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Cold Play


By Mary Daily

Published Dec 14, 2018 8:00 AM

An all-year ice rink, the Tropical Ice Gardens, thrived in Westwood Village from 1938 to 1949 and was home to UCLA’s ice hockey team.

The rink later was known as the Sonja Henie Ice Palace. Courtesy of Water and Power Associates.

Although it must have seemed a highly unlikely event to the people of Los Angeles, in November 1938, an ice rink opened in Westwood Village. With the amusing name Tropical Ice Gardens, it was the world’s first year-round, outdoor ice-skating rink.

Located southwest of the intersection of Gayley and Weyburn, where Weyburn Terrace II is today, the rink occupied land that was owned by the federal government. The facility contained 21,000 square feet of ice and could accommodate close to 2,000 skaters and 12,000 spectators. To finish construction by opening day, 300 men worked night and day on the rink, which was to be an exact replica of an alpine village, despite being surrounded by palm trees and hibiscus.

On opening day, the Los Angeles Times declared that “neither sun nor desert wind shall keep Los Angeles from skating.” The article stated that the St. Moritz Express, with ice performers from two continents, would perform that night to an audience of notables from “screen, society and the sports world.”

A view of Westwood from the Tropical Ice Gardens. Courtesy of Water and Power Associates.

A month later, an L.A. Times columnist remarked how amusing and anachronistic it was to take to the ice when the temperature in Los Angeles was reaching an all-time December high of 92 degrees.

The following year, a small group of skilled skaters founded the All-Year Figure Skating Club at the Ice Gardens, attracting such celebrity skaters as Norwegian Olympic champion Sonja Henie.

Over the years, when Henie was affiliated with Fox Studios, the rink appeared in some of her films and became known as the Sonja Henie Ice Palace.

Meanwhile, UCLA’s ice hockey team had been formed in 1926. In their first two seasons, the Bruins were undefeated against teams from Southwestern University, Occidental College and the Hollywood Athletic Club. In 1928, before a record crowd of 1,500, UCLA faced USC for the first time on ice and lost by one goal. For three consecutive seasons, the Bruins won the Southern Intercollegiate Hockey League Championship. (In 1936, John Anderson, for whom UCLA’s management school is named, came west from Minneapolis to attend UCLA on an ice hockey scholarship.)

Bruin ice hockey team in 1938. Courtesy of UCLA Yearbook.

The 26-member squad was originally a Division I program, but World War II forced a reduction in the athletic department’s budget, ending UCLA’s status as a Division I hockey school. Today, the team is almost entirely player-funded and competes in the Pac-8 conference (essentially the Pac-12, but a few schools don’t have programs). Matches with USC still draw the largest crowds.

The ice rink was closed in 1949 and scheduled for demolition, to accommodate expansion of UCLA. A fire hastened its demise, and it collapsed on May 5, 1950.



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