The historic Ardmore Skating Club has been deteriorating for years. $6 million would save him.
Fran Mycek says he “sort of grew up” with the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society, but in terms of the organization’s more than 170-year history, he’s a virtual newcomer at 67.
His father ran it for 40 years, and various family members have been involved with the club since its shed-like headquarters were built at the end of a narrow, dead-end street in Ardmore in 1937. .
But the building slowly begins to creak, and Mycek, the club’s general manager, and his wife, Mary, the office manager, are looking for funds to preserve the historic structure.
“With roots dating back to 1849,” the club “has played an outsized role in the development of figure skating as an American pastime and competitive sport,” says Kathleen Abplanalp, director of historic preservation at the Lower Merion Conservancy. She calls the building “an engineering marvel,” though the complex technology it uses has been obsolete since the World War II era.
The 1849 roots and the “Humane Society” part of its name are perhaps best considered together.
It was the first skating club in the United States. At first, its members skated on rivers and lakes. Eventually there was a clubhouse on what is now Boathouse Row, and in 1861 it merged with the Humane Society and took on the additional role of rescuing skaters who fell through the ice.
Members had to carry a small spool of strong string to rescue people who fell through.
The club purchased land for a new headquarters at Haverford College in 1937, and the following year the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society building opened. In 1941, the first national figure skating championships were held there.
Nick Cramsey, an architect who helped plan the club’s renovation, calls it “a captivating structure… state-of-the-art, using concrete as efficiently as possible”.
The building was designed by European-born architect Anton Tedesco with a roof less than three inches thick, about the thickness of a baseball.
Hershey Park Arena, built in 1936, has a similar design, and for a few years the design was used for aircraft hangars and some manufacturing plants before fading into history, being replaced by other methods.
With just 350 members, a slight drop from recent years, the club cannot fund the project itself and is seeking to help fundraise by listing it on the National Register of Historic Places.
Their $6 million wish list – a professional fundraiser has already been hired – includes new windows, new skylights and, most importantly, an upgrade to geriatric compressors that run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to make and store ice cream.
Mycek says the deterioration “has been going on for years. … We just kept putting bandages on the spot.
About a year ago, a new executive committee agreed to take aggressive action to stop the bleeding.
While much of the project would be invisible to the untrained eye, it would seek to retain the 20th century look that almost feels older, like a Currier and Ives print.
The building “retains almost all of its historic fabric,” says Abplanalp, including its historic and artfully designed second-floor members’ lounge with massive fireplace, original furnishings and light fixtures.
Skating art scenes and small skating patterns are scattered throughout.
And the name will remain unchanged.
Still, if the club becomes better known through the project, Mycek will benefit in more ways than one.
Assuming the phrase “Humane Society” conjures up an animal sanctuary, local residents sometimes leave dog food there which Mycek happily feeds to his Cream English White Labrador.