I look back at The New Dreamland Arena
roller skating rink with a great deal of affection and warmth, because
it occupied a small chapter in my life before World War II, while
providing many social and recreational pleasures.
The New Dreamland Arena celebrated its Grand Opening on a
Friday night, October 10th, 1941, and I spent nearly every free night I
had at that rink until the night of November 16th, 1942. That was
the night before the morning I reported for induction into the Army
for my World War II service.
About the Rink
The New Dreamland Arena name included the word "New"
because the owner/manager/builder1
was Victor J. "Buddy" Brown, who, many years earlier had
operated a roller rink called the Dreamland Arena in his amusement
Park, Dreamland Park, half a mile down Frelinghuysen Avenue, and
adjacent to Weequahic Park.
The earlier Dreamland Arena roller rink had been converted for
use from a Park dance hall. During the 1920's "Jazz Age,"
the floor had been the site of American's first Dance Marathon.
The New Dreamland Arena, at 985 Frelinghuysen Avenue, at Virginia
Street on the Elizabeth City line, was advertised as "America's
Newest and Largest Roller Skating Rink," -- and it was up to
In an October 9th, 1941 interview in the Newark Star-Ledger, Brown
described his about-to-open new rink as an advanced-design rink
of the future with a new "Floating Rotunda" floor which
Brown called "science's latest contribution to the roller skating
Brown said, in that same article, it embraced a new principle
of floor construction that gave the skater a buoyant sensation unlike
anything ever before experienced, and, he added, it was the only
floor of its kind in the world.
Another feature of The New Dreamland Arena was its specially-built
organ, tabbed the "Mystery Console" with master effects.
Brown employed two organists at the rink to provide the music
at the daily evening sessions, and at the matinees on Wednesdays,
Saturdays, and Sundays.
The rink organists were Charles (Charley) Vanderhoven and Marie
Recalling Charley Vanderhoven
I recall Charley Vanderhoven with great affection because I once
composed a song called "The Dreamland Lullaby". As I was
ignorant of music writing, I had hummed out the tune for Charley
and he wrote an arrangement for my lullaby and retained it for me.
Every once in a while when I was skating at the rink and the waltz
number came on, Charley would play my "Dreamland Lullaby"
with a lot of organ flourishes, and I would be on Cloud Nine.
Rink Refreshment Stand
A popular evening gathering spot between skate numbers was the
rink Soda Fountain, located near the front entrance between the
coat room and the skate-rental room. It was run by Jerry Garner,
than a 16-year old sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High School in
He recalled for me recently that the most popular item was a small
bottle of off-brand soda. He said "It sold for a dime when
a dime was a lot of money." He added "I seem to recall
that night time admission to the rink was thirty five cents."
The building had been constructed at a cost of $300,000, which,
if translated into present-day dollars would have been in excess
of $3.5 million.
The professional staff, from opening day, was headed by Betty
as America's top professional roller skater. Bob Ringwald was in
charge of the male rink professional staff.
From years of skating at another Brown-owned rink on Route 22
and continued patronage at Dreamland, I'd developed a warm friendship
with Vic Brown, but I did not know that the rink proprietor had
done more to legitimize the roller skating sport than any other
individual in America, and that, generations later, he would be
looked upon by roller industry leaders as "The Father of Roller
Skating in America."
Brown had almost single-handedly organized the roller rink operators
of America into a nationwide organization, called the Roller Skating
Rink Operators of America, or, RSROA, and had established the RSROA
as the governing body--fully amateur controlled--for the national
skating sport. Brown was the organization's first president3.
I was a registered "Amateur" with the RSROA, and still
have my RSROA "Amateur
Competitors Card No. 11048 , renewed August 31, 1942."
Earlier, as a registered "Amateur" skater, I had earned
my bronze junior figure skating medal at the Dreamland rink, judged
by an outside team of RSROA referees from other rinks.
