Never known for having the greatest ice surface amongst the rinks that form a constellation of ice skating clubs, minor hockey programs and skating sessions around Southern California, the Culver City Ice Arena is an important vertebra in the spine of westside leisure and athletics.
And despite its limitations, there was an endearing charm surrounding the vintage rink, which opened in 1961 and previously housed Los Angeles Kings practices and those of visiting NHL teams.
After operating continuously for over 52 years, the rink is poised to close for good on February 2 after the owner of the property nearly doubled the lease rate, according to the LA Times. Planet Granite, a Bay Area-based company that operates climbing, yoga and fitness centers, will assume control of the facility following a bidding process in which the Los Angeles Kings were involved.
It was not the first time the Kings were involved in a process to assume control of the rink.
“We tried in 2009, and we failed, but I remember telling the owner at the time, ‘Just make sure it stays a rink,’” said Luc Robitaille, Kings President, Business Operations. “This time, we tried again. We went above and beyond. Our expectation was to spend over a million and a half dollars in refurbishing it. The lease went way above where we were really not trying to make money on the deal. We think it’s a break even proposition, plus investing a million and a half, so we feel we got as far as we could go, and apparently they got a better lease from someone else.”
After being involved in the bidding process, the Kings remain ready to step in should Planet Granite not be able to fulfill its agreement.
“We told the city, ‘Anything we could do to help them or to help the great folks that have run this rink for years, if we could help them keep it as a rink, we would love to [do],’” Robitaille said.
The team’s plans for the rink were similar to those that helped rebrand the Valley Ice Center in Panorama City the LA Kings Valley Ice Center earlier this decade. The club hoped to be involved in the ownership and marketing of the facility and to completely renovate the inside of the facility and the ice surface.
“I don’t think it’d be NHL size, but it’d be NHL quality,” said Robitaille, who practiced at the rink during his first four years as a King.
“What we were planning on doing was bringing all the visiting teams there, so we thought it would have been great for the city of Culver City.”
The chances of that happening do not appear to be in the favor of the grassroots efforts undertaken by those who have disseminated online petitions via social media to save the rink. Culver City’s only option to block the transaction would be to purchase the rink, which as City Manager John Nachbar told the LA Times, was “not a realistic option.”
But should any complications arise, the Kings will once again be ready to emerge as a bidder.
“If we get the call, they know where we stand, and we’re really close to the lease, funny enough,” Robitaille said. “So if something happens and they want to leave it a rink, we want to be involved and help saving it.”
Darryl Sutter recalls flying into Los Angeles and staying at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott, though his recollections of practicing in Culver City are a hazy some 30 years later.
“I think a lot of guys that practiced there couldn’t remember practicing there, either.”
Sticking out in his mind more than the Culver City ice arena was the iconic Randy’s Donuts sign in Inglewood, two miles west of the forum.
“When you went on the road and you came out here, you didn’t want to practice because it was so rare that you got a day in California. Usually your trip was broken up. That’s what I remember about Culver City – I just remember bad ice and not wanting to practice.”