Long before the floors of the old Bakersfield Civic Auditorium were frozen over and the Valley Children’s Ice Center became the “coolest place in town,” there was the Bakersfield Ice Arena. Located on 24th Street and facing Highway 99, the facility was the first indoor ice rink in the entire San Joaquin Valley. George Haberfelde, one-time mayor from 1923-1924 and local business and civic leader, was the man behind the dream of bringing indoor ice-skating to the valley.
The new $150,000 arena had many spectacular features, including a “mammoth rink” that could accommodate more than 1,000 skaters on the 200-by-85-foot rink and had a seating capacity of 2,000. The arena also held the record for the valley’s largest roof.
According to the June 15, 1940, Californian, visitors found themselves standing under a “record-making roof” constructed by Francis W. Kimble. With arch-rib trusses spanning 134 feet from wall to wall, it beat out the previous record-holder, the Cousins Tractor building, which happened to be located right across the street. Many barrels of paint, all coming from the Ferguson Paint Store, were needed to tackle one of the valley’s largest paint projects to date. The result was a dusty blue mist ceiling complemented by ivory walls with a band of modern green around the perimeter.
If skaters worked up an appetite, Tiny’s Drive-in and Dining Room was happy to provide the concessions in their newest location inside the arena. And if you needed new skates, Swanson’s had you covered.
Opening day of July 12, 1940, marked the start of Bakersfield’s new ice age. Residents now had the opportunity to have their own winter wonderland year-round, which was especially appreciated during the hot summer months. More than 1,000 people attended the dedication given by Mayor George E. Wilson. The opening event kicked off a three-day ice carnival featuring various comedy acts, ice dancers and the “it girl on ice,” Ardria Thomas. It also served as home to the Bakersfield Oilers, the city’s first professional minor league hockey team.
Between 1940 and 1943, thousands of visitors enjoyed skating around the ice arena’s rink or catching a hockey game to cheer on their Oilers. The fun would soon come to an end as World War II was raging abroad and duty called.
On Jan. 15, 1943, it was announced in The Californian that the Bakersfield Ice Arena was to be converted by the Army into an assembly plant for the Lockheed-Vega Warcraft. The Bakersfield Ice Arena would still have one more opportunity to provide entertainment to the people of Bakersfield though.
In January 1946, it was converted into one of the largest dance pavilions in the San Joaquin Valley, but it would take another 20 years for ice-skating and hockey to return to Bakersfield when the Civic Auditorium opened the city’s next ice rink in 1963. ￼