Former Southgate Skate Center in White Center to be reborn as Southgate Roller Rink

(Also published on partner site WSB – this is big news for both communities!)

Story and photo by Deanie Schwarz
Reporting for White Center Now

The long-closed former Southgate Skate Center in White Center will be a roller-skating rink once more.

After more than three months of negotiations with the owners of what is currently the Southgate Event Center at 9646 17th SW, John Venables of Lakeview Properties and Josh Rhoads of Lynnwood Bowl and Skate confirmed today to WCN/WSB that they have put down deposits and are awaiting the receipt of the keys on Monday, when they plan to sign leasing papers with an option-to-purchase clause.

Rhoads is a 14-year U.S.A World Team competitive artistic skater who currently manages the Lynnwood Bowl and Skate rink. Venables is an apartment-properties owner and manager, as well as a former cargo-ship steward. They intend to return the building (originally called the Southgate Rollerdrome in 1937) back to full use as a competition and training rink and family-oriented entertainment/sports facility with full concessions. It will once again be called the Southgate Roller Rink.

(Photos courtesy Southwest Seattle Historical Society)
From 1937 to 2006, the building housed a roller rink; it was built in 1920 by Hiram Green, a pioneer White Center real estate developer, as a boxing arena. Ownership changed hands in the late 1930s, and the conversion to a family-oriented skating rink included closing off the original 16th SW entrance to avoid the rowdy bar foot traffic of the post-Prohibition era. You can read more of its history in a HistoryLink essay by the late historian Ron Richardson, from which this photo was used when that essay was featured on White Center Now:

In fall 2008, it reopened, briefly, as home to the short-lived White Center Swap Meet, and was renamed Southgate Event Center. But it’s still known best as a rink, and it’s a home to modern-day history as well. In 2002, the Rat City Rollergirls flat-track derby team began their illustrious road to glory on the original Southgate floor, as the women’s derby leagues began their meteoric re-ascent across the country. Eventually, the Rollergirls drew crowds too large for the White Center space and moved on to the Sand Point/Magnuson hangar facility. They’ve moved on since then, too, now staging their bouts at KeyArena before thousands of fans.

But the Rat City Rollergirls do return to White Center for public service work, including the strip of road they have adopted in the downtown business district. One of the organization’s founders, Rahel Cook, is also the co-owner of regionally renowned Zippy’s Giant Burgers, which has recently announced it’s moving from its current location in Highland Park to a new White Center location on 14th Ave. SW., about three blocks from the new rink.

And RCRG may have a presence in the revived rink as well. Rhoades told WSB/WCN that they are in conversation with the board of the Rat City Rollergirls discussing potential projects in the new Southgate Roller Rink, including perhaps demonstrations, but emphasizing junior bouts, and Brat (junior girls) team training and classes. Rhoades himself is an RCRG fan and is looking forward to partnership projects which will bring the Rat City Rollergirls home to White Center through the Junior derby members.

Rhoades and Venables have a team of construction folks to assist them in the refinishing (stripping, sanding and plasticking) of the 70-year old original floor – just under 10,000 square feet – as well as removing walls and relocating some fixtures and structures, with the goal of returning the facility to its full original configuration as a skating rink. They will be pursuing a retro aesthetic with the finish and decorative work. They anticipate the work to begin immediately upon receipt of the keys and are optimistic that they can complete the entire renovation within four weeks.

Since the rink has not had any food handlers license/concession since 2005, they will be submitting new applications for licensing and are uncertain of how long that will take. Initially, the food will be heat-and-serve until the expansion of the stand, but they envision partnerships with local White Center food providers on site.

Perhaps folks will be able to have Proletariat Pizza or Uncle Mike’s Barbeque delivered to the rink, Venables suggests as possibilities. They are interested in cross-promotions with local vendors and look forward to becoming part of the revitalization and preserving this legendary piece of White Center history. Eventually, as well, Venables wants to bring hot dogs to the rink – he envisions doing really good, creative, sausages a dozen different and innovative ways. “Hot dogs are perfect rink food,” he says, even so he’s looking to offer quality.

