Archive for Local Icons
As an ode to North Sacramento’s late Iceland, here’s an article I wrote about it in 2006 (It was published in the Midtown and Land Park Monthlies).
Iceland’s Prolonged Triumph… and Extenuating Spirit
Why would I stop off at the ice rink? I can’t skate on ice without eight wheels – four beneath each foot, and my ankles wobble like weebles no matter how tight I thread the laces. Sometimes, however, and very often in actuality, what exists is much more than meets the eye; what intrigues, inspires or titillates lays beyond what it is we are already failing to really see.
Here’s the lesson: If you continue to pass the same people, places, things on by… having little clue of the stories, characters and colors within… you’ll really miss out on some of the very best stuff. Want me to cut to the chase already? There’s history here, mystery, sentiment… and perhaps even… ah, I’m not going to spoil the secret just yet. First, let’s take a little trek back in time.
During the1920s Del Paso Boulevard was the now-historic route Highway 40, and it was the main thoroughfare through town. The railroad came by here as well, and trains needed ice regularly. So one local man, previously gripped by tragedy at another local ice plant, seized his opportunity. It was Bill Kerth (aka: Pop Kerth), and he opened the American Ice Co.
For many years Bill was quite successful… until the arrival of the refrigerator in the 30s, when ice was no longer as necessary in the same capacity. So what did he do with his tremendous ability to make ice when demand for it decreased drastically? He thought outside the icebox, and created recreation and leisure out of necessity! He built our very own Iceland in the heart of the then bustling North Sac.
Chris Lord, the owner and manager of both the ice rink and plant keeps telling me story after snowballing story, and I’m entranced by a history that still feels so tangible. Chris’ own story at Iceland, in fact, began in ’62 when while walking home from the theatre one day he was hit by a flying snowball – lobbed at him straight from inside the ice rink.
The plant itself is now “the oldest operating ice plant in California” and it still fuels the rink today, as well as the public pool behind it. Although the water’s heated nowadays, back when I was a small fry, we weren’t so lucky. We had to swim in a concrete-bottomed ocean of melted ice.
Today Iceland is holding her own, although it’s no easy or given task. Chris tells me that it’s a “hard business in California,” that it’s “not a big money-maker, but is nostalgic and meaningful to a few.” “We’re all involved. The employees all care about being here.” It’s simply not a forgettable job (nor place for that matter) failing to touch those who come near.
“Everybody knows everybody in the business, and most grew up in the business. You learn fast that you gotta wear a lot of hats,” Chris says without the faintest hint of a smirk, as if no pun was intended (but I’m watching him because I hear he’s quite the jokester). And while there have only ever been a few other ice rinks in the Sacramento region, this one’s outlasted about 65 rinks throughout the state.
Chris continues sharing Iceland’s nostalgia and challenges, and tells me that summers here are slower than winters. I respond with surprise, thinking back to my own childhood when we used to come here to escape the Sacramento summer heat… I look from the bleachers out onto the rink and note the same odd smell that used to occupy the place before. I can hear ‘Wildfire’ playing in the background… and for all I know I could be ten again.
I’m certainly still wide-eyed and eager as Chris begins telling me about things that go bump in the night here. He says that both buildings are on the registry of haunted historic places. And yet it doesn’t seem to bother anybody. “We figure it’s probably just Bill Kerth rummaging around,” Chris admits. “It’s not creepy really. You have to be open minded.” It is, after all, a family-oriented place. That’s the way Bill intended it, and that’s the way it’s going to remain. While the ice plant did seem a little spooky to me (keep in mind, it was nighttime), I didn’t sense any reason to be afraid of ol’ Pop Kerth. His creation may have cold hands, but she’s sure got an enduring warmth to her ticker… Anyway, I’d personally worry more about remembering ye woolen mittens!
[Iceland offers multiple public sessions every day but Wednesday, figure skating school, freestyle sessions, ice dance classes, discount lessons, group lessons, shows and events, broomball, private parties, field trips and ice plant tours! 1430 Del Paso Blvd., 925-3121 or 925-3529, http://www.icelandsacramento.com.
(I recall some fascinating story about the invention of the Zamboni… I’m not sure why I didn’t include it in this version of the article. Anyway, sadly, a fire destroyed Iceland over the weekend. It is unfortunately not the only historic building in North Sacramento to have been a casuality of fires started in the rear of the building.)