back at The New Dreamland Arena roller skating rink with a great deal of
affection and warmth, because it occupied a small chapter in my life before
World War II, while providing many social and recreational pleasures.
The New Dreamland
Arena celebrated its Grand Opening on a Friday night, October 10th,
1941, and I
spent nearly every free night I had at that rink until the night of November
16th, 1942. That was the night before the morning I reported for induction
into the Army for my World War II service.
About the Rink
The New Dreamland
Arena name included the word "New" because the owner/manager/builder 1
was Victor J. "Buddy" Brown, who, many years earlier had operated a
roller rink called the Dreamland Arena in his amusement Park, Dreamland Park,
half a mile down Frelinghuysen Avenue, and adjacent to Weequahic Park.
The earlier Dreamland
Arena roller rink had been converted for use from a Park dance hall.
During the 1920's "Jazz Age," the floor had been the site of
American's first Dance Marathon.
The New Dreamland
Arena, at 985 Frelinghuysen Avenue, at Virginia Street on the Elizabeth City
line, was advertised as "America's Newest and Largest Roller Skating
Rink," -- and it was up to that time.
In an October 9th,
1941 interview in the Newark Star-Ledger, Brown described his about-to-open new
rink as an advanced-design rink of the future with a new "Floating
Rotunda" floor which Brown called "science's latest contribution to
the roller skating pleasure."
Brown said, in that
same article, it embraced a new principle of floor construction that gave the
skater a buoyant sensation unlike anything ever before experienced, and, he
added, it was the only floor of its kind in the world.
Another feature of
The New Dreamland Arena was its specially-built organ, tabbed the "Mystery
Console" with master effects.
Brown employed two
organists at the rink to provide the music at the daily evening sessions, and at
the matinees on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
The rink organists
were Charles (Charley) Vanderhoven and Marie Corbett.
Recalling Charley Vanderhoven
I recall Charley
Vanderhoven with great affection because I once composed a song called "The
Dreamland Lullaby". As I was ignorant of music writing, I had hummed
out the tune for Charley and he wrote an arrangement for my lullaby and retained
it for me. Every once in a while when I was skating at the rink and the
waltz number came on, Charley would play my "Dreamland Lullaby" with a
lot of organ flourishes, and I would be on Cloud Nine.
Rink Refreshment Stand
A popular evening
gathering spot between skate numbers was the rink Soda Fountain, located near
the front entrance between the coat room and the skate-rental room. It was
run by Jerry Garner, than a 16-year old sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High
School in Elizabeth.
He recalled for me
recently that the most popular item was a small bottle of off-brand soda.
He said "It sold for a dime when a dime was a lot of money." He
added "I seem to recall that night time admission to the rink was thirty
The building had been
constructed at a cost of $300,000, which, if translated into present-day dollars
would have been in excess of $3.5 million.
staff, from opening day, was headed by Betty Lytle, 2 recognized as America's
top professional roller skater. Bob Ringwald was in charge of the male
rink professional staff.
From years of skating
at another Brown-owned rink on Route 22 and continued patronage at Dreamland,
I'd developed a warm friendship with Vic Brown, but I did not know that the rink
proprietor had done more to legitimize the roller skating sport than any other
individual in America, and that, generations later, he would be looked upon by
roller industry leaders as "The Father of Roller Skating in America."
Brown had almost single-handedly
organized the roller rink operators of America into a nationwide organization,
called the Roller Skating Rink Operators of America, or, RSROA, and had
established the RSROA as the governing body--fully amateur controlled--for the
national skating sport. Brown was the organization's first president. 3
I was a registered
"Amateur" with the RSROA, and still have my RSROA "Amateur
Competitors Card No. 11048, renewed August 31, 1942."
Earlier, as a
registered "Amateur" skater, I had earned my bronze junior figure
skating medal at the Dreamland rink, judged by an outside team of RSROA referees
from other rinks.