Once the interior work has been completed, not only will skaters be skating on a completely renovated, competition-standard flat track, they will also be able to rent brand-new roller skates (Golden Horse).

The rink’s hours, considered standard for most skating rinks, will include three-hour Friday and Saturday night sessions, a Saturday afternoon beginners’ class, and a Sunday afternoon session (1:00-4:30) oriented to fun family activities, such as birthday parties. Adult skates will be offered, at a minimum to begin, on Thursday evenings.

A roller-derby-specific skate session will be run on Sunday evenings with faster music to appeal to those who are perhaps more advanced skaters or who are looking to get into the derby scene. At his Lynnwood facility, Rhoades has worked with Seattle Brats Derby (RCR youth derby), Tilted Thunder (a bank-track team) and I-5 Girls, all derby youth teams. He anticipates developing the RCR training program for the Brats here in White Center. He also has experience putting together the bouts from the Lynnwood facility and will be repeating that program at the Southgate facility.

Wondering about prices? Rhoads says about $6.50 for a Saturday 1-4:30 pm session, including skate rental fees; Fridays and Saturdays would be about $7.50. They plan to assign off-duty King County Sheriff’s deputies to work the evening sessions to ensure a “family environment” is preserved for the community. They work with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office at their Lynnwood facility and have been successful in keeping customers safe and making sure that families have fun. They don’t intend on doing big late-night skates or holiday parties in the beginning, so the rink will close by 10:30 or 11 at night.

Venables mentions that they will be placing pinball and video machines in the facility as well as a black-and-white photo booth. A brand new sound system with roller rink musical standards from the ‘80s and beyond will be installed, and, perhaps most importantly, an iconic disco-ball will be installed mid-ceiling.

Again, they’re hoping to open Southgate within a month – to restart what had been a long history as a place to spin your wheels.

(From Images of America West Seattle, copyright 2010, SWSHS/Log House Museum, pg. 97)

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11 Responses to “Former Southgate Skate Center in White Center to be reborn as Southgate Roller Rink”

  1. So glad to hear about this, I am so excited! We’d love to partner up in providing food! How great!
    -stefanie @ proletariat

  2. Great News. I spent a alott of my friday and saturday evenings skating at soutgate. Great memories.

    Thanks to the new owners for bringing back skating to the community.

    mike jorgensen

  3. This is super exciting news! Occasionally we like to venture off of our peninsula to Federal Way on Sunday evenings for family skate night. Can’t wait to stick closer to home and skate a lot more often!
    – Wanna B. Rollergirl

  4. Syd in Rat City Says:

    I am so excited by this news. It’s going to be so much fun having a rink and skating with friends and family. I’m really looking forward to it’s opening.

  5. What great news! Will be a boon to helping downtown White Center become family friedly.

  6. Deanie Schwarz Says:

    A couple of points of clarification have been pointed out, FYI. The Rat City Roller Girls began in 2004, not 2002 as published. Also, Seattle Derby Brats is considered an independant organization, though they work very closely with RCRG. Thanks for the additional information folks – greatly appreciated.

  7. I’m so excited! my daughter is turning 14 next week and though it may not be open by then, we sure look forward to skating there soon! This area needs something positive for young teens to enjoy. With places like Full Tilt, Zippy’s and now skating, I’m hoping to spend more time enjoying my neighborhood!

  8. This is so awesome. I love my neighborhood!!!

  9. Lynnwood, Bellevue, Kent are the closest. Getting my skates out of the attic. Better do a couple of practice rounds on the patio.

  10. What’s the word on this? Are they open yet? Chomping at the bit over here in rinkless Rainier Valley…

  11. They have set April 7th as opening date, see our newer story.