To foster and promote the art of ice skating, particularly figure skating, through instruction, support and development of amateur ice skaters and the sponsorship of figure skating competitions and exhibitions.
POSTED: December 11, 2008
The history of the Skating Club of Lake Placid ‘for dummies,’
This week The Skating Club of Lake Placid will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the official recognition of the fledgling club by the United States Figure Skating Association (USFSA) in 1933. As the current historian of the club, I feel that it is important that new generations of Lake Placid residents should understand the importance that figure skating played, not only in our sports culture, but in the economic health of the community during the 1930s and 40s.
From the beginning of the 1920’s, there was a U.S. Figure Skating-sanctioned skating club sponsored by the Lake Placid Club called the “Sno Birds,” but it was not a local skating club. The Sno Birds held their own competitions and skaters came from all over to compete for coveted trophies. The officers and directors of this club were not local and they held their competitions in the winter on the Club’s flooded tennis courts. It was the Sno Birds that hosted the annual meeting of the U.S. and Canadian Skating Associations in 1921, at which the United States Figure Skating Association was formed.
When the Olympic Arena opened in 1932, the Sno Birds rented ice from Jack Garren to hold their first indoor competition. Some of our talented young local skaters during those early years, including Lorraine Bryant, Clara Wilkins, Sadie Pelky and Helen Carter, were asked to give exhibitions at Sno Birds events. Later on, these girls became our local club champions and joined professioal ice shows.
In 1932, following the Olympic Winter Games, H.L. (Jack Garren) wanted to be able to hold shows and competitions at the new arena, so he formed a board of directors with Rollie J. Kennedy as president (also listed as Chairman of the North Elba Park Commission) and himself as a director and executive secretary and applied to the “U.S. Figure Skating Association” on July 26 of 1932 for membership under the name of The Adirondack Skating Club. The board of officers and directors reads like a 1930’s “Whos Who” in Lake Placid. In addition to Garren and Kennedy, officers of the club were: J. Vernon Lamb; Clarence Eccleston; William J. O’Hare; and Robert F. Isham. The directors were Honorable James Shea; Willis Wells; William N. Lamb; Benjamin Bull; Deo Colburn; E.C. Paarman and George Lattimer, editor of the Lake Placid News.
The membership application by Garren, requesting to be included in the USFSA, was accepted that summer in order that competitions and “carnivals” could be held that year under the auspices of the new club. However, it was not formalized, according to “Skating Magazine,” until the next Governing Council Meeting in 1933. In 1936, the Adirondack Club requested a name change to the Skating Club of Lake Placid and was granted the change at the U.S Governing Council in 1937. The officers and board of directors were essentially the same under both names.
The Adirondack Skating Club (newly renamed the Skating Club of Lake Placid) and the town of North Elba worked together in the 1930s to produce, with live music, some of the most beautiful skating “carnivals” in the country, starring the best skaters in both the United States and Canada. Gus Lussi was commissioned by Jack Garren to choreograph and produce the early shows, and Gus introduced creative lighting, elaborate sets and painted ice. He also brought in Canadian skaters from the Toronto and Minto skating clubs. When Gus left to join a commercial ice show in 1937, Walter Arian and his wife Edna (a choreographer) from the Toronto Club took over the job vacated by Gus Lussi, who later returned to serve as one of the most prominent and successful figure skating coaches in the world.
During the depression and World War II, the income generated by these well- attended skating events and the summer skating, which drew the best skaters in North America, was a major influence in helping our community survive those difficult years.
A reception to honor the Skating Club of Lake Placid’s 75th Anniversary will be held in the Winter Olympic Museum on Thursday, the 11th of December, during The U.S. Junior Nationals Competiton, which we are honored to hold in our historical ice facility, under the auspices of ORDA and the Skating Club of Lake Placid.
THE RECEPTION: In the Winter Olympic Museum, at the Olympic Center on Thursday December 11th, there was a reunion of figure skaters and supporters of figure Skating. They gathered at a reception, hosted by the Skating Club of Lake Placid, to remember and honor the 75 years that the Skating Club has occupied a special place in the hearts and lives of the community. The present Skating Club of Lake Placid members, Officers, Directors and high level skaters had a chance to mingle and talk with skaters and volunteers prominent in past decades. It was an ideal time to celebrate the anniversary, as top USFSA officials and judges were in town for the Junior National Figure Skating Championships. Many were aware of our history and had been coming for years to Lake Placid to officiate at competitions and other events. At the reception, I got a chance to discuss our club’s current status with Lucy Brennan, an official referee and judge from New York City. Lucy has often served as a judge at the World’s most prestigious figure Skating events, including Olympics and other International competitions. She was a US judge on the infamous Olympic panel of judges for Ice Dancing, when the French judge was caught cheating and caused a scandal that eventually changed the entire marking system.
