The Hubbard Woods Ice Skating Studio

Gazette Article by: Shelley Galloway
Appeared in the Gazette: Spring/Summer 2006

Long before Winnetka opened its public ice rink on Hibbard Road, local skaters of all ages and abilities enjoyed an indoor, year-round ice skating facility in Hubbard Woods. It was located at 915 Linden Avenue (now Green Bay Road), a space formerly occupied by a car repair garage and now home to the Antique Emporium.

Although my family lived in River Forest in the 1950s, we drove to Winnetka to swim at Tower Road Beach and to visit the Hubbard Woods Ice Skating Studio of which my father, Henry Henriksen, was a founding but “silent” partner. Ice dancing was a major hobby for my parents, who met while skating at the Chicago Arena.

The Hubbard Woods Studio was the brainchild of Bill Thomas, a transplanted Canadian, whom my father met at the Chicago Arena where Bill was an instructor with a large student following. When the arena closed, Bill decided to join with fellow Canadian, Steve Kormylo, and my father, to fill the need for a year-round, indoor skating surface. The Hubbard Woods facility was opened in May 1954, with a main surface of 40 by 60 feet and an auxiliary small rink in the back. Not long after opening, the back room was demolished and the rink enlarged to hold four simultaneous classes or to allow five skaters to practice school figures or “patch.” With an ice surface that now measured 60 by 100 feet, piping for the rink ran under the floor and contained a system that distributed brine through the pipes and pumped it through a refrigeration system in the back.

Originally, the ice was laid with a hose and a squeegee system. Later a steel drum was filled with water and rolled across the rink with a rag attached to smooth the surface. If the ice level needed lowering, the refrigeration was switched off, the ice allowed to melt and a squeegee was used to lower the ice level. In the 1960’s Bill converted a small tractor by mounting a water tank on the back, adding a blower for the snow and using paper cutting knives to shave the ice. Mr. Zamboni was not interested in designing a machine to serve the needs of the smaller, private rinks. Sand covered the floor pipes and highlighted the beauty and clarity of patch tracings which were rendered more visible with the sand color shining through the ice.

Skating classes were available for all ages and levels. Many local skaters would go on to compete or to join the local Skokie Valley Figure Skating Club. Some of them bought their first skates at the studio, often a custom-made pair of Harlicks for as little as $30. Most competitive skaters bought their skates and skating clothes at the studio’s excellent pro shop run by Steve Kormylo. In the mid-60’s, the studio expanded into the second floor, opening one of the area’s first shops for ski apparel. An offshoot of this was The Ski Chalet which opened two doors down and was run by Steve.

As the rink’s popularity grew, more pros were required. Steve’s brother, Wally, arrived from Winnipeg to teach figure skating and was later joined by Phil Skillings, Janice and Karen Serafine, Frances Dorsey Plumber, and Buddy and Judy Zak of the Ice Follies. Peter Dunfield from Toronto coached the more advanced and competitive skaters. There were three skill levels—basic, intermediate and advanced—each with four tricks to master. Metal buttons were given for each level and a ribbon attached when a skill was passed. Finally, you were promoted into “Figure Skating” and awarded a silver skate pin. A bulletin board in the lobby recorded students’ progress for anxious parents and to keep students motivated. Large glass windows allowed parents in the lobby to watch their children skating.

The most famous skaters who trained at the studio were the brother and sister pairs team of Ronald and Vivian Joseph. In 1961 a tragic plane crash killed the entire U.S. World Figure Skating team en route to the World Championships. The Josephs were alternates and were therefore not on that plane. They were expected to carry U.S. hopes in the 1960’s and did so by finishing in the top three in the World Championships from 1963 through 1965. The Josephs were fourth at the Innsbruck Olympics in 1964, but were retroactively named bronze medalists two years later when the German team lost its silver medal for allegedly having signed a professional contract. That decision was overturned in 1987.

Unfortunately for the studio, small rink venues declined in the early 1970’s with the opening of large community rinks. Winnetka opened its public ice rink in June 1972, and the Hubbard Woods Studio closed its doors the following year. Those of us who skated there remember it fondly and can still recall the beautiful patch tracings on the ice.