Made Roller Skating a "Class Sport"
Vic Brown was
passionate about making roller skating a "Class sport." He
recalled for Joe Donovan, Sports Editor at the Newark Star-Ledger, on November
12, 1941, that before he got involved, "roller skating was a wild raucous
"It came out of
the gutter, so to speak, because roller skating was often dome more in the back
yard, if not on the streets."
Donovan then wrote: "It was Brown's idea to inject some distinction or
class into it. He did."
As my early
sports-writing mentor, Joe Donovan, had written, it was Brown's desire to make
the roller rink a family entertainment, and, while I skated at The New Dreamland
Arena, it was not uncommon to see mother's fathers, and children, seated
together as a family, and skating independently at various times. In
keeping with maintaining the rink's social environment, a rink newspaper, "The
New Dreamland Arena Skating News," was issued periodically. I
contributed articles to this rink paper.
Strict Dress Rules
Here were The New
Dreamland Arena's posted "Summer Dress Rules" the last summer I skated
there" Gentlemen must wear a tie with all dress shirts. Polo shirts
are permissible provide they are clean and not too extreme. Gentlemen may
skate in shirtsleeves, but suspenders must not be exposed. Dungarees or
overalls are strictly forbidden.
Fast skating, playing tag, smoking on rink floor, and petting are strictly
forbidden. The management has the right to refuse admission to any objectionable
persons and the right to eject any person breaking the above rules.
New Dreamland in the War Years
I was overseas during
the World War II years, but corresponded regularly with Vic Brown, and he kept
me informed of happenings at the rink. His letters were warm, friendly,
In one of his letters
to me, dated July 27, 1944, at my Belem AAF Air Base, Brown wrote in part:
"...haven't heard any further from Bob (Ringwald) since the telegram
telling us he was wounded in action in France ... Betty (Lytle) just came back
from Florida where she enjoyed a rest after the hectic season she put in
coaching and producing shows and contests ... and , yes , I am planning on opening
a chain of roller rinks after the war is over ... I have some wonderful plans in
mind that will make Dreamland look small in comparison."
Dreamland at War's End -- 1945
I am holding a
clipping from the Star-Ledger dated October 19, 1945, telling how Vic Brown
invited 20 war amputees from Thomas M. England General Hospital in Atlantic City,
all of whom had lost a leg in combat, to skate at the rink aide by "ten
professional skating instructors -- all very pretty."
The article goes on
to say the "Lt. Robert K. Ringwald, now a patient at Halloran General
Hospital in Staten Island, watched the skating GI's and the instructors from the
sidelines until he could no longer resist the temptation to put on skates."
article of October 19, 1945 stated further that Ringwald had sustained severe
injuries while parachuting into Normandy on D-Day, and been held prisoner
without his injuries being treated. He was now undergoing operations at
Halloran Hospital to repair some of the war damage.
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Postscript to Memory
My New Dreamland
"Memory" and recollection end with the War's end because my education
(at night) and my career continued in New York City, and whatever free nights I
had were devoted to courting my future wife, who lived at 14th Street and Avon
Avenue. As my night school classes in New York's Greenwich Village ended
at 10:10 PM, my future mother-in-law permitted me to call if I got there by
11:30 and left by midnight.
We are now married
over 55 years, and "The New Dreamland Arena" is just an
Click on entry to enlarge
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Postscript on Vic Brown
Vic Brown, born in
1897, died in Newark on December 23, 1968. Funeral arrangements were made
by his son, Vic, Jr. and Vic, Jr's wife Lois, who had lived in East Orange.
Brown had been infirm
for some time. A corpulent man, he had lost considerable weight, and at
the time of his death weighed 150 pounds.
Brown's wife Tillie,
a constant attendee at his skating rink and fondly recalled by Dreamland
skaters, at the time of Brown's death was suffering from Alzheimer's and a
resident in the Westfield Nursing Home in Westfield. She died there in
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