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Paramount Iceland > History

Until unified as the City of Paramount in 1948, the area was known as Hynes and Clearwater, two neighboring communities. Because of a Union Pacific rail station in Hynes, it became an important shipping center in the 1930’s. The Hynes hay market became a world leader and the largest receiving point for hay in the world.

The dairy business flourished in the area as many Dutch families emigrated to Hynes-Clearwater and the neighboring towns of Artesia and Bellflower shortly after World War I. When Iceland was built, it had a strong following from the Dutch community with their skating backgrounds and the speed skating club they formed in the early 1940’s at Iceland, the Demorra Club, produced many champions.

Frank and his brother, Lawrence Zamboni, had an ice manufacturing plant in Hynes in the 1930’s but with the advent of refrigerators, they decided to build an ice skating rink to replace the potential loss in their ice business. Frank’s inventiveness became evident when he started experimenting with a refrigerated ice floor very different from the normal type composed of a grid work of steel piping beneath the ice. Frank’s idea was to create a flatter and smoother ice sheet by circulating the salt brine in large flat tanks covering the entire area of the ice floor. The tanks would be only one-half inch thick and a series of them would extend from one side of the rink to the other, all tied together with large pipes serving as manifolds. Frank built a test floor next to the Zamboni Bros. ice plant and because it proved successful, he and Lawrence, with their cousin Pete Zamboni, built Iceland in 1939 using Frank’s concept. Frank obtained a patent on his unique idea in 1944. (U. S. patent No. 2,411,919). Iceland became well known for the level quality of its ice surf ” type=”text/javascript”> ace because Frank had eliminated the rippling that often occurred with pipe floors. The steel tank ice floor served Iceland well until it was replaced by a conventional plastic pipe grid in 1977.

Also unusual at Paramount Iceland was the fact that its refrigeration plant was separated from the rink by California Avenue. The rink was built on the east side of the street while the Zamboni Bros. ice plant continued operating on the west side of the street. The refrigeration compressors functioned at the ice plant and ammonia refrigerant was piped beneath California Avenue to a large brine tank on the rink side. This system worked fine until 1972 when the ice plant burned down and it was decided to rebuild the freezing plant adjacent to the rink. In spite of the fire, no ice time was lost because a trailer mounted refrigeration unit owned by the Ice Capades happened to be in the Los Angeles area. Frank borrowed it and plugged it into his system while he built a new freezing plant.

Since 1940, Iceland has been a practice facility for many well-known skaters including Sonja Henie, Richard Dwyer, Peggy Fleming and Robbie Robertson, just to name a few. Many of its skaters have represented Iceland’s skating clubs in National, World, and Olympic competitions. The Arctic Blades Figure Skating Club members have excelled and won medals for many years and tragically the Club was also represented by five of its members in 1961 when an airplane crash claimed the entire United States World Team in Brussels Belgium. The DeMorra Speed Skating Club has also had exceptional skaters in National and International events. Bill Disney won a Silver Medal in the 500 meter event at the 1960 Winter Olympics and many members have won medals in other competitions. Iceland has gone through many renovations since its opening in 1940 and while it celebrated its 60th birthday in 2000, its appearance is modern and its amenities are designed to appeal to today’s customers.

Paramount Iceland has what may be the only pipe organ currently playing regularly in any ice skating arena in the country. The Wurlitzer organ was first installed in 1941. The organ itself is believed to have been built in the 1920’s.

Truman Welch was the original organist at Paramount Iceland and oversaw the various installations and moves made to the organ. He later became manager of Iceland, in addition to his musical role, and remained in this capacity until he passed away in 1968. Although he was proficient with both the piano and the Wurlitzer pipe organ, his affinity was for the pipe organ. In college, Truman played the pipe organ in various theaters around the Los Angeles area. Truman’s amazing ability to create musical energybrought a special atmosphere to Iceland. His beautiful music enhanced the experience for countless skaters and he is especially remembered for his wonderful sense of timing and humor.

The “organ” itself was moved two times in the rink. The first organ loft containing the instruments was in a building at the back end of the rink. It had pipes in that area and the console was near the rink entrance, 200 feet away. This complicated playing the organ as the sound reaching the organist was delayed. It was difficult to maintain the multitude of control wires between the distant locations. Often, the cables (which were covered in cotton back in those days) connecting the console and the pipes shorted out from the condensation. The original two manual was apparently a model 210 ten rank organ and is now in possession of Truman’s son, Gary Welch.

To overcome this, the organ loft was moved to the entrance end next to the console room. During this move, it received its second console and grew from 10 ranks to 14 ranks. In the configuration, the acoustic quality was a faulty, as the sound was coming from corner of the rink dome. To enhance the sound, Frank Zamboni and Truman focused on the far end of the arena. They decided to build a completely new structure away from the rink entrance and split the organ’s various instruments into two lofts on either side of the console for a stereo effect. For this last move, the third console was placed between the lofts on a turntable so the organist could rotate his position in relation to the ice surface. The third console and relays

came to Iceland from the Fox Theatre in San Jose, California. The swell shades (flaps which control the intensity of the organ’s output to the arena) came from the L.A. Paramount Theater, which has since been demolished.

In preparation for a musical presentation in June of 2005 to the American Theatre Organ Society during the organization’s 50th annual convention in Los Angeles, the organ was extensively restored. Many thanks to Peter Crotty, Larry Grundy and others who contributed countless hours to preservation, restoration and enhancement of this magnificent instrument.

Meet Our Organist

Bill Campbell is our organist for the open skating sessions on Tuesday night.  Bill is originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  He started playing for us in 2012.  Bill has been playing theatre organs like our Might Wurlitzer since high school.  He was the organist at the Avalon Theater Organ Society, whose members seek to preserve these organs for future generations.  In addition, he accompanies silent films that were produced when the movies had no sound and the organ provided a musical background for what was showing on the screen.

Bill plays a great variety of music for our open skating sessions.  His selections include music from Disney, Broadway plays and Hollywood movies.  Classic music from groups like the Beatles, selections from the American Song book by composers such as Gershwin, Porter and Berlin.  Along with an electric selection of music from the 1920’s that ou may have heard when these Mighty Wurlitzers organs were located in the theaters across the United States.

The Zamboni Story

Frank J. Zamboni

If necessity is the mother of invention, Frank J. Zamboni might be considered its father. This tireless inventor/entrepreneur never came across an obstacle he couldn’t tinker his way around.

Frank J. Zamboni was born on January 16, 1901 in Eureka, Utah. Frank’s parents moved their family (with one year old Frank in tow) from Eureka to a farm in Idaho, where Frank developed his mechanical skills. For more information about the Zamboni family history, see “The Man Behind the Machine”.

In 1920, Frank moved to Southern California with his brother Lawrence to join their older brother George in his auto repair business. After a short time tinkering on cars, the two younger Zambonis decided to open an electrical service business catering to the local dairy industry. The brothers built and installed the large refrigerator units dairies used to keep their milk cool.

When the demand for cooling expanded into the produce industry, the brothers expanded their business vision, as well: they built a plant that made the block ice that wholesalers used to pack their product for transport by rail across the country. But as refrigeration technology improved, demand for block ice began to shrink, and Frank and Lawrence started looking for other ways to capitalize on their expertise with ice.

That opportunity came in the sport of ice skating. Popularity of the sport was growing, but there were few rinks in Southern California, so in 1939 Frank, Lawrence, and a cousin built Iceland Skating Rink in Paramount. (The rink still operates today just blocks from the Zamboni® factory. In fact, it’s not unusual to see Zamboni ice resurfacers driving down the neighborhood streets on their way to be tested at Iceland.)