History of Southgate Roller Rink
White Center resident, writer and historian, Ron Richardson has just penned a history of the building, most commonly known as the Southgate Roller Rink. You may recall that Ron previously penned a detailed history of White Center. Both articles can be found at HistoryLink.org website which has a compendium of articles on Washington State history. The Roller Rink originally started as a boxing gym and, in fact, produced some nationally ranked boxers, including Harry “The Kid” Mathews who went on to fight Rocky Marciano at Yankee Stadium. To wit some excerpts from Ron Richardson’s excellent and well-researched piece.
The Southgate Roller Rink (now Southgate Event Center) is located in the center of White Center (at 9646 17th Ave SW), a neighborhood of South Seattle. It was originally built by Hiram Green (1863-1932) in 1920 as a boxing arena. From 1937 for the next 70 years it became a roller rink, most recently famous for hosting the Rat City Roller Girls.
Green and his arena established a connection between boxing and White Center. A regular fighter at the arena was young Al Hostak (1916-2006) from Georgetown. Over the years Hostak trained, boxed, and tended bar in White Center. In 1939 Hostak won the middleweight championship of the world against Tacoma’s Freddy Steele in front of 30,000 at Seattle’s Civic Field. White Center resident Harry “The Kid” Matthews (1922-2003) kept White Center on the boxing map into the 1950s. Harry turned pro at the age of 15, hence the nickname “The Kid.” He fought former middle weight champion Al Hostak in two memorable fights, winning one and drawing the second. Later in his career Matthews defeated Ezzard Charles (1921-1975), former world heavyweight champion After 20 years of boxing Matthews record was 87 wins, 7 draws and 7 losses out of 101 fights. His biggest fight was at Yankee stadium in 1952. Matthews was knocked out by Rocky Marciano (1923-1969), future heavyweight champion of the world. This was a big disappointment, but no disgrace as no one ever did beat Marciano.
Hiram Green died in 1932. The Depression took down many an enterprise and boxing in White Center ws no exception. The building passed in to the hands of Green’s daughter, Ethel Green (b. 1909). Ethel married William “Pop” Brown (d.1969). William Brown had come from England to the United States during World War I. By 1934 the couple brought in dance bands to replace boxers and the building became a dance hall.
In 1937 Ethel, and ‘Pop’ Brown made a crucial and profitable decision. They reopened the large hanger like building, calling it the Southgate Rollerdrome. The name reflected a local attitude in that they considered White Center as the south gate to Seattle. As it turned out, a large skating rink was the right idea at the right time and in the right place. Generations of people recall the good times, friendships, skating instructions, and competitions.
And the story goes on to the present. I invite readers to peruse the piece, as it is full of delightful anecdotes and trove of historical information. Thanks Ron!
Tags: Southgate Roller Rink
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February 28th, 2009 at 11:20 am
Nice article. Well done. I used to skate there as a kid and later used it as a teenager for dates! Took my own son there. I hope what lives on continues to contribute to the neighborhood.
May 25th, 2009 at 2:28 pm
i want to rent a booth who do i contact
May 25th, 2009 at 7:38 pm
Here’s a link to Rat City Rummage that tells you who to contact to get a booth
January 29th, 2010 at 5:38 pm
What? The Southgate Roller Rink now hosts rummage sale booths?
What madness is this? Well, I knew Art and Fran were retired a while back (was that in the last Century?) but I thought the Roller Girls would keep it on the map.
Gone the way of Mel Olsen Park, I surmise.
I remember all that, because White Center was my home neighborhood. Now, I see the official northern “White Center boundary” begins at Roxbury Street, so I guess my home neighborhood is Highland Park.
Oh well, when I had my skates on every Saturday, I was a Rat City rollergirl … and the memories of organ music will forever live on in my mind. Remember the Hokie Pokie? Great on skates!!
January 29th, 2010 at 6:14 pm
Oops – I found Mel Olson (not Olsen) Stadium, and it is still there … in Lakewood Park on 110th, used to be White Center Field House and Park.
Mel Olson was a community activist and local insurance agent. He was responsible for the White Center Beautification project, whereby shade trees were planted in planting strips down 16th S.W.
Although the community loved the trees, local businesses did not; some former parking spaces were replaced with trees, and the new angle parking spaces were difficult to back out of with traffic going by.
After Mel passed away, the trees were taken out and 16th S.W. was restored to it’s former use, namely, moving traffic on the arterial, past White Center.