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Ice Skating in the Little Spokane River Valley

by Ty Brown Before Wandermere Golf Course was even in existence, the lake on the property was known for its winter pastime of ice skating. As far back as the late 1800s when Francis H. Cook owned the property and continuing through the ownership of Benjamin Laberee, the ice at Wandermere was a destination for wintertime recreation. Eventually with the purchase of the facility by Robert C. Ross and A. L. Doran, the soon to be Wandermere Golf Course, continued the traditions of the past. Ice skating was the first revenue generator of the business as the construction of the clubhouse was ongoing for the newly planned multi-sport activity center north of Spokane.

The Spokesman-Review ran this photo in the January 22, 1941 paper showing a fun-filled day and a rink filled with skaters.  (Courtesy of the Wandermere Collection) 

In the fall of 1930 ice skating was all the rage in the Spokane area, as well as nationwide. It was a different era, before other distractions, such as the television and the easy access to the automobile and other forms of recreation. People ventured outside yearround and what a better way to spend an afternoon or an evening than to ice skate in the great outdoors. Recreational skating was not hard to come by during this era. Most all major lakes and ponds in the Spokane vicinity froze over, and before long the ice was filled with people of all ages. Liberty Lake, according to the Spokesman-Review in 1889, “Properly cared for by the city, it will be a better skating pond than the young people of Spokane were ever able to get in this vicinity before. A pretty little rustic house will be erected near the lake and pro- vided with a large fireplace. Here a caretaker will be in charge next winter, and the skaters come to do their skates or rest from their exertions.”

Around the area of the Little Spokane River, ice skating was not uncommon. At one point in the early 1930s, there were three outdoor rinks within a two-mile radius. Wandermere competed with Greenleaf Park (present Pine River Park) and Silas Cook’s outdoor rink just to the north of the golf course property. All three of these facilities needed to stay ahead of the other in amenities and condition of the ice. Skating was a very competitive business to gain the customers that hopefully returned for seasons to come. Night skating, music, the size of the rink and concessions were a big draw, and all three venues did their best to accommodate their clientele. In September of 1930, with the purchase of the property on the Little Spokane River,the first order of business at Wandermere was to construct the clubhouse. To generate revenue during this time, Ross and Doran continued to operate the skating facility on the man-made lake. During the first winter of operation,skating was the main business. Advertisements in the local paper boasted Wandermere as the “finest rink in the Northwest.” On New Year’s Day of 1931 skaters could enjoy sandwiches, a heated clubhouse, and music as they twirled around the ice for an admission price of twenty-five cents, day or night. The Rose Bowl was even broadcast over the P.A. system so that people could listen to the Washington State Cougars play in the Rose Bowl game against the Alabama Crimson Tide.

On Christmas day of 1931, Wandermere hosted a winter carnival that brought multiple events to the ice. Skaters were able to use the clubhouse to change shoes and grab a light lunch before heading out to the activi- ties slated for this winter sports ex- travaganza. The list of events included races from a quarter mile for kids up to twelve and a mile race for kids fourteen to eighteen years old. Adults could participate in the open mile race for men and the open half-mile for women. “Fancy” skating exhibitions and a barrel jumping contest rounded out the day’s activities. Judges for all the races were W. J. Kommers, chairman of the Spokane Figure Skating Club, John T. Little, owner of a prominent sporting goods store in town, and businessman, Claude LaLone. After the day’s events, spectators and participants were encouraged to gather at the clubhouse to enjoy the fireplace while listening to music on the radio.

The Christmas day carnival was such a success that the crew at Wandermere repeated the activities on New Year’s Day. This time high school team relay races were added to the program, with a silver trophy cup donated by Bill Hatch Sporting Goods as the grand prize or the winners. Listed on the carnival program were prizes including skating socks, candy, cigars, New Year’s dinner tickets, and other awards.

Winter recreation on Wandermere Lake continued into the 1970s when the activity seemed to fade away from interest. Occasional snowmobile races and hockey practices by the Spokane Comets, Spokane Jets and, other winter activities dotted the calendar over the years, but the frozen pond at Wandermere had seen its heyday.

Coupled with the increased liability and the competition with other activities, the business of skating ceased. Although ice skating is still a popular attraction in Spokane, the lakes and ponds around the area gradually prohibited public skating, and the interest turned to indoor rinks and modern refrigerated facilities.

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