a struggle. In late January, her appendix was removed after it burst.
She’s been taking it easy for a few weeks, but still finds a way to make it to the ice.
“I just wish it could be open all year round,” she says of the Ice Palace. “I love it here.”
Now that it’s gone, she says she’ll skate at Eagles.
When it comes to outdoor skating, though, she’s mostly out of luck. Since figure skaters need plenty of room and an oval space to practice and perform, she’s not going to be able to pull off the same moves at the ice ribbon.
“In the full rink, you can do jumps and prepare for them,” she explains. “For finishing them, you need a curve. I’m not sure if the ice ribbon will be big enough, or have enough space.”
The upward turn
Brent Hoogner and Gay Waldman met at the Ice Palace 28 years ago. Sunday, to commemorate the special occasion, the crew plays Elton John’s “Can You Hear the Love Tonight” and makes an announcement over the loudspeaker.
“I just wanted to skate one more song and leave,” Waldman says of the night they met. “I go up to him and point and he starts looking over his shoulder. ‘You mean me?’ And I’m like, ‘Yes you.’ ”
When the married couple heard the rink was closing, they made a point to get out and skate one last time – and maybe reminisce a little about the past.
“Back then it was so crowded,” Waldman says. “You really couldn’t skate much.”
They both say they’re OK with the idea of an outside ice ribbon. Still, they have their reservations. Notably, they don’t know if it will be wide enough and, as experienced skaters, they fear it could get clogged while “you know, the people who can skate” are stuck going slow.
“We’re sad,” Hoogner says. “We’ll miss it.”
Reconstruction and working through
With her sister’s birthday around the corner, Ashley Billesbach thought it would be a perfect occasion to take 8-year-old Hailey out onto the ice, just as her father did for her on her birthday.
“We came here just to have fun,” Hailey says as Ashley struggles to tighten the laces on her clearly-too-big-for-her rented skates.
Though Sunday marks the first time she’s ever stepped foot at the Ice Palace, Hailey says she’s “not happy” about it closing.
“I like the rink,” she says, her thick glasses barely peering out from under her panda knit hat. “I like the music. It’s ’80s, but it’s OK.”
Ashley, on the other hand, is a little more optimistic, even after she just spent 10 minutes leading her sister around the large oval.
“I’m excited about it,” she says, still struggling to tie the lace. “I think it will be nice.”
Acceptance and hope
If there’s one thing Paxton Crisp loves more than ice skating, it’s his tiny green turtle stuffed animal named Turtle.
“Turtle is my favorite animal,” he says confidently.
As the 3-year-old takes to the open ice, dressed in his hockey helmet, hockey gloves and hockey skates, he grasps his father’s grip with his left hand and holds Turtle tightly to his chest with his right.
“So, Turtle came skating too,” Paxton’s father, Beau Crisp, explains.
For 20 years, Beau has come to the Ice Palace on days like Sunday. It’s where he crafted and refined his skills in skating while growing up. And, in many ways, he hoped it would serve the same purpose for Paxton.
But it won’t. And that’s OK, he says. He isn’t too worried about where he and Paxton end up skating – just like he’s not too worried his son won’t one day become a star hockey player.
“It’s kind of nostalgic, right? This has been around a long time,” he says. “It’s sad to see the old go out, but it’s exciting to see the new come in.”
Editor’s note: The story was changed Feb. 27, 2017 to correct information about when the Ice Palace was built. The Ice Palace was part of improvements the city made to the land that was home to Expo ’74. The rink opened in 1977.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.