Made Roller Skating a "Class Sport"
Vic Brown was passionate about making roller skating a "Class
sport." He recalled for Joe Donovan, Sports Editor at the Newark
Star-Ledger, on November 12, 1941, that before he got involved,
"roller skating was a wild raucous pastime.
"It came out of the gutter, so to speak, because roller skating
was often dome more in the back yard, if not on the streets."
Sports columnist Donovan then wrote: "It was Brown's idea
to inject some distinction or class into it. He did."
As my early sports-writing mentor, Joe Donovan, had written, it
was Brown's desire to make the roller rink a family entertainment,
and, while I skated at The New Dreamland Arena, it was not uncommon
to see mother's fathers, and children, seated together as a family,
and skating independently at various times. In keeping with maintaining
the rink's social environment, a rink newspaper, "The New Dreamland
Arena Skating News4,"
was issued periodically. I contributed articles to this rink paper.
Strict Dress Rules
Here were The New Dreamland Arena's posted "Summer Dress Rules"
the last summer I skated there" Gentlemen must wear a tie with
all dress shirts. Polo shirts are permissible provide they are clean
and not too extreme. Gentlemen may skate in shirtsleeves, but suspenders
must not be exposed. Dungarees or overalls are strictly forbidden.
Other Rules" Fast skating, playing tag, smoking on rink floor,
and petting are strictly forbidden. The management has the right
to refuse admission to any objectionable persons and the right to
eject any person breaking the above rules.
New Dreamland in the War Years
I was overseas during the World War II years, but corresponded
regularly with Vic Brown, and he kept me informed of happenings
at the rink. His letters were warm, friendly, and detailed.
In one of his letters to me, dated July 27, 1944, at my Belem
AAF Air Base, Brown wrote in part: "...haven't heard any further
from Bob (Ringwald) since the telegram telling us he was wounded
in action in France ... Betty (Lytle) just came back from Florida
where she enjoyed a rest after the hectic season she put in coaching
and producing shows and contests ... and , yes , I am planning on
opening a chain of roller rinks after the war is over ... I have
some wonderful plans in mind that will make Dreamland look small
Dreamland at War's End -- 1945
I am holding a clipping from the Star-Ledger dated October 19,
1945, telling how Vic Brown invited 20 war amputees from Thomas
M. England General Hospital in Atlantic City, all of whom had lost
a leg in combat, to skate at the rink aide by "ten professional
skating instructors -- all very pretty."
The article goes on to say the "Lt. Robert K. Ringwald, now
a patient at Halloran General Hospital in Staten Island, watched
the skating GI's and the instructors from the sidelines until he
could no longer resist the temptation to put on skates."
The Star-Ledger article of October 19, 1945 stated further that
Ringwald had sustained severe injuries while parachuting into Normandy
on D-Day, and been held prisoner without his injuries being treated.
He was now undergoing operations at Halloran Hospital to repair
some of the war damage.
* * *
Postscript to Memory
My New Dreamland "Memory" and recollection end with
the War's end because my education (at night) and my career continued
in New York City, and whatever free nights I had were devoted to
courting my future wife, who lived at 14th Street and Avon Avenue.
As my night
school classes in New York's Greenwich Village ended at 10:10 PM,
my future mother-in-law permitted me to call if I got there by 11:30
and left by midnight.
We are now married over 55 years, and "The New Dreamland
Arena" is just an "old" memory.
* * *
Postscript on Vic Brown
Vic Brown, born in 1897, died in Newark on December 23, 1968.
Funeral arrangements were made by his son, Vic, Jr. and Vic, Jr's
wife Lois, who had lived in East Orange.
Brown had been infirm for some time. A corpulent man, he had lost
considerable weight, and at the time of his death weighed 150 pounds.
Brown's wife Tillie, a constant attendee at his skating rink and
fondly recalled by Dreamland skaters, at the time of Brown's death
was suffering from Alzheimer's and a resident in the Westfield Nursing
Home in Westfield. She died there in 1973.