SKATE-O-RAMA IN 1970S: THE MEMORIES ARE GREAT–THE PHOTOS, NOT SO MUCHBy Christian Brown
Dale Lendrum went through his teenaged years during the 1970s, a decade that 30 years later is still identified with the wide but peculiar variety of things there were to go through—Farrah Fawcett hair, KC and the Sunshine Band’s baby-talk disco, bag chairs filled with beans, tape players with 8 tracks, pant legs that became bell-shaped below the knees and platform shoes.
Nobody escaped all of those icons, and Lendrum has as many embarrassing photos as anybody, but he gravitated toward the classically 1970s activity that was closest to his Downey home, near the corner of Woodruff Ave. and Imperial Highway.
“Growing up a block from Skate-O-Rama in the late ‘60s and ‘70s was a most memorable time for me,” said Lendrum, now 48. “At the time we didn’t have a city park nearby—Skate-O-Rama was a place to go for some fun and recreation.”
And, eventually, a full-on craze that attracted adherents across the nation.
But Lendrum enjoys his memories of the early days, too, when he was just learning how to get around—and around and around—a 20,000-square-foot roller rink on eight little wheels.
“Back then, Skate-O-Rama wasn’t much to look at inside—a brown, worn hardwood floor, half-circle ceiling, and a few mood lights for effect,” he recalls. “The DJ booth was an old janitorial closet about the size of two phone booths combined with a record player inside plugged into the P.A. system.”
However, even those weren’t Skate-O-Rama’s earliest days. Built at a cost of $250,000, the massive skating hall opened its doors on Wednesday, April 23, 1957, luring customers by advertising itself as Downey’s “family fun roller rink.”
What began as a slogan, however, played out as a prediction.
“Skate-O-Rama was the Disneyland of Downey,” Lendrum says, “and a lot of us practically grew up in that rink. It was a good place to have fun, hang out, and meet new people.”
Following a large grand opening, members of the community responded positively to Skate-O-Rama, coming out weekly to both skate and participate in the classes taught by the rink’s owner and manager, Jerry Nista.
Originally from Brooklyn, New York, Nista started skating at the age of 13, eventually becoming a professional skater and U.S. champion in freestyle skating.
After spending several years traveling around the country hosting skating exhibitions, Nista partnered with roller skate company Sure-Grip Skates, owned by Downey residents, Mr. and Mrs. Harry C. Ball.
By the mid-50s, Nista, who had traveled to all 50 states with his exhibitions, decided to open his own roller rink, which would offer Sure-Grip Skates exclusively.
“He moved to Downey and opened Skate-O-Rama,” said Taira Nista, his daughter.