The old jukebox, once filled with country-and-western favorites, is long gone, replaced by a sound system that first blared rock ’n’ roll, then the thumping beat of the disco age and now hip-hop. Musical tastes aside, little has changed at the legendary Cedar Hill Roller Rink since it first opened for business half a century ago.
Inside the dimly lit cinder block building that sits in the old downtown area, on the western edge of this small Dallas suburb, history has replayed itself from one generation to the next as youngsters—mostly adolescents and early teens—still come to roller skate endless trips around a maple wood floor and flirt with each other.
Parents—who themselves had come here nearly a lifetime ago to skate, celebrate birthdays or first discover the magic of puppy love—sit nearby, watching as their children gleefully roll past.
But both generations, many skating rink owners fear, are enjoying a pastime whose heyday has passed. Too many mall arcades now offer their own glitzy lure, not to mention the Internet and online games; too many movie rental stores, theme parks and spreading economic woes have cut deeply into an industry that once represented the go-to social venue for so many Texas youngsters.
“In the four years since I bought the rink,” laments 42-year-old owner David Candanoza, who practically grew up with skates on his feet, “I’ve watched six within 50 miles of mine close.” Today, when he attends meetings of rink operators, he finds that he’s the youngest proprietor in a room of fellow owners fast headed toward retirement.
As Candanoza speaks, he looks out on a Friday night crowd of 50 or so skaters at the Cedar Hill rink. Candanoza has always been around this rink, first as a young patron and then as an assistant to former owner Victor Deuback, from whom he purchased the legendary establishment. Candanoza recalls a time when 100 to 150 people would have paid the $5 admission—plus a $1 rental fee for skates—for a 7-to-11 evening of skating and competing in games that earned the winner a prized wooden nickel exchangeable in the snack bar for a soft drink or candy bar (admission remains the same, and the games are still on). Where once he hosted eight to 10 birthday parties each weekend, the number has dwindled to two, maybe three.
Time was, he suggests, when virtually every local youngster’s birthday party was held at his rink. Even those of some adults. “A few years ago,” he notes, “we hosted a party for a lady celebrating her 63rd birthday.”
Texans have long celebrated at the rink. And if ever there was a match made in heaven, it came during the mid-1970s when disco-dancing fever and roller skating went hand in hand. Texas joined the craze, with big-city and small-town rinks thriving. But, according to www.skatingfitness.com, most of Texas’ active rinks are bunched in the state’s metropolitan areas. Oh, you’ll still find the family owned Skate Palace open for business in Ballinger and the Starlight Skate in Childress. The old Whispering Wheels in Decatur has changed ownership and is now simply called Decatur Skate, but keeps ’em rolling on the weekends. Yet in many small communities, such as Weatherford, the lights have been turned out and the music silenced. There, at the now closed Skate Queen, the final dance competition winner was recently crowned at the end of a farewell Saturday night session.
Deuback, who owned and operated the Cedar Hill rink for four decades before retiring, still lives next door to the rink. He also worries about the industry’s future. Having seen kids graduate from clamp-on skates, to shoe skates and on to today’s high-tech inline gear, he remembers the time when almost every 10- to 14-year-old in the community was a weekend regular at his establishment.
“On Friday nights, it wasn’t unusual for us to have 200 kids,” Deuback recalls. And he tells of the times when youths and adults played in roller hockey leagues. In the mid-1980s, the creators of a popular network television show starring a loveable mutt named Benji even spent a couple of weeks filming an episode at his Cedar Hill rink.
Now 83, Deuback has known nothing but the roller-skating business since he was an 11-year-old visiting the Dallas rink his father, John Henry Deuback, built in the 1930s. When the elder Deuback retired, he turned over the operation to his sons, Victor and John, and they oversaw the thriving business for five years until it was destroyed by fire. Soon thereafter, Victor purchased the then-almost 3-year-old Cedar Hill rink. Older brother John rebuilt the Dallas rink and ran it for many years before moving to Bowie and opening the Deuback Skating Rink. It now is run by his son, John, advancing a family tradition that spans three generations.
Like others, the elder John Deuback agrees that today’s economy has created a considerable challenge. Yet he still enjoys his work and his young customers. “Yes,” he says, “it’s still fun.”
Roller skating as Texas now knows it can be traced to England in the mid-1800s when Floral Hall and the Strand of London opened the world’s first roller skating rinks. By the early 1900s, skating arrived in America when the Chicago Coliseum became the nation’s first public rink, welcoming a crowd of 7,000 on opening night. A nationwide boom quickly followed. And, if your rural community didn’t have a facility of its own, traveling entrepreneurs could be counted on to visit for a few summer weeks, the operators erecting a tent on the edge of town to cover their portable skating floor. The kids, and no small number of grownups, eagerly awaited their arrival. By the time the U.S. youth culture embraced the rhythm of disco, between 4,000 and 5,000 rinks were welcoming a new generation.
It is Candanoza’s mission in life to see that the activity remains part of his community’s entertainment. Affectionately known as “Super Dave” by his young clientele, it is his dream to one day pass ownership of the rink along to his four children.
“This is a wonderful activity for kids,” he says, “and it is my goal to see that it continues for years to come.” To that end, he has become increasingly innovative, offering things like an end-of-summer “lock-in” party where youngsters arrive to spend an entire night at the rink, skating, playing games and watching movies. And, as Victor Deuback did before him, Candanoza holds his customers to strict rules—proper dress code (for example, no spaghetti straps or baring of the midriff for girls) and no foul language or bullying—that sit well with parents.
The excitement of it all, meanwhile, sits well with kids. Nine-year-old Price Cruce started making weekend visits to the Cedar Hill rink at age 5. “It’s a good place to hang out with my friends,” he says, “and all the races and contests they have are really fun.”
His father, Andy Cruce, is flooded with fond memories as he sits and watches his son hurry onto the floor to play tag. “When I was his age and coming here, it was the only social activity kids had,” Andy says. “This was always such a fun place. I’m glad my kid’s getting the opportunity to experience it.”
Candanoza says his job is to watch over those who come to his rink, making sure they are safely entertained. “This is their place, where they meet with friends, catch up on each others’ young lives and have a good time,” he says. “Parents trust me with their children.” Many, he notes, use attendance at his rink as a motivational tool: Do your homework, make good grades, behave properly during the week, and you can go skating on Friday or Saturday night.
In truth, then, there is little difference from those days when Candanoza’s own mom would regularly drive him to the rink. Aside from a bit of remodeling here and there, new carpet and an expanded menu in the concession stand, “the place hasn’t changed much,” he says.
The aging sign out front, simply announcing “SKATING,” has now stood for over half a century. Today, it is Candanoza’s mission to see that it serves as a beacon for generations to come.
--------------------Carlton Stowers has written about such things as fried pies and the world’s littlest skyscraper for Texas Co-op Power.