By Gary Walker A push to have the Culver Ice Arena, now known as the Culver City Ice Rink, designated as a cultural resource will be considered by the City Council on Monday, July 28.
Months after the famed ice rink – where skating stars of the past line Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner once gilded around the ice- was closed, the Culver City Cultural Affairs Committee is providing the latest attempt to resurrect the ice arena’s importance.
The Culver City Ice Rink closed its doors to the public in February after the property owner decided not to renew the lease of John Jackson, the rink’s former tenant.
Architectural Resources Group Inc., a Pasadena firm, compiled a 45-page evaluation on why the rink should be granted special status. Last month, the Cultural Affairs Commission unanimously approved recommending the second highest designation to 52-year-old building – naming the ice arena a “significant” cultural resource.
“This study has determined that the Culver City Ice Arena, originally known as Culver Ice Rink, is eligible for listing as a Culver City Cultural Resource at the ‘significant’ level,” the report states. “It also appears to be eligible for the California Registry of Historical Resources.”
In its report, Architectural Resources said it had met with and interviewed prominent Culver City residents such as city historian Julie Lugo Cerra and Culver City Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Steven Rose- both natives of Culver City – for its research regarding the ice rink and the building’s historical importance to the city. (Lugo Cerra is also a News columnist.)
Councilman Andrew Weissman plans to inquire about how Architectural Resources arrived at its conclusion of awarding the ice rink a certain number of points based on criteria that includes the quality of architecture of the structure, its historical and or cultural significance and architectural significance.
“I am looking forward to hearing from the author of the report and better understanding the methodology used to reach the score of 25 and to be able to ask questions regarding [the] manner in which she reached her opinion as to that score as opposed to any higher or lower score,” Weissman said.
Culver City has a set criteria for historical designation that is similar to those of the National Registry of Historic Places, which is the nation’s official list of the historic places that are worthy of preservation. In the city’s municipal code, buildings nominated for historical status must meet one of the following criteria: the structure must be at least 50 years old and the exterior of the building is accessible or visible to the public. The second is the structure or district must have special significance to the city.
Weissman thinks the cultural nature of the ice rink would be better captured with photos and videos displayed in the Culver City Historical Society Museum.
“Because of the current use restriction on the property, any non ice skating use would require a discretionary act on the part of the city,” Weissman said. “I expect that it is a matter of when, not if, the city is asked to allow for a change of use.”
The councilman also made it clear that the Culver City Ice Rink has seen its last days as a skating rink.
“Ice skating will not be returning to its former site. If the use of the property as an ice rink is not going to happen, the property owner and potential tenant will need to determine what use they want to put the property to,” Weissman said. “There are some zoning issues in addition to the use issues that would have to be addressed. What that use may be and what may be required of the building and property for remodeling or construction purposes to accommodate another type of use remains to be seen. If the building is designated significant or historic, it does not prevent change.”
The Takahshi family, which ran a skating school at the rink, lobbied the council on Feb. 10 to allow them to reopen their school after they said they had secured a short-term lease with the property owner, Michael Karagozian. But an examination of the arena’s infrastructure by William Clement of Complete Thermal Services Inc., a Stanton-based air condition service and repair firm, found that anhydrous ammonia- a potentially deadly gas- could be released into the atmosphere if the rink’s refrigeration system were to be turned off before it could be removed. The rink was in needed of serious repairs and once consultant hired by the city said its refrigeration system was at or “near the end of its useful life.”
Karagozain told the city at the time that he was unwilling to make the necessary repairs in order to keep the rink in operation.
City Manager John Nachbar said structures that have been designated historically significant can be occupied under certain conditions. “Keeping properties economically viable by doing an adaptive reuse is one alternative to this end,” he said. “As for upkeep and maintenance, ultimately that is the responsibility of the property owner, unless they pass that on to the tenant/occupant.”