Historic city ice rink ready for comeback
By R.E. Graswich
Summertime in Sacramento and the streets sizzle. After months of coronavirus and social upheaval, my thoughts naturally turn to sports. Specifically, ice skating.
Imagine the joy of heading to Del Paso Boulevard and cooling off with a few spins around the frozen pond at Iceland. But skating is impossible at Iceland. The ice is gone. The rink surface is covered with blue plastic tarps and wooden planks. It’s hard to freeze ice when the temperature is 98 degrees and the building has no roof.
The Iceland roof disappeared in 2010, when an arson fire destroyed most of the iconic sports palace built by Bill Kerth in 1940. Before the fire, Iceland was a skating hall down on its luck. It had fallen far from its mid-century pinnacle.
Now Iceland is ready for its comeback. The City Council approved $1.3 million for a new roof as part of the Enhancing Neighborhood Services program. The coronavirus slowed the project, but Iceland’s roof should rise in 2021.
Once restored, Iceland will be a premier destination for children, families, date nights and hockey players. I hope there’s a way to honor a young man who spent his final hours enjoying Iceland—a teenager whose death still resonates a half-century later.
On a rainy Sunday, Dec. 3, 1972, Ray Brewer, a 15-year-old African American, and two teenage friends, Adrian Richardson and Larry Ward, were headed home after watching skaters at Iceland. As they walked toward Arden Way, they saw two men in white coats. One man had a shotgun. They shouted at the boys. Frightened, Ray, Adrian and Larry ran back toward Iceland.
The men were Sam Somers and Dean LaChapelle, undercover police officers. They were among several cops assigned to Del Paso after eight neighborhood robberies. Here’s how the gears fell into horrific alignment:
A bartender on Del Paso phones police. He’s just seen several men who might be robbers. Somers spots Ray, Adrian and Larry, three innocent kids coming from Iceland. The boys have picked up sticks to deal with dogs along the Sacramento Northern railroad tracks. The boys match the robbers’ description. Or near enough. Male. Black.
Hearing the shouts and seeing the shotguns, the boys are panicked. As the teens run near Edgewater Road, one block from Iceland, Somers aims his revolver at Ray and fires three times. Two bullets miss. One slug ricochets off the pavement and hits Ray in the leg. LaChapelle levels his shotgun and fires once. A pellet hits Ray in the back.
Adrian throws Ray over his shoulder and tries to carry his friend away. He doesn’t get far. With Ray dying from the shotgun wound, his companions are handcuffed and beaten by police.
Furious residents march on City Hall. They demand reforms and accountability. The county grand jury indicts Somers for involuntary manslaughter. The state appellate court blocks the indictment and rules the shooting accidental, a tragic case of mistaken identity. Time passes. People forget. Four decades later, Somers’ son becomes Sacramento police chief.
Iceland tumbles into obscurity. Bill Kerth’s family sells the rink in 1977. The buyer, unable to attract crowds, finds Iceland a terrible investment. He returns it to the Kerths after four years. Terrie Kerth, Bill’s daughter, runs Iceland today as a charity.
Sometimes magic flows from bad things. Days after the 2010 fire, people began to remember how much they loved Iceland. They realized the important role the rink played in local recreational life.
More than 400 volunteers helped clear the charred roof to get the rink open. Now Iceland follows an abbreviated schedule, open under gray skies November to February.
Iceland doesn’t pull in much money. Tax returns show $125,014 in ticket sales and $30,389 in gifts and donations in 2018. Rental skates were donated by Berkeley Iceland when it closed in 2012. But Terrie Kerth says the restored rink will be beautiful.
“The roof and exterior will look exactly as they did in 1940,” she says. “The facilities will be updated, but keeping the original look is critical.” City Councilmember Allan Warren engineered the city’s contribution. He tells me “it’s an important project,” but that’s an understatement.
Iceland is part of Sacramento’s history. And history should never be forgotten.
Information on Iceland can be found at skatesacramento.com.
R.E. Graswich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Previous columns can be found and shared at the all-new InsideSacramento.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.