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8 Responses to “The Hubbard Woods Ice Skating Studio”

  1. January 30, 2015 at 11:18 PM #

    I was one of the figure skaters taught by Wally, Peter and others from about1958 to 1964. my family moved away in 1964 but Hubbard Woods Ice Skating Studio was my home away from home until then. I earned my Silver Skate, joined SVFSC and passed my pretest and first test in patch. I met my very best childhood friend (Barbie Duman if you see this I would love to reconnect) as we skated together and competed against each other. I loved watching the Josephs skate and dreamed of the Olympics. After I moved away I couldn’t find a skating “home” like Hubbard Woods and gave up my Olympic dream. I was accepted by the Ice Capades Training program and did that throughout high school but decided not to join the show. Later, while in college, I taught Basic ice skating skills to young wannabe hockey players and others who just wanted to learn how to get around the ice without crashing and burning. Reading your article brought me back to a time and place I loved and always think about, thank you.

  2. February 12, 2018 at 3:18 PM #

    Reading this article brings back MANY memories as I am the daughter of Steve Kormylo. I grew up on that ice. My fondest memories were my birthday parties that I was lucky to have every year on the ice. Miss Frances was my teacher and I just adored her. She was so beautiful! A silly memory I have is of the the popcorn machine. It was always a treat at the end of the day when we had to close up that we got to bring home the left over popcorn. Such silly memories.

    It was always an honor when we as children were allowed to hold the handles of the ice smoothing machine while my Dad pushed it. I believe I have a picture of that machine in my father’s box of memories.

    The Skating Studio will always hold a special place in my heart!

    • June 20, 2022 at 8:57 AM #

      Do you remember Patty Thomas, Bill’s daughter. I have been trying to reconnect with her for decades. I skied at Wilmot daily in the 60’s and became good friends with the family. My name is Scott Sumner and my email is Phone is 727 871 0239. Thank you 🙏 for your time. Scott

  3. February 21, 2018 at 2:01 PM #

    Steve Kormylo was my teacher & I loved him. I had 2 practice times & 2 classes a week: 1 was group class learning the spins, jumps, etc. Then the private lessons doing the figure 8’s…which i think were called patch tests or compulsories? I remember seeing my name on the board as having passed & then of course getting my engraved silver skate pin. I loved every moment of my time there. Quitting has always been one of my biggest regrets.

  4. February 21, 2018 at 2:08 PM #

    I made a mistake….i was sure for years that my skating teacher’s name was Wally Kormylo, but I read Steve in the article, so just thought my 60+yrs shaded my memory & I was wrong. But I wasn’t. It WAS Wally & I can so clearly see him in my memory’s eye. Phew. Thought I had lost it for a moment. Thank you Wally Kormylo who gave me confidence, the drive & that the hard work of practice was worth it all.💜💜

  5. March 1, 2020 at 7:07 AM #

    I was blessed to have been there right when the studio was first opened, and fulfilled a childhood dream. Bill Thomas and Wally Kormylo were my teachers and I took freestyle classes as well as “patch” classes and dance classes. I was in a class with Ronnie and Vivian Joseph who were about 8 and 10 or 11 at the time. Needless to say, they showed early promise.
    Thanks for helping me relive such precious memories from my childhood.

  6. August 26, 2020 at 6:44 AM #

    So great I worked at the rink from 69 to 73. Bill was such a great guy The most laid back person I ever knew. He could do those school figures back and forward with no effort. I sold skates and and took care of the pro shop. I also did the ice with the barre; at first then we got an electric small version of the Zamboni. What people dont know is that when the ice got to thick,we have a machine with two razor sharp spinning blades that too off an inch of ice and we shoveled it all into a pit. That was not fun. But I ran parties at night and after my friends would show up and we would shoot around for a while. One of my friends first broke a giant mirror, Then another time he broke a window. Bill was totally cool. Some of my best memoeiws. Jon Toubus

    • whsadmin August 27, 2020 at 10:33 PM #

      Thank you so much for sharing these memories Jon! Sounds like you really enjoyed working at the rink! Have a great day.

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