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Good Old Days:

‘Boys chased girls ... at the skating rink’

Before selling records and later liquor, historical site was home to popular roller rink with skate nights.

April 05, 2008|By Josh Aden

The iconic Tower Records building at Newport Boulevard and 17th Street will be remembered by many in Costa Mesa as a great place to check out new music, but many long-time residents remember when the now-empty building was home to the Harbor Roller Rink.

The roller rink opened March 30, 1950 — three years before the township of Costa Mesa was incorporated as a city. The structure cost $50,000, according to a Costa Mesa Globe-Herald article from that day.

An ad for the rink’s opening in that same paper boasted it had a number of modern amenities like air conditioning, a “quiet, smooth, dust-free plastic floor” and “music especially styled for skating pleasure.”

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It may not sound fancy, but it beat the alternatives. Doreen Healey remembers roller skating on slabs of cement leftover after an earthquake destroyed a number of businesses on Newport Boulevard in 1933.

Healey, a Costa Mesa native, said the closest place to roller skate at that time was in Santa Ana. She and her friends would hop on the back of a flatbed truck into Santa Ana.

“That’s where the boys chased the girls — at the skating rink,” Healey recalled.

The Harbor Roller Rink opened with bleacher seating for spectators and 50 pairs of skates to rent. There were matinee and evening skating sessions.

Local Historian Gay Wassall-Kelly said the day sessions were casual, more for families and children and the evening skates were more formal. The opening day ad warned patrons that there were “no Levi’s during evening sessions.”

“We usually wore pants. We called them capris, but you had to be dressed up. We wore skirts even, too. We’d wear big fluffy skirts so it would fly up when you twirled,” Wassall-Kelly said.

The rink smelled like floor wax and the leather of the rental skates, Wassall-Kelly said. Growing up, it was one of the only options she had to go out with friends.

“The minute it started getting dark and our parents let us out, we hit the rink,” Wassall-Kelly said. “This was the focal place — people came from all over.”

Well before the marriage of disco and roller skating, Harbor Roller Rink skaters wheeled along to organ music, often waltzes or upbeat tunes.

By the 1970s, the Harbor Roller Rink’s popularity waned and it eventually closed. Despite becoming a Liquor Barn and eventually Tower Records, the original ticket window for the skating rink is still on the side of the building.

It will eventually become a Walgreens store, but for many the echoes of skates across Harbor Roller Rink’s hardwood floors will always remain.


JOSH ADEN may be reached at (714) 966-4609 or at josh.aden@latimes.com.

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