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The Rink On The Rue Pergolése

An illustration depicting the skating parties that were intended for the rink on the Rue Pergolése 

"So rejoice, fans of skating! Regardless of the elevation of the thermometer, you will be able to indulge in your favorite exercise, thanks to the resources of modern science." - "La Science Illustrée", November 30, 1889

In the autumn of 1888, the gossip mill in Paris was abuzz with a rumour about a fantastical new amusement, the likes of which had never been seen before in the city. The following year, the Exposition Universelle was being held, and The Eiffel Tower was being constructed as the World's Fair's main attraction. Over thirty million people from around the world were set to descend upon the city and what better a time to open the largest artificial ice rink in the world. It was the perfect time for such an undertaking. Figure skating was an incredibly popular winter activity and Le Cercle des Patineurs, which had five hundred members, hosted lavish skating parties on the Bois de Boulogne that were the talk of the city.

Photo courtesy Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris Collections

The most unusual of sites was chosen for this new ice rink - a two kilometer area on the Rue Pergolése that housed a massive bullfighting called the Plaza del Toros. After the sand was all removed, the site was excavated and a concrete basin was installed. Thirty-six thousand meters of iron tubing and three steam engines were installed to compress ammonia gas for the ice-making process. The system used was one invented by a New Yorker named Matthew Julius Bujac and used a decade earlier at the Southport Glaciarium in England. The outdoor rink had columns decorated with flags and a temporary cover of fifty-six meter wooden trusses installed. It was lit by sixteen solar-powered lamps. A promenade surrounding the rink had an orchestra pit that could accommodate fifty musicians. Construction was finished in the late autumn of 1889, after the Exposition Universelle had officially concluded.

A benefit skating party for La Société Philanthropique was planned for the rink's grand opening on January 3, 1890. The fundraiser was hailed by "Le Temps" as "Le 'Great Event' de l'année". A who's who of La Belle Époque high society, including the Comtesse Marie Anatole Louise Élisabeth Greffulhe and Auguste Louis Albéric, Prince of Arenberg, showed up at the ice rink on Rue Pergolése with their sledges, chariots and costumes only to learn that the event was cancelled at the eleventh hour because of a rupture in the pipes. Engineers worked tirelessly to find and repair the leaks and the fundraiser was rescheduled for January 10, 1890.

A newspaper advertisement advertised the grand opening of the ice rink on Rue Pergolése thusly: "At three o'clock, the skating opens with a quadrille of Swedish skaters at four o'clock and the illumination of the Palace with electric light. In the evening and on the following days, there will be big night parties, sleigh races on the ice, fantasies of all kinds, clowns, quadrilles, costumed characters, etc. Ticket prices for this first day are one hundred francs for four-seater perimeter boxes... and fifty francs for other places without distinction. Numbered armchairs will be heated by ten thousand hot water bottles and twenty braziers." This event, too, was unfortunately cancelled at the last minute as well. The engineers failed to take into account the fact the distance between the ice-making plant and the center of the ice. Matthew Julius Bujac's system had worked at the much smaller Southport Glaciarium, but the size of the rink at the Rue Pergolése was ridiculously large. An 1893 article from "Industrial Refrigeration" magazine recalled, "It was possible to make ice only upon the edges, and then not in a continuous manner. The directors then had cart loads of cracked ice brought, and packed in the arena. A few skaters had an opportunity of trying their skill upon it, but in the space of one night all was melted and the enterprise, so to speak, fell into the water."

An artist's rendition of the ice-making plant

The man renting the former Plaza del Toros, a Mr. Newton, grew very annoyed with the delays and made a request to that an outside expert be brought in to monitor the company who was installing Julius Bujac's system. On January 27, 1890, it was announced in the newspapers that " the huge skating rink did not lead to a satisfactory result" and the expensive project was scrapped. Mr. Newton ended up taking Mr. Périsse, the engineer and Mr. Comboul, the works manager, to court over the failed venture.

An illustration depicting the skating parties that were intended for the rink on the Rue Pergolése 

Though the ice rink on Rue Pergolése never made it off the ground, it is a fascinating footnote in figure skating history. Its speculator failure didn't deter its organizers in the least. In fact, it inspired the success of the two lavish ice rinks that would take the city by storm in the decade that followed - the Pôle Nord and Palais de Glace.

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 figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":