Public Comment

Tom Bates’ Berkeley Iceland

By Wendy Stephens
Thursday January 14, 2010 - 09:27:00 AM

John Lennon and Yoko once sang: “The war is over if you want it to be,” or words to that effect. I bet we could get the gem of Berkeley (town and gown)—Berkeley Iceland—reopened in a jiffy if we renamed it Tom Bates’ Berkeley Iceland. Give it a name like that and the funding will come.  

Berkeley Iceland deserves to be subsidized, if we value the meaning and reality of Berkeley the town and Berkeley the gown. Hundreds of thousands of local kids and families and adults skated in harmony, attended group sessions designed for everyone from teenagers DJ’ing the music, with the disco ball emanating its romantic rays on Friday nights, to figure skating and couples skating to classical music on Sunday mornings. 

I am a sports nut, avid swimmer, hiker, runner, bicylist and more, and I can tell you that nothing tones the thighs like ice-skating. It is such a wonderful cardiovascular, graceful, challenging enterprise. It keeps seniors young, and Berkeley Iceland gives the young a peaceful place where all can mingle on the ice. And, it helps kids avoid obesity by having good clean fun. 

If you ever gave a birthday party in the large eating room, with plenty of tables, no fees, a perfect view of the ice, you can remember the look of joy on the raucous, but contained, partygoers, able to bring any food and nonalcoholic drinks they wanted. The dollar ramen noodles tasted like a million bucks after a long skate. 

And truth be told, if you were a dollar short you could still get in and still rent skates. Craig, the manager, and Alfonso, the skate guard supremo, were great mentors and role models to many, many youth of all colors, including my son. Alfonso taught him hella moves, and Alfonso was a joy to behold on and off ice, including styling in the Zamboni. He kept the peace with a smile and a sixth sense as to who needed a kind word. And he could get across the ice fast enough to smile and lift little kids up before they fell.  

My son became an excellent skater taking lessons from the young women who taught on the weekends. He skated for a few years, until Iceland closed. We both miss it. I could have been taking my son and his friends there several times a week these last couple of years, both of us skate-dancing to the music separately but on the same floor at the same time! 

And we both liked the UC Berkeley ice hockey coach and liked the late night UC student curlers. Plenty of UC students came to Iceland. 

And there is one more thing that is astounding, but my eyes do not deceive me (check it out). I love soccer, and it is a great thing that many soccer fields—including the Tom Bates soccer fields—have flourished in or since the time of Iceland’s (temporary) closing. Iceland was truly racially mixed for the youth—children and teenagers—but the soccer fields hardly have any African-American youth of any hue on them, ever! Iceland gave the black youth a chance to style and take acceptable risks of cutting-edge skating that everyone appreciated. The music played on Friday nights was hot, and I for one loved it. 

If you want Berkeley to truly be a place that provides a safe environment for all civil people to mix and have a place in the sun, let that place be on the ice at Tom Bates’ Berkeley Iceland. And UC Berkeley: I know you’re hurting, but it would be great to take a few dollars out of the capital projects fund and throw some social capital money on this project in addition to funding the UC Berkeley Community Partnership fund. Tom Bates’ Berkeley Iceland needs you now. 

People: Please call your Berkeley city councilmembers and write letters to the editor asking that Berkeley Iceland retain its landmark status so it doesn’t de-evolve into one more condo. For once, let’s get away from the notion of residential density lifting all boats, and lift our hearts with song and skating again soon at Berkeley Iceland. I for one can’t wait. My son and his friends still have a few more years till college. Bring back Craig and Alfonso and the whole gang, and may all the new residents and students check it out as well.  

BTW: I am busy like you. I love to ice-skate. How many times have I been to the ice rink in Oakland? Zero. It’s too far, and I prefer the safety of Berkeley Iceland’s location day or night. How can our city government and concerned philanthropists let Berkeley Iceland stay closed even one more week? 


Wendy Stephens is a Berkeley resident.