Current President of the Skating Club, Iris Gladd, introduced special guest, adult skater and Secretary of the skating club, Rosemary Gole. Rosemary presented Club skater, Christie Sousa, with a new perpetual trophy in honor of David Drake, donated by the Adult Skating Camp in Drakes honor.
THE PARTNERSHIP: During the years prior to the 1980 Olympics and the subsequent take over by the State agency ORDA, the Skating Club of Lake Placid and the Town of North Elba worked together, each one doing their part to make Lake Placid a prime destination for figure skating. On every show program, advertisement and competition announcement, the two groups got equal billing. The Skating Club provided the volunteers and “sanctions” that the town needed in order to hold any events in which members of the US and ‘’Canadian Skating Associations skated.
SANCTIONS: A Skating club could lose their membership in the Association for holding an unsanctioned event, and skaters who participated in an unsanctioned event could be disqualified and lose their membership. Each skating club has a “sanctions” officer.
THE TOWN RESPONSIBILITY: In return, management at the Olympic Arena did their part by providing ice, office services, advertising and production assistance. By working closely together, Lake Placid had one of the most successful programs in the country. The rink management and the club were true partners with respect for each other. Without this partnership, a small town such as Lake Placid could never have competed with the growing number of big city clubs that were soon running summer programs.
FIRSTS: The Skating Club of Lake Placid has many FIRSTS which throughout its history it has sanctioned and sponsored:
FIRST Winter Olympic Games in the USA 1932
FIRST Summer Ice Season 1932
FIRST Ice Dance Conference 1935
FIRST Summer Operetta (Carnival) 1932
FIRST Judges School 1936
FIRST Open Summeer Competition 1939
FIRST Eastern Sectionals 1938
FIRST US Summer Figure and Dance Tests 1943
FIRST International Comp. USA Kennedy Games 1970
FIRST Luddington Training Session for Pairs 1975
FIRST FISU World Games 1972
FIRST Norton Skate “Flaming Leaves” 1979
FIRST Skate America 1981
OTHER EVENTS: The following events were sponsored and sanctioned by the Skating Club of Lake Placid, Including the Figure Skating at the 1980 Winter Olympics, but were not “firsts”:
US National Figure Skating Competition: 1965
Sectionals-Eastern championships: 1938, early 1950’s, 1960, 1962, 1973, 1985
Regional-North Atlantics: 1972,1979, 1982, 1984
Precision (now Sychronized Skating): 1983,1985
Empire State Games: 1981, 1982, 1983 (now hosted every year)
Open Free style and Ice dance Competitions since 1930’s
Since the 1980s, the Skating Club and ORDA have hosted many more events both Regional, Sectional and National including: National Synchronized Team Skating in 2002
Adult Nationals: 1996, 1997, 2000, 2004, and 2008
Junior Nationals: 2003, 2008
The “glory years” of figure skating in Lake Placid occurred during the early 1940s under H.L. “Jack” Garren’s administration, when the best skaters in the U.S. and Canada came to town in the summer to train under the best professionals in the world. There was plenty of opportunity for skaters of all ages to perform in ice shows comparable to the professioal shows that toured the country and made movies in Hollywood.
Not only were there two big shows each summer, but there were two full weeks of social ice dancing followed by a ranking ice dance competition, which attracted the adult ice dancers from clubs all over the country and Canada. In the summer, the local kids were not forgotten and many of them, including myself, were able to be on the ice with skaters such as Dick Button, Eileen Seigh and Bill Grimditch. We were also able to skate in the group numbers in the two summer shows, one in July and the other over Labor Day weekend. Most of us club skaters could not afford lessons from the summer pros, but we did a fair amount of learning by hanging out near the bull pen on the side of the 1932 rink where, among others, Gus Lussi, Howard Nicholson and Walter Arian taught lessons. I learned to spin by watching Gus teach our national competitors. I also attended evening social ice dance classes and found myself a partner who was then at my level, John Ladue from Plattsburgh.
When the Garren family left Lake Placid in 1949 for Troy, bobsledder Stanley Benham became the arena manager. In the 1950s, one of our club senior ladies was Phyllis Krinovitz, (Feinberg) of Saranac Lake, who was club Senior Ladies Champion in 1952. Another headliner during this period was Aldrina Lebel, who not only did figure skating but was a speed skater and, along with her brothers Leo and Kenny, was a champion barrel jumper.
Almost all ice shows during the early years featured comedy routines. Ted Cave was a nationally recognized comedian on ice, who moved to Lake Placid in the 1940s and never left town. Before coming to Lake Placid, Ted was a popular entertainer in professional ice shows. For more than 20 years he performed for the Skating Club of Lake Placid and supported his family here by running his own disposal service.
Barbara Burgoyne Colby was the club professional during the 1960s and she choreographed all the club shows during that period. As a young woman, she came to Lake Placid to train in the 1950s and stayed on to marry one of our popular local athletes, William (Bill) Colby. Today she still skates and teaches for the Skating Club of Lake Placid.
