Clayton has long been a place of traditions, some ongoing, and some that are now the stuff of pictures and memories. Traditions like art fairs and farmers’ markets, burgers and onions rings at Parkmoor, or shopping at Famous Barr.
One tradition that remains popular is skating at the Shaw Park Ice Rink. As the rink celebrates its 50th anniversary, and the city itself nears 100 years, city residents and officials are remembering the rink’s past while making plans for its future.
The ice rink opened on Nov. 5, 1961, made possible by a $175,000 bond issue which also supported the building of the city’s police facility on Central Avenue. The rink was designed by Peter Carver and Associates, who also created the skating rink for the 1960 Winter Olympics.
“Whatever city (leaders) had the idea for a rink, and to have it built there, they were right on target,” said Alex Berger III, who grew up in Clayton, attended the city’s schools, and who as an adult has served on the city’s board of aldermen.
For Berger, now in his 60s, the ice rink represents a spot that was the place to be during his childhood.
“Around when I was in seventh and eighth grade, during the season on Friday nights, the rink was always crowded,” said Berger. “It’s where the kids would congregate, but there were families there also. It was conducive to social fun. The Galleria wasn’t open yet, and there were not many movie theaters in the area, so it was a magnet for that age group.”
Berger recalled the rink as a safe, trouble-free place, where parents would drop off their children and pick them up later.
The rink has remained a part of Berger’s life, a tradition he introduced to his wife Cindy and their children. Eventually the Bergers’ two daughters would visit the rink with Scout groups, and with fellow Wydown Middle School students to play broomball. Broomball is similar to hockey, but instead of using pucks and sticks, players use brooms and volleyballs or soccer balls.
According to Chris Tennill, a spokesman for the Clayton School District, students from Wydown as well as Clayton High School still play broomball at the rink, and students from the district’s elementary schools are brought to the rink to skate.
The Bergers are not the only family that has made the ice rink a tradition. Clayton resident Rosemary Hardy, as well as several of her children, have been frequent users.
“When the Blues came to St. Louis, ice skating really took off, and Friday night at the ice rink was a sight to behold,” said Hardy. “There were so many kids that they had to hire off-duty policemen to control the crowds. Everybody wanted to skate.
“Monday nights we would drive our two boys up for (hockey) practice. It was serious business,” she said. “Many of the Blues players came to the end-of-season banquet. Then my daughter wanted to play hockey, and at first there was no team for her. Finally the powers-that-be agreed to field a team that allowed girls. It was quite a breakthrough; she was one of the first girls, and Clayton was very accommodating.”
Hardy also took part in a “Ladies Learn to Skate” program.
“Mrs. Lilly was our teacher, and we all made out like Peggy Fleming, the reigning Olympic star at the time,” she said. “The rink was the center of activity at the park in those days. And it is still an asset to Clayton.”
One of Hardy’s sons, Charles, also recalled the crowds on Friday nights, as the lines of people waiting to get in would extend out along Brentwood Boulevard. Some mornings, Charles Hardy and his fellow hockey players would go to the rink before the sun came up. He played hockey at the rink in the late 1960s and early 1970s, before going on to the U.S. Naval Academy.
These experiences of families such as the Bergers and Hardys are witnessed regularly by those who have overseen the rink over the years, and who are involved in commemorating its 50th anniversary.
“There is nothing better than going over to the rink on a nice night, having a cup of hot chocolate, listening to the holiday music and watching the people skate,” said Patty DeForrest, Clayton’s director of Parks and Recreation. “We have heard from people who lived here, left town, and come back, and they all have stories of the ice rink, about how this is where they learned to skate or it is where their kids learned to skate. They have a sort of Rockwellian experience there.”
DeForrest gives much of the credit to Eric Gruenenfelder, the city’s superintendent of recreation, who oversees daily operations of the rink.
“Eric has a great staff, many of them teens, who return year to year, to work at the rink,” said DeForrest.
Successful 50th anniversary events so far include “Skate with Frosty,” which drew more than 600 people. On Jan. 21, the rink will host the Shaw Park Winter Classic. Hockey teams from Clayton and seven other schools will take part in a day-long tournament.
On Feb. 20, there will be a 50th Anniversary celebration and family fun day, where a $3 admission will allow patrons access to games, hot chocolate, snacks and skate rental. For more details, visit www.claytonmo.gov.
Ice Rink’s Future
Even after events for the anniversary are over, plans for the future of the rink will remain an issue for city staff. When the rink had to close for the 2006-07 season so that extensive repairs could be made, a task force was formed to consider possible options for the rink’s future.
The task force eventually suggested covering the rink, converting it into a year-round facility. During those discussions and during discussions of master plan updates for Shaw Park and Clayton’s downtown area, the inclusion of a restaurant was mentioned. DeForrest said those ideas continue to be considered.
She also said the Clayton Century Foundation (CCF), which was formed to help with planning events for the city’s 100th birthday in 2013, is developing ideas for the future of the rink and for Shaw Park overall.
“A goal of the CCF is to have a plan in place for 2013. The ice rink and Shaw Park are big pieces of why they were formed, and they (the CCF) are well on their way,” DeForrest said.