Wollman Rink is a public ice rink in the southern part of Central Park, Manhattan, New York City. It is named after the Wollman family who donated the funds for its original construction. The rink is open for ice skating from late October to early April; from late May to September it is transformed into Victorian Gardens, an amusement park for children.
Wollman Rink opened in 1950, having been proposed four years earlier. The rink was closed for renovations in late 1980 and reopened in November 1986. Following the renovation, The Trump Organization operated the rink under contract with the New York City government until 2021, when the contract was canceled. The children's amusement park is operated by Central Amusement International, LLC, who also operates the Luna Park amusement park in Coney Island, Brooklyn.
The rink is located at the southeast corner of Central Park. It was formerly part of the Pond, located directly east of Wollman Rink. The Pond's western section was drained and backfilled during the mid-20th century.
Wollman Rink at Central Park is distinct from the Kate Wollman Memorial Rink at Prospect Park in Brooklyn which was built with money donated by the William J. Wollman Foundation after Kate Wollman's death. It was operational from 1961 until its demolition in 2010.
Wollman Rink opened in 1950. The rink was closed for renovations in the winter of 1980 and reopened in November 1986. In 2003, the Victorian Gardens amusement park with rides "specifically geared to ages 2–12 years old" opened its gates to the general public during the summer months for the first time.
Initial planning and funding
A skating rink in the southeastern corner of Central Park was first proposed in 1945. In 1949, philanthropist Kate Wollman (1869–1955) donated $600,000 for the rink's construction to commemorate her family. She is the great-aunt of Henry and Richard Bloch, co-founders of H&R Block. One of her brothers was William J. Wollman, who operated the W.J. Wollman & Co. stock exchange firm, originally in Kansas City and later in New York. After he died in 1937, she helped administer his estate.
Until 1980, the rink was the venue for a series of outdoor summer rock, pop, country, and jazz concerts. Initially the "Wollman Theater" or "Wollman Skating Rink Theater" had 4,400 seats; bleachers were added in 1972 to increase the capacity to 8,000. In the summer of 1957, WOR radio personality Jean Shepherd hosted a series of "Jazz under the stars" concerts on 15 consecutive nights, featuring Billie Holiday, Bud Powell, Lionel Hampton, Dave Brubeck, Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy Rich, Dinah Washington, Stan Getz, and others. From 1966 to 1980, summer music festivals consisting of 30 to 50 concerts each summer took place at the rink. The festivals were named after their main sponsors, Rheingold Breweries in 1966 and 1967, F. & M. Schaefer Brewing Company from 1968 to 1976 when the festival was called the Schaefer Music Festival, and Dr Pepper from 1977 to 1980 when it was called the Dr Pepper Central Park Music Festival.Todd Rundgren's Utopia, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Beach Boys, and the Patti Smith Group were some of the biggest rock groups who played at the rink; country, blues, rhythm & blues, and jazz artists included Earl Scruggs, John Lee Hooker, The Supremes, and Buddy Rich.
In 1974, the New York City Parks and Recreation Department started planning a renovation of the rink, including switching the refrigeration system from brinewater to liquid Freon to lower the operation costs at a time of rising fuel costs. In January 1975, a $4 million plan to renovate Wollman Rink at the park's southeastern corner was announced. By late 1975, the Central Park Task Force, an agency of NYC Parks, released a revised plan to dredge the Pond and redesign the landscaping in the park's southeastern corner for $2.5 million. All plans were deferred due to the 1975 New York City fiscal crisis.
The rink had to be closed in the winter of 1980 when its concrete floor buckled; at that time, the renovation was estimated to cost up to $4.9 million and take two years. Due to the necessity of soliciting bids for three separate contracts and a series of planning errors, construction mishaps, and flooding caused by heavy rains, the renovations had not been completed by May 1986 when the city decided to use brinewater in plastic pipes. By that time, $12.9 million had been spent, with an additional $2 to $3 million estimated to complete the work by the winter of 1987.
Donald Trump then offered mayor Ed Koch to rebuild Wollman Rink at his expense within six months, in return for the leases to operate the rink and an adjacent restaurant to recoup his costs. The final agreement was that the city would reimburse Trump for the costs up to the agreed limit and that he would donate the profits of rink and restaurant to charity and public works. Trump asked his contractors, among them HRH Construction, to also do the work without making a profit, promising them publicity but not mentioning their contributions to the press afterwards. The work was completed two months ahead of schedule and $750,000 under the estimated costs. As part of the agreement to keep operating Wollman Rink, Trump agreed to also take a concession for the Lasker Rink as well, and the Trump Organization won concessions for the rinks in 1987.
Skating rink operation: 1986–present
When the rink reopened in November 1986, ticket prices were raised from $2.50 to $4.50, and attendance was up from 130,000 in 1980 to 250,000 in 1987. As part of its agreement with the city, the Trump Organization donated most of the profit to public works, including $50,000 for the rink's electricity costs, and to charity, among them United Cerebral Palsy, Partnership for the Homeless, and Gay Men's Health Crisis. The Trump Organization held the concession until 1995. Its subsidiary Wollman Rink Operations LLC won another contract in 2001 to operate the rink through April 30, 2021. Wollman Rink Operations LLC is owned by DJT Holdings LLC which is owned by the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust for the duration of Trump's presidency.
In 2019, Trump's name was removed from most signs and logos at both Wollman and Lasker Rinks. On January 13, 2021, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city government would be severing all contracts with the Trump Organization, citing Trump's involvement in the previous week's storming of the United States Capitol. The cancellation of the Trump Organization's contracts to operate Wollman Rink, Lasker Rink, and the Central Park Carousel would go into effect that February.
In popular culture
Wollman Rink has been featured in several films, including Love Story (1970), Carnal Knowledge (1971), The Devil’s Own (1997), Serendipity (2001), Mr. Popper's Penguins (2011), and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992). It was also featured in the video game Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX, in the music video Two Become One, and on Impractical Jokers.
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