Jack and Joan Devitt were the teaching professionals for the Skating Club from November 1969 until March 1984. They coached a local pair, Leeanne and Jeff Labrake to National competition, once at the junior level, winning a bronze and the following year to senior level. The Devitts coached other locals who placed in pairs, dance and freestyle in North Atlantics and Eastern Sectionals. Jack and Joan also coached non-locals from Canada and the U.S. to gold medals in figures and free style, and to national and international competition. During the Devitts 15-year tenure with the club, they choreographed and produced 14 shows and skating portions of the opening ceremonies of the first Skate America. The Devitts continue to teach privately and for the club.
In 1981, the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) and the town of North Elba (that owns the Olympic Center building) signed a contract with the Skating Club of Lake Placid. The contract stipulated that in return for ORDA providing ice for the Skating Club of Lake Placid sessions, the club would provide volunteers for all the competitions and test sessions, and also skaters for corporate shows. The town of North Elba agreed to contribute to ORDA a sum of money each year to support the programs at the Olympic Center for our local children, such as those run by the Skating Club of Lake Placid and the Pee Wee Hockey Association.
The years following the 1980 Olympics brought many changes.
Ned Harkness, who was a hockey and lacrosse coach, became the new administrator of the Olympic Center for ORDA. As he was more inclined toward hockey, it seems to me that the figure skating program suffered as a result. It will take me another column to bring the Skating Club history from 1980 to 2009.
A Partial History of The Skating Club of Lake Placid
The Skating Club of Lake Placid operates under the auspice of US Figure Skating. We have almost 300 members ranging in age from 3 to over 80. We provide year-round skating programs to the local community. The skating club, in collaboration with ORDA, often hosts national and international figure skating events.
In the 1920s the Sno Birds, a winter sports group sponsored by the Lake Placid Club, held competitions outdoors on flooded tennis courts. The courts were first flooded for winter use in 1921.
In the early 1930s four Lake Placid girls began competing and skating in Sno Birds shows sanctioned by US Figure Skating. They were Clara Wilkins, Sadie Pelky, Helen Carter and Lorraine Bryant. Clara and Sadie left early on to skate in professional shows, while Helen won the senior ladies title before she too joined a show, and Lorraine stayed in Lake Placid and became our own “Ice Princess.” During the war Lorraine was called upon to help entertain the service men at the Lake Placid Club, which was serving as a rehabilitation center.
The Sno Birds hosted the annual meeting of the USA and Canadian figure skating and speed skating associations. It was during one of these meetings that the United States Figure Skating Association (USFSA) was formed. During those early years the USFSA included Canada. Eventually Canada formed its own association.
Long before the first indoor rink was built in the 1930s, figure skating in Lake Placid was a popular sport not only due to the influence of the Sno Birds but also to the availability of outdoor skating on Mirror Lake.
In 1931 the Organizing Committee for the 1932 Winter Olympics and the town of North Elba began the construction of the Olympic Arena in the village of Lake Placid. The contractor, H.L. Garren, stayed on to manage the arena for almost 20 years. For the first time in winter Olympic history, the figure skating competitions were held indoors. Never before had any part of a winter Olympics been held under a roof.
Lake Placid was the place where modern competitive figure skating first really caught the nation’s attention. It was the first to hold competitions indoors and the first in North America to offer a summer skating program.
In the summer of 1932, Lake Placid became the site of the first summer ice session in the country. At this time the Adirondack Skating Club was formed in order to allow the club to sponsor competitions, ice carnivals and testing under the sanctions of the USFSA. In 1936 the name was changed to the Skating Club of Lake Placid. Lake Placid is one of the USFSA’s early members. From its beginning the club was instrumental in sanctioning and sponsoring many competitions, shows and other events. Ice dancing weeks attracted many skaters for social ice dancing as well as for competition. During the hard years of the Depression and World War II the income generated by these well attended skating events helped our community survive.
The Skating Club of Lake Placid has sanctioned and sponsored many “firsts” throughout its history. Following is a partial list.
1932 First Winter Olympic games in the USA
1932 First summer ice season
1932 First summer operetta (carnival)
1935 First ice dance conference
1936 First judges school
1938 First Eastern Sectionals
1939 First open summer competition
1943 First in the USA summer figure and dance tests
1970 First international competition in the USA, Kennedy Games
1972 First FISU world games
1975 First Ludinton training session for pairs
1979 First Norton Skate Flaming Leaves
1981 First Skate America
Many other prestigious events were sponsored and sanctioned by the Skating Club of Lake Placid but were not firsts.
US National figure skating competition 1965
Eastern Sectional Championships 1938, early 1950s, 1969, 1962, 1973, 1985
North Atlantic Regional Championships 1972, 1979,1982, 1984
Precision (now called Synchronized) Skating Championships 1983, 1985
Empire State Games 1981, 1982, 1983
Adirondacks 1974, 1976, 1978
Yearly summer free skating and dance competitions