#Unearthed: The Ice Show As An Attraction For Hotels And Night Clubs

When you dig through skating history, you never know what you will unearth. In the spirit of cataloguing fascinating tales from skating history, #Unearthed is a once a month 'special occasion' on Skate Guard where fascinating writings by others that are of interest to skating history buffs are excavated, dusted off and shared for your reading pleasure. From forgotten fiction to long lost interviews to tales that have never been shared publicly, each #Unearthed is a fascinating journey through time.

Today's gem is an article from the 1946 edition of "The National Ice Skating Guide", penned by Rube Yocum - husband and pairs partner of Gladys Lamb, who for many years skated with Norval Baptie.
In this piece, he shares a fascinating history and timeline of hotel and nightclub ice shows in America in the first half of the twentieth century.


"Let's go out for dinner, tonight dear." "Where would you like to go?" "Oh! Let's go to the hotel that has the ice show - they say its marvelous!"

So they went to the hotel that advertised the ice show. They had a fine dinner and saw a grand show - and they went again and again - and they told their friends about it. And business in the hotel continued to grow, with reservations at a premium.

Photo courtesy "National Ice Skating Guide"

Ice shows as an attraction for hotel dining rooms and night clubs are not a new idea - but the present interest in skating makes them increasingly popular.

In 1914 the first permanent ice rink was installed in the Sherman Hotel in Chicago and the laurel wreath should be given to Mr. Frank Bearing for having the foresight and vision to introduce the ice stage at his hotel - for it was so popular that it remained there for five solid year's as one of Chicago's famed attractions!

The managers of leading hotels and night clubs in other cities were not long in emulating Mr. Bearing's example. The next show blossomed forth on the roof of Shubert's famous 44th Street Theatre in New York; then Healey's Golden Glades, also in New York, installed a permanent rink. The Terrace Garden in the Morrison Hotel and the North American Restaurant, both in Chicago, followed suit to be followed by the Hotel Winton in Cleveland and the Biltmore in New York. Then the vogue swept west. The Hotel Muehlebach in Kansas City, the Cafe Bristol in Los Angeles and the Portalouvre in San Francisco, all installed permanent equipment.

In 1927 the great Norval Baptie built a portable ice rink that made real ice. The refrigerant used was dry ice or CO2 gas. Baptie was a leading factor in popularizing this type of attraction. He pioneered the field and should with Mr. Bearing be given credit for introducing and making the small rink shows the success they are today. Baptie, whose name is synonymous with skating, now manages the fashionable Chevy Chase Ice Rink in Washington, D.C.

Ice shows continued in popularity until the Prohibition era which ushered in the speakeasies with their small rooms in which the ice show hardly had a place. In 1935, shortly after repeal, Frank Bearing again booked an ice show in the Hotel Sherman and rekindled the present flaming interest in this form of entertainment.

The following year, Mr. Ralph Hitz of the New Yorker Hotel, New York, installed a permanent ice floor. Gladys Lamb starred and produced the shows for the first three years. This is the tenth anniversary for the Hotel New Yorker ice show - and interest is keener now than when it opened.

Photo courtesy "National Ice Skating Guide"

Gladys Lamb and I, in 1939, decided to invest in a portable rink with which we could tour the country, and after much research decided on the new miracle gas Freon, as the refrigerant. Our portable rink was constructed by Dick Baker, president of the Baker Ice Machine Company in Omaha, and we have operated it continuously for the past seven years. We opened at the Fontenelle Hotel in Omaha for Mr. Gene Eppley and the success of the engagement and rink equipment influenced the Nicolett Hotel in Minneapolis to install a permanent rink of the same type in 1940 and bring in the talented star, Dorothy Lewis, who has appeared there every year since.

We are proud of the fact that our travelling portable show was a real success. There were a lot of headaches but we took pride in pioneering the way. We were the first show to open up the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas, where they have had an ice show ever since. we also had the pleasure of opening the ice show in the Netherland Plaza in Cincinnati, the Copley-Plaza Hotel in Boston, the Hotel Schrader in Milwaukee the Hotel Peabody in Memphis and the Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia which has ran uninterrupted for the past three years. Mr. Joseph E. Mears, managing director of the Benjamin Franklin Hotel considers the ice show a permanent part of his organization.

We also had the pleasure of stimulating interest in ice shows when we introduced this form of attraction to night clubs in Boston, New York, Washington, Buffalo, Chicago and Hollywood and also played leading theatres with the unit from coast to coast.

When we started in 1939 the only other so-called travelling ice shows for hotel work were not skating on real ice but on imitation ice or 'muck' made of melted hypo spread on boards. Skating on the 'muck' proved so difficult that it has gradually dropped out of the picture.

At the present time some of the leading hotels - namely the New York, Netherland Plaza in Cincinnati, St. Regis in New York, the Adolphus in Texas, and the Benjamin Franklin Hotel, Philadelphia, have their own permanent rinks.

Besides our portable units, other skater-producers that have invested their own money in portable rinks, purchased their own equipment and costumes and produce their own shows ready for booking in as a complete unit are Everett McGowan and Ruth Mack and Maribel Vinson and Guy Owen. These people all have an extensive background of experience and are star skaters in their own right. They have helped immeasurably in keeping up the standards of the ice shows and in making the travelling small units an attractive proposition for hotels and good clubs. George Arnold is another skater who recently has invested in his own portable rink.

Photo courtesy "National Ice Skating Guide"

Ice shows as an attraction for hotels and night clubs haven't scratched the surface yet. They have proven themselves to be one of the most popular and high-class attractions in the amusement field.

The small travelling skating shows, like other new fields of endeavor, have not been handled or managed to best advantage. Agents booking skating shows must be made to realize that unlike other attractions the ice show builds up each week - each performance is different - they need a much longer engagement than ordinary stage entertainment. At the end of a six months booking an ice show will be drawing better than when it first started! And, anticipating the future, agents should make sure that they book a good ice show. The rink itself is merely the floor for the performers to work on - they should make sure that they are selling competent skaters - not just the ice itself.

This type of entertainment has more than a 'beach-head' on the public fancy. It is no longer an experiment or novelty. It is sound, basic entertainment. It is probably the greatest value in the amusement field today.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.