Think ice skating today and the Owens Center or the rebirth of outdoor skating with the addition of PNC Winterfest come to mind. But Peorians have had a long love with ice skating, first starting on the frozen Illinois River. After the creation of the Peoria Park District, Illinois’ first park district, the Glen Oak Lagoon was used as a safer space to skate as the water froze during cold months. Antique postcards attest to the pride Peorians felt about the lagoon and their social activity of “taking to the ice.”
The addition of electric lights strung over the ice allowing nighttime skating while a “warming house” was added to make activity enjoyable. As ice skating continued to grow, several residents of the city would freeze “puddles” of water in their yards. The success of these makeshift rinks was as varying as their ice depths. To better serve the Southside residents, the Park District added an outdoor winter rink in Logan Park.
In 1970, the idea of an inflatable building was first showcased during the Expo ’70 in Osaka, Japan. During the exhibition, David H. Geiger used the inflatables on a large scale. Within a year of this exhibit, local community players, led by such people as Park Board Trustee Jim Cummings and hockey enthusiasts Rick Ricca, devised a concept to enclose the outdoor Logan Ice Rink under an inflatable dome. This would become Peoria’s first indoor ice rink.
Set on a cement foundation wall, the balloon-like structure was supported through air pressure supplied by a series of fans. The enclosure was inflated in the winter months providing not only increased comfort for the skaters but also for the spectators. The Peoria Youth Hockey Association, founded only a year before, moved its operation to the Logan Ice Center. The Bradley Braves Hockey team would play at the Logan Rink, as did the semi-pro Peoria Blades.
Lavetta Ricca talks about the neighbors that not only came over to watch the games or to skate but also helped sell concessions for the games. It became a source of pride for many in the neighborhood.
For those on the competing teams, the Peoria experience of playing inside was a wonder and a rare treat from the outdoor play they were conditioned to.
Plans were started in 1978 by the Park District for the Owens Center on the northern side of Peoria. With its opening in 1980, the new structure would allow for all year activities on the ice and contain two all indoor rinks, locker facilities, concessions and bleachers. Many of the Southside residents hoped that initial talk of repairing the then decade-old inflatable structure would again be inflated and that there would be two indoor skating facilities in Peoria.
Those plans were not to be, but the pride remains that once the Southside was home to the first indoor ice rink, and people from all around came to see it.