Remembering the Saturday Night Skating Rink: “A Place for Kids to Go”

Rental roller skates at the skating rink

Longtime Sullivan’s Island residents will fondly remember the skating rink at the island’s Community Hall. Located near today’s Island Club Fish Fry Shack, the two-story wooden building was approximately 4,000 square feet with single-story wings on either side. The federal government built it during World War II for soldiers to hold boxing tournaments. After the war, the building was one of many that were acquired by the town of Sullivan’s Island.

In the early 1960s, the Sullivan’s Island Exchange Club obtained permission to use the building to promote activities for island youth. The maple floors provided an excellent place for basketball games, and the skating rink operated there. Club members Doc Moesner, Bo Bagnall and Bryan Rowell took turns managing it for several years at a time. When the club disbanded in the late 1960s, the skating rink ceased to exist. A few years later, the town commissioners had the building torn down.

Rowell recalled that “Doc was the one who organized the skating rink and got it going. Bo was almost a professional skater and often taught children to skate. When he ran it, there was even a skating queen chosen.”

Rowell added that Betsy Richardson “played a big part in keeping it going with managing the financial records.”

Since the Exchange Club was a community service organization, profit was never its motivation.

“It was a break-even proposition,” Rowell said.

The organization even bought and reconditioned used skates from Skateland (on upper King Street in the city).

“We charged for admission and skate rental because we had to pay for the electricity, but it was just supposed to be a place for kids to go,” Rowell said.

Former island resident Bill Leamond remembered lots of teenagers hanging out there.

“In fact, there was probably more hanging out than skating,” he said.

Tom Proctor grew up next door to the building and recalled that children of different ages were all there at the same time: “It was almost like having a lot of big brothers and sisters.”

The building was also used for other town activities, so the club operated the rink only on Saturday nights. In fact, Proctor said, “We didn’t call it the skating rink. We called it Community Hall.”

He recalled that adult parties and dances frequently were held on Friday nights A fireplace was on the grounds and oyster roasts were held.

“The adults would have to show up on Saturday mornings to clean up from the party the night before,” he said.

The building had a stage where plays and performances were sometimes held, and Johanna Tapio’s well-known dance studio was in one of the wings of the building.

“Every kid growing up on the island had to take ballroom dancing and shagging lessons there,” Proctor explained.

He recalled that there was an air duct leading from the outside to underneath the stage. Kids could crawl through there and get into the building when it wasn’t open, just for some harmless mischief and innocent excitement.

There was no air conditioning in the building. Rowell said the bushes were kept trimmed away from the windows, so opening all the windows and doors was sufficient to capture the sea breeze. During the winter months, little or no heat was available.

“Nevertheless, it was a great recreational activity for all,” current Town Administrator Andy Benke mused. “One could rent a pair of skates for 50 cents and enjoy three hours of skating fun and adolescent socializing.”

The skating rink shut down at 10 p.m., but Rowell remembered that there would often be kids waiting on their rides well after that. He and his wife often spent the next two hours driving those children home, finally finishing up around midnight.

Today, the Island Club’s Annual Fish Fry is reminiscent of times when Community Hall was an important part of island living. The building may be gone, but the memories of a whole generation of islanders who spent countless hours skating, dancing and just hanging out are still with us.

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