Del Monte Gardens skates through the eras attracting families to the rink.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Disco made it popular. Roller derby made it dangerous. And, since 1957, Keith Burchell has made it his passion.
“Skating has been really the only thing I’ve wanted to do in my life,” says the owner of Del Monte Gardens Skating Arena in Monterey. “I can’t really tell you why. It’s just natural.”
Burchell sits on a creaky chair in a small, messy office at the roller rink, among about a dozen pairs of unlaced skates piled on the floor – complete with dirty, orange polyurethane wheels. He bought Del Monte Gardens in 1994, but has been skating there since 1957.
He easily recalls the initial attraction to the rink.
“Girls,” he says. “There were a lot of good-looking girls skating.”
But the girls, as Burchell came to find, were second to the overall community of the people he found there.
“At 13, I was hunting for something I could be a part of,” he says.
It came in motion. Roller skates became part of him.
I JUST LIKED THE WAY THE SKATES LOOKED AND FELT, MUCH MORE SO THAN THE EXCITEMENT OF BUYING A NEW CAR.
His first were a pair of black Riedell boots with brown and tan wheels. He bought them from the previous owner of the rink. The owner had the skates lying around and was trying to get rid of them.
“I had never seen a pair of skates like them before,” Burchell recalls. “I just liked the way the skates looked and felt, like they were a part of me, much more so than the excitement of buying a new car.”
Even now, he says, nothing has compared to owning those skates.
“I wasn’t very good, but I loved it,” he says with a laugh. “I held on to the wall a lot and didn’t move very fast.”
His parents got Burchell and his sister Jan into lessons – against his will, at least at first. It was 60 cents per session to skate and although they were not dirt poor, Burchell says his parents saved for the two kids to skate every day.
“Twice a week, my parents would make Cream of Wheat [for dinner] so they could have money for us to go skating.”
Burchell liked the rink life so much he started working odd jobs in the skate room – handing out skates and repairing the broken ones – and various janitorial tasks. He spent whatever free time he had at the rink, and it paid off: His competitive skating career lasted 15 years. In fact, he and Jan went to nationals in 1973 as a doubles dance team. The art of dance skating, she says, is “a mix of ice skating and ballroom dancing.”
As he grew, roller skating, became a family affair. His two sons, Brad and Greg, were once competitive skaters and now help run the rink.
“Some families go to church; ours went skating,” Brad says. “There was no wondering why. It’s just what we did as a family, and I thought all families did it.”
Keith says the family aspect of Del Monte Gardens is important to him because of the variety of activities families can do together.
“The real pull for me is the kids,” he says. “We’ve watched kids grow up here, and now they’re bringing their kids here.”
One of those kids currently lives in Marina. Maxine George skated in team events and solo freestyle, starting in 1967 at Del Monte Gardens with Burchell, who is now coaching her kids. Her son Dakota, 16, and Burchell’s granddaughter McKenzie, 16, compete in team dance together and spend at least five days a week practicing at Del Monte.
Another longtime roller is Walt Mattesen. He currently lives in Pacific Grove and has been skating at Del Monte Gardens since ’53.
“It just gets in your blood,” he says. “I’d go out after school and skate there until it closed.”
They acknowledge that, like all popular trends, roller-skating is not as popular as it once was.
“It’s a real shame it has died out,” Matteson says. “It’s good, clean fun.”
But he remains in good spirits.
“Whenever our families all get together, we end up at the skating arena and just have fun,” Matteson continues. “And when my kids get old and have kids, they’ll probably take them skating.”
Over the years of skating at Del Monte Gardens, Burchell has seen the popularity find more flourishing moments: “We’ve been so busy that when someone came in looking for a size 10 and all we had was a 14, they took them anyway, because they just had to skate.”
On an average day of lessons and open skating at the rink, Burchell, who is 60-something, says he still spends up to eight hours on his skates: “It’s like being in shoes for me. I don’t really think about putting on skates anymore.”
DEL MONTE GARDENS SKATING ARENA is located at 2020 Del Monte Ave., Monterey. • Hours: 6-8pm Thurs; 7-10pm Fri and Sat; 2-5pm Sat and Sun • $1/“quad” skates, $2/men’s hi-top, $3/in-line; $7/open session; admission $6/Thu open session; $3/children 4 and under; $5/military with ID. 375-3202 or www.delmonteskate.com.