The Starlite Roller Rink, which was opened in the early 1950s by Barry and Phyliss Simpson, was once considered the “flagship” roller skating rink along Route 66.
The rink featured hard rock maple plank flooring, a mirror ball similar to those later used in discotheques, and perhaps most importantly in Oklahoma summers, ice-cold air-conditioning.
Roller skating was once a popular pastime and local children, teens, and adults flocked to the Starlight to show off their skills, socialize with their peers, or in the case of the teens and adults, even find love.
Ross Rainwater recalls that Wednesday night was “a night to go skating,” lamenting that it was crowded, and that “the crowd was a little rougher on Wednesday nights. I think I went once and I ducked somebody I thought was going to collide with me and chipped a tooth.
Looking back, I don’t know why Wednesday night was such a popular night for teenagers, it just was. It was a bigger crowd, size-wise, and little smaller folks were kinda in the way.”
Rainwater described the interior: “It was all an open floor. The center of the ‘racetrack,’ if you will, was where folks would go to practice some dance moves, some pirouettes, and things like that, rather than skate around in a counterclockwise circle.” He said that on Saturday afternoons younger skaters came and there were few older skaters. Skating classes were also taught on Saturdays.
“I used to go with Tony Yocham Saturday afternoons. It was cool and kinda dark in there, and the air-conditioning worked well. It would just about blow your hair off it was such a high output. It was really good on those hot, hot summer afternoons.”
“Tony Yocham was quite the skater, he was a guy when he threw a baseball, you couldn’t believe how poorly he threw it, but boy he could skate!”
When asked about music, Rainwater said that in those days, there were no live bands, but 45 rpm records provided the music for skaters. “The one I looked forward to skating to was Buddy Holly’s ‘Peggy Sue,’ that was my favorite, it was just a good one to skate to.”
Rick Tyler frequented the skating rink: “I was out there on Friday nights. They would stop the skating and they would set up cones and they would have a race. It was always the guys that raced. It was fun, it was a lot of fun. I remember Danny [Simpson] working behind the counter and he would put a whistle on and go out and skate and if he saw you doing something you shouldn’t, he would blow a whistle at you.”
Tyler fondly recalls skating with the young ladies, “I can remember the very first slow song that I ever skated to with a girl out there. It was ‘Telstar.’ They turned the lights down low and had these sparkle things like a disco ball.”
John Joseph Adams was an avid skater. “I skated there six or seven days a week,” he says. During high school, he worked there part-time when he wasn’t working at his brother-in-law’s radiator shop.
The Starlite was also where true love was found. “I actually met my wife at the skating rink while I was working there. First time I ever saw her I was managing the floor; I had the little whistle on my neck and she fell in the back of the rink, and I skated up there and redirected the skate traffic and helped her up. I graduated in 1961 and we got married in October of 1961.”
In the mid-to-late 1960s, live music was supplied by a variety of local bands put together by local youth.
One of the bands was “The Living End,” whose members were Scott Bradley, Dwayne Slife, Ken Blackburn, Steve Hardgrove, and Leon Watashe.
Ken recalls the skating rink gig: “We got to skate for free if we were in the band, and we got paid $3, I think. But that was a cheap price to pay to have groupies after you, ya know.”
Besides the “sock hops,” races, and contests, there were skate-a-thons to benefit charitable causes. There were also Halloween parties, and many civic organizations held events there.
The original owners sold the business in 1995 to Mike and Becky Johnson. In the spring of 1996 the Johnsons reopened the rink after a major renovation involving a massive financial investment.
After operating the skating rink for several years, they closed it and again remodeled the 8,500 square feet building. They subsequently opened an antique marketplace.
By 2007, the business was closed and the building was sold. A local church later made its home there. In 2011, the building once again was home to skaters. In October of that year, the Route 66 Rollerdome opened its doors and is still in operation.
The iconic skate sign is all that remains to remind Sapulpans of the iconic Starlite Roller Rink.