All the snow that blanketed Moab and gripped the valley in a deep freeze in January barely rivaled the snowfall that felled the local skating rink in the 1970s, if John Lillibridge remembers right.
Much of John Lillibridge's house was built using 2x2 skating rink slats for flooring, an addition, decking and decorative exterior.
A skilled and lifelong woodworker, Lillibridge, 69, bought the ruins that were once the first Moab roller-skating rink and transformed the recreational site into a large house that stands out for the unusual exterior paneling that decorates the upper levels. Large inlaid panels made from the 2x2-inch redwood sheathing from the rink stand out in stark contrast to the cream-colored siding of the house. A small addition is also entirely built from the wood, some makes up a sub floor of the house, and enough remained for Lillibridge to create a large deck which winds around shrubs, trees and other ornamental spots in his back yard on Arnel Lane.
“Basically, this place is a recycled skating rink,” he said, speculating that his home is probably the biggest recycling project in Moab. Lillibridge happily points to the 120-foot-long cinderblock wall that was once part of the skating rink but now runs the length of his backyard and notes that, unlike others in the neighborhood with their six-foot-high fences, “I’ve got things other people don’t have. I’ve got a nine-foot-high privacy fence.”
Lillibridge was 16 when the first skating rink was built by the Jones brothers, whose family had emigrated from England. “Harold Jones was a stair-builder, and they came here and got this wild idea to make this skating rink.”
Building of the wood floor of Moab's first skating rink began the summer of 1955.
It was 1955 and Moab was in the midst of the Uranium Boom. It seemed like everybody was making money and building was going on everywhere, which suited the Colorado-born teenager. When his family moved to Moab from Delta, Colo., for his dad to work in the mining industry, Lillibridge fit right in with the “rowdies” of the day, smoking cigarettes, wearing cowboy boots, and showing up every weekend to flirt with girls at the skating rink.
“It was open every night, and they had afternoon sessions,” he recalled. There were also special events such as the Hunter’s Ball and the Elks Ball, and they’d have regular Saturday dances. “The most memorable part was the Saturday night dances. They’d call it ‘Saturday Night Brawl’,” Lillibridge said. And he was happy to be right in the middle of it, flirting with other guys’ girls and duking it out if anyone objected.
“Everybody was rowdy those days. It was the Boom, everybody had plenty of money and plenty to drink, and they did!”
The way the roller rink was built added to the clamor. The brothers chose redwood for the floor because it was resistant to rot and insects such as termites, Lillibridge said. But the wood proved too soft to skate on, so the builders nailed 4x10 pieces of masonite to the redwood, which created quite a roar as skaters rolled over the joints.
Skating rink co-developer Harold Jones roll tests strength of redwood floor as work scontinues on trusses above.
“You’d get about 100 kids in there and it was like 100 small trains going by at the same time,” Lillibridge recalled. So of course, the music had to be played loud. Besides the usual organ music popular at roller-rinks around the country in the
Fifties, the Moab rink had a DJ spinning vinyl of the latest rock ‘n’ roll, in addition to Johnny Cash, the Platters, Fats Domino and Little Richard.
Lillibridge said that when he bought the property, there was “box after box after box of albums and ‘45s” from the ‘50s through the early ‘70s.
The festive atmosphere was enhanced by streamers of colored crepe paper arranged like bunting covering the ceiling, 60-feet-wide and 120 feet long. In the middle hung a large crystal ball made of mirrors that reflected colors from spot lights all around it, “like the ball they drop at New Year’s Eve in New York,” Lillibridge remembers.
These days, when he mentions living on top of the old skating rink, most people -- even longtime residents -- nod and comment on the rink they remember at the bowling alley (now Alco). But that came later. Lillibridge helped contractor Al Berna build the newer, quieter rink owned by Kenny Burtwell, at the Moab Bowling Lanes just off Highway 191 in south Moab. That was after the Jones rink was crushed by snow.
Harold JOnes converses with workers near the rink entry where white skates for ladies and black for men were shelved.
Lillibridge said the ceiling trusses of the original roller-rink were built of native lumber and were weak. “The ceiling collapsed, and that was the end of the skating rink.”
He said the snowstorm in Moab that winter was so bad and the snow piled so high that there were only two single lanes open on Main Street, and motorists on either side couldn’t see each other for the snow bank inbetween.
Soon afterward, Lillibridge heard that the rink was for sale. He had in mind developing storage units there, and got into a bidding war with another interested buyer. Offering the owners the $40,000 they wanted sealed the deal, since the other guy was only willing to pay half that amount, he said.
Today the property appraises close to ten times what he paid. But the site also has historic value, for the role the roller-rink played during the Atomic Age -- one of a handful of places where hardscrabble miners and Moab families could learn to skate and whoop it up together.