Originally appeared in the Fall/Winter 2022 Gazette
by Helen Weaver
“What is the matter with Winnetka?” a young girl asked in an 1894 letter to the North Shore News. “Why cannot Winnetka girls and boys have a place where they may satisfy their desire for skating?” Winnetka may not have had a rink in 1894 but since then, Winnetkans have found plenty of places to ice skate.
In the very early days, rinks were located by the station, near Hubbard Woods School, at the northeast corner of Elm and Lincoln, and across from the old Village Hall (now the Fire Station). The Village established a public rink on the Lake Front Park in the winter of 1907-08, followed by a rink in the newly acquired Skokie Playfield in 1914.
For twelve seasons, a group of Winnetkans sold subscriptions to pay for an attendant and upkeep of a “pond” on the northwest corner of Sheridan and North Avenue (now Tower Road). The property, owned by summer resident John G. Shorthall, was sold in 1907 to a full-time resident who didn’t want the Village skating in his backyard. Luckily, “the Winnetka Skating Rink (WSR)” found a new home in a vacant lot on Sheridan Road north of Henry Demarest Lloyd’s place. There it remained until the mid-1920s when the “WSR” built a rink in the new Station Park in Hubbard Woods.
A few years later, another group of private citizens raised subscriptions for a rink in Indian Hill. By the winter of 1928-29, the Park District had taken over maintenance of the Hubbard Woods and Indian Hill rinks in addition to the public rink at Skokie Playfield. That year, they sold 3,000 season “buttons” to 800 Winnetka families for $1 per family.
The “WSR” formed a hockey team in the winter of 1905-06 as a member of the North Shore Hockey League and competed against teams from Evanston, Highland Park and Lake Forest at a rink at Ravinia Park. Indian Hill Club teams competed in the league through the 1920s, winning the title at least once in 1926. The Park District built a regulation-sized hockey rink at Indian Hill Park in 1939 and brought Blackhawks coach Paul Thompson and trainer Ed Fralich to the new rink “to give the boys of the Village pointers in ice hockey.” The regulation hockey rink was moved to the Skokie Playfield in 1950, creating a skating complex there with a smaller hockey rink for younger players and a general use rink on the tennis court.
By the late 1960s, a group of dedicated hockey parents convinced the Village to put up for a vote a referendum to build an artificial rink. The referendum didn’t pass but the members of the Winnetka Skating Association eventually convinced the Village to build the rink with over $600,000 raised through private bonds. The new Winnetka Ice Arena finally opened its doors in 1972 and the members of the Winnetka Skating Association became the foundation of the Winnetka Hockey Club.
The public arena was not the first indoor ice facility in Winnetka. Many Winnetkans grew up skating at the Hubbard Woods Ice Skating Studio located at 915 Linden Avenue (now Green Bay Road). It was founded in 1954 by Canadian figure skaters Bill Thomas and Steve Kormylo, and closed the year after the Winnetka Ice Arena opened.
Winnetkans of today still have many choices when it comes to ice skating fun. The Park District currently maintains three outdoor rinks: Indian Hill, Northfield and Gullen’s Pond (a refrigerated rink at Skokie Playfield) in addition to the Ice Arena, which just celebrated its fiftieth anniversary! ■