Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - January 13, 2012

A history of Winter Lodge

1954: Duncan Williams, a Wisconsin civil engineer, conceives of the idea of an outdoor rink in California at a New Year's Eve party in Madison, Wis.

1955: Williams moves to California and leases land in Palo Alto. He builds The Winter Club. He utilized his engineering background to develop a system of refrigeration and brine to maintain an outdoor ice rink in Palo Alto's mild weather, making the rink the first of its kind west of the Sierras.

1956: Feb. 15, The Winter Club opens as a seasonal membership club. Phil Mitchell (current hockey coach) starts skating at The Winter Club.

1956: In February almost all of the ice is lost in a huge storm.

1957: The first skating show is held.

1965: The first "little rink," a teaching rink, is built. It has no roof or walls. It later became the indoor rink.

1981: The Icettes are formed and shows resume after being on hold for many years.

1983: Williams decides to close the rink and retire due to expiration of the lease with no option to renew.

1983: A group forms in an attempt to save the Winter Club.

1984: The Trust for Community Skating is formed and Community Skating, Inc. (CSI) becomes the management for the new nonprofit Winter Lodge (with Merre Jayne McFate as director) and puts Measures A and B on the ballot to save Winter Lodge.

1985: Measures A and B pass with 70 percent voter approval, resulting in a land swap, allowing the rink to remain in place. Land at the Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course is exchanged for the Winter Lodge site. Winter Lodge would continue to be used for ice skating as long as no city subsidy was required for its continuance other than the use of the Middlefield Road site or appropriate assistance in securing and making available an alternate site and facility.

1986: McFate retires. Linda Stebbins Jensen, a Palo Altan and former Ice Capades skater, is hired as executive director.

1986: The property is re-zoned to Public Facility. This is the final city hurdle to clear the future for outdoor ice skating in Palo Alto.

1987: Winter Lodge wins the Tall Tree Award for Outstanding Organization.

1991: The indoor, side rink is expanded to three times its original size.

1996: The Winter Lodge year-end show tops 200 skaters in its cast.

2001: Community Skating, Inc., acquires the lease for the tennis courts and surrounding property, with upgrades to be made to the courts. The tennis program is started.

2005: The outdoor fireplace is built in preparation for the Lodge's golden anniversary. Skaters are given the opportunity to buy an engraved brick and leave their personal mark on Winter Lodge history.

2006: Outside Magazine names Winter Lodge as one of the top 10 outdoor ice skating experiences in the U.S.

2006: Winter Lodge is ranked by the Ice Skating Institute as the No. 1 largest skating school in the U.S.

2006: Winter Club/Winter Lodge celebrates its 50th anniversary.

2009: Winter Lodge expands its "club house" to accommodate growing numbers of skaters.

2011: Founder Duncan Williams dies on April 11 at age 90.

Sources: Timeline courtesy of Winter Lodge, with additions from Palo Alto Online's Lasting Memories obituary and Palo Alto Weekly archives.

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