Kids on Wheels: Roller Skating History of the Softstar Workshop
Have we mentioned how much we LOVE LOVE LOVE our new shoemaking workshop?
As much as we adored our former space, we've really come to appreciate having a ground floor loading door, ample elbow room and an abundance of windows... but those are just the beginning of what makes our new location so wonderful. We knew our building had a long history in the small town of Philomath, Oregon (pop. 4665), but we had no idea how much of that history still exists as living memories among our new neighbors!
A Little Background...
Originally built as a roller skating rink by Charles T. Smith and his son Ted, the building officially opened as the Phil-O-Rink on Friday, September 12, 1952. As a busy hub of youth entertainment in its day, it was home to the traveling skate troupe Kids on Wheels, which performed choreographed roller routines in rinks throughout western Oregon towns (think ice capades on wheels). One wall of the Phil-O-Rink was lined with bleachers for spectators to watch the shows.
The Phil-O-Rink operated for almost 20 years before closing in the late 1970s. It briefly reopened as an indoor flea market, but closed its doors again in the 1990s and lay dormant until Softstar began restoration in 2015.
Wanting to respect the building's history, a priority of our restoration project was to maintain as much of the original structure as possible. Foreman Alan was able to preserve the original roof and rafters (with a few support braces added, when needed), the lobby floor has been salvaged and refinished from the original floorboards and the Phil-O-Rink snack bar is now a display counter in our showroom. We were also fortunate to receive a series of archival photos from our local Benton County Historical Museum, which show many of the skating teams that performed here in the 1950s. Those photos now decorate our showroom for visitors to see.
We were surprised and elated when longtime Philomath resident Lois Phelps told us she used to skate at the Phil-O-Rink, even performing backflips with Kids on Wheels! She was actually able to find herself in one of the archival photos we have on display. Lois still had her original wooden-wheel roller skates, complete with their carrying case and skate key, and she kindly donated them to Softstar. They are now a proud decoration in our lobby.
Lois with her roller skates, then and now.
Since we opened the doors of our new workshop, several other Philomath citizens have stopped by to visit and share stories about skating in the Phil-O-Rink as children. Like Lois, some of them have also been able to find themselves in our historical photos. We love giving them tours of our new shop while they recall memories of their old hang-out.
One of the more valued artifacts we came across in our historic research is an original Kids on Wheels performance program, printed in 1956 and sold to spectators for 10 cents each. The program shows photos of the various skating teams involved with the show, and includes promises to "bring you lights, music, costumes, laughs and romance, combined with roller skating, to make up your next two hours of entertainment."
Our single copy of the program is on display behind glass in our showroom, but we did manage to scan it before sealing it away for posterity. Click the button below to view the entire brochure:
While we were excited to relocate to our new workshop, we honestly didn't know what it would be like to move into this neighborhood. It has been heartwarming and flattering to realize that our neighbors were just as excited to have us here. The Philomath community welcomed us with open arms, and we've heard nothing but gratitude for our work to restore and preserve the building.
If you happen to be in the Philomath, Oregon area from February 23–25, 2017, then we strongly encourage you to stop by for our official GRAND OPENING celebration! We'll have giveaways, shop tours, a kids' craft table and handcrafted prizes for the first 500 families. Click here to learn more.