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Stories flowed Sunday as people got down and dirty to help restore the Iceland ice skating rink. People shared memories of old times as they carried debris from the ice floor and helped to remove the wooden flooring around the rink.
Sunday was the fourth day the owners of the rink have asked volunteers to help them clean. Terrie Kerth, granddaughter of the late Bill Kerth, who built the ice rink in 1940, said the response has been unbelievable. When the project began, she said, the debris on the rink was more than a foot tall. Now, it's almost cleared, and the old rink will survive with some leveling. The wooden floors are being torn out and replaced with concrete.
More than 100 volunteers have worked on the project, with about 40 coming Sunday to help finish the job. “When we had our first day, we just had a steady stream of people going with their wheelbarrows,” Kerth said. “It was just phenomenal, and we just kept doing it and it’s amazing the people who come time after time.”
The family plans to reopen Iceland on Nov. 4 for its 70th anniversary. The rink will be open air for a while, but there are plans to install a roof in the coming years. “We’re starting a nonprofit called Sacramento Iceland and we’ll be raising money to put the roof on and rebuild the inside and we hope that by November 2011 to have it back pretty much like it was before,” Kerth said.
Former City Council member Rob Kerth was there when the fire broke out. “I was stuck out back and there was a six-alarm fire,” he said. “I couldn’t get around to the front, flames were shooting 100 feet out of the roof.” Kerth said he thought it was the end of the road for the rink, until he finally made it to the front and saw the bystanders. “It had been burning for about two hours and the sun was just coming up,” he recalled. “There were mothers there in their bathrobes and little kids crying and, this doesn’t happen very often, but there were hockey players hugging each other. People came from nowhere to see the rink and they were very upset.”
“I knew right then that there were enough people who cared about the old gal that we could somehow get it going again. So here we are.”
He also recalled when the U.S. Olympic team and its coaches died in a plane crash in 1973. A benefit show was put on for the families of the team, with former Olympic champion David Jenkins doing triple axles on the small rink. “It was really one of the first nationally televised sports events,” Kerth said.
And there are more stories. The rink is rumored to be haunted by Bill Kerth. Kerth said that his grandfather used to give keys to the place to the early-morning figure skaters. They’d let themselves in and skate for a while before he’d come in and talk to them. In the morning, there would be a fog bank that had built up over the ice, making it hard to see. “Every morning, he would come in the back door and he’d walk along the side of the rink and you could see this swirl in the fog behind him because he’d come in and lean over the rail to talk to the skaters and ask them how they were doing,” Kerth said. Now, every once in a while, early-morning skaters say they see that swirl in the fog and see someone leaning over the railing out of the corner of their eyes.
Bill Kerth and his son were innovators and came up with the idea for the first ice resurfacer a year and a half before Frank Zamboni, who visited the rink and claimed that the family had violated the patent on his machine. “So they got to talking and Zamboni realized that my dad beat him to it,” Kerth said. “Later in life, they became really good friends.”
Bob Hubbard, a competitive skating coach, said he has been skating at Iceland since 1952. “I skated here for many years as a competitor and went on to skate for Ice Capades for six years and started coaching and been doing it ever since,” he said. “I have a lot of memories in this place.” Hubbard said he was at a competition in Santa Rosa when he got the call that the place had been burned. “It’s just taking away from the community, the children, and all the memories and all the stuff with the place because it’s a landmark, it’s been here forever.”
When the new Iceland rink opens in November, there will be a sculpture that includes the blades and skates that were caught in the fire. Gina Rossi, a metal artist working in the area, is excited about her new project. She plans to have the children’s skates bronzed and make metal sculptures of children, each with a bronze skate. In the middle of the sculpture will be a fire bird made out of the blades of old skates. Rossi said the idea of the fire bird is fitting for rink that was burned down and is being rebuilt. “The philosophy of the fire bird is that it eventually just kind of burns up in flames, but with the flames of all that, it leaves a little egg behind,” she said. “And all of a sudden it becomes rebirth.”
Rossi plans to have some of the volunteers who helped to restore Iceland help build her sculpture. “I’m going to have the kids and various people just be a part and I want them to have a little bit of their name on it, so they can always be a part and know that they were involved in the rebuilding of this.”
The artist sees value in the rink's past. “Just being able to walk into something and look around and know that things happened here, as opposed to something that’s brand new,” she said, “It’s got a story. Some children, their parents see them skate here for the first time, and people propose to each other on the ice. Wonderful things happen in life and it just needs to be kept alive.”