Jul 23, 2023

Roller rink to row homes? Lombard landmark is closing, owners announce

Owners of the Lombard Roller Rink have announced they are closing the business. Daily Herald file, 2007

A patron skates at the Lombard Roller Rink. Daily Herald file, 2007

Kids enjoy time together at the Lombard Roller Skating Rink in Lombard. Daily Herald file, 2005

These two were among a group of seniors from DuPage and Cook counties to gather at the Lombard Roller Rink to roll the morning away. Daily Herald file, 2015

Patrons skate at the Lombard Roller Rink. Daily Herald file, 2007

Bob Heinrich owned Lombard Roller Rink for years. The rink is expected to close this spring. Daily Herald file

An afternoon skate at the Lombard Roller Rink can still take you back to childhood.

For '80s babies and those a little older, the roller rink remains a nostalgic scene, a place that looks frozen in time.

The deejay has a corner booth. Couples move like dancing silhouettes when the sunlight casts a shadow on the wood floor. And as kids take off on a mad dash, you're transported to school trips or birthday parties where the pop was served by the pitcher and the pizza by the slice.

Skaters, however, will have just a few more months to roll down that memory lane on eight wheels.

The Lombard landmark is closing, the latest old-school roller rink to go the way of drive-in movie-theaters and bowling alleys.

The owners put the property up for sale, saying it's time to slow down, and now a developer, Northbrook-based Bloom Street Partners, has proposed tearing down the rink to make way for a townhouse project.

The pending closing puts the Lombard fixture on a long list of shuttered suburban skating rinks. Axle in Niles, Mainstreet USA in Streamwood, Fireside Roll Arena in Hoffman Estates, Playdium in Glenview and Palatine's Orbit Skate Center have all met the same fate.

But the Lombard rink has stood out for its size, atmosphere and longevity. As some skaters have noted, it was the only rink in the area with windows.

"It was very family-centered. And that is what is distinctive about the rinks that survive," said Tom Russo, the author of the 2017 book "Chicago Rink Rats: The Roller Capital in its Heyday."

Russo was inspired by his mom, Marion, a rink rat who skated on wooden wheels, to write the book. According to his count, there were 18 rinks across the greater Chicago area by 1959. The Lombard rink got its footing as the golden age of roller skating came to a close, Russo said.

"It's probably known across the nation because there's just so few rinks that survived that period, the '60s, and I know they were pretty active in the national organizations," he said.

Russo grew up in Northlake near Elmhurst and now lives in South Carolina. He's often returned to the Lombard rink when visiting Chicago.

"It could accommodate large crowds, and they really took care of the place," Russo said. "And every time I would go to Chicago, I would go there two, three times, and I got to get to know the owners."

Property tax bills on the building were addressed last year to Robert Heinrich, who bought the rink in the 1990s and operated it into the 2000s -- installing an organ but then swapping it out for recorded music in 2007 because the organ "wasn't profitable enough to keep it between the maintenance costs and money for an organist," he told the Daily Herald. In recent years, Sandi and Steve Highley have also been reported as and listed online as owners.

Nobody could be reached for comment Tuesday, but an announcement on the rink's website said the tentative closing date "may be the end of May."

"After 30 years, we have decided to sell the roller rink. It has been a hard decision, but we are ready to move on and be able to spend more time with our family and friends," the post stated. "As most of you know, owning your own business is a 7 day a week job. And although we have loved running the rink and meeting so many wonderful people, it is time for us to slow down."

Meanwhile, village officials encouraged the townhouse developer to host an informal open house last week for neighbors of the rink to learn about the proposed project and ask questions.

Bloom Street Partners entered into a contract to buy the property at the southeast corner of West 22nd Street and South Lincoln Street shortly after it was offered for sale.

Tentatively called Highland Ridge Rowhomes, the proposed development would consist of 54 three-bedroom townhouses in 11 separate buildings. All units would have two-car attached garages and private entrances.

The redevelopment would require a zoning change. The property is currently zoned for "office planned development."

"Through a public hearing process, we intend to rezone the property to medium-density residential in accordance with the Lombard master plan prepared in 2014," the developer wrote in a letter inviting neighbors to the open house. "We believe this proposal will enliven this underutilized parcel and meet a well-documented demand for large, family-style rental units."

A public hearing has not yet been scheduled.

"We strongly encourage citizens to partake in the process," Village Manager Scott Niehaus said. "And we will be open and transparent about when and where people can go to ask their questions and voice their concerns."