The Crystal Springs Roller Skating Rink debuted in September 1939 and was built and opened by Walter T. Curtis, who was born in Texas. His daughter, Bernice Eleanor Curtis Rooks, the ZHS Valedictorian of the class of 1940, was almost five years old when she moved to Zephyrhills with her parents and brother. Mr. Curtis also operated a sawmill and was a skilled carpenter but he had a hankering to build a dance hall in the picturesque location of Crystal Springs near the legendary springs. He eventually decided upon a skating rink. Curtis personally milled all of the rough cut pine which provides the signature look of the vintage Depression-era building that gives one a feel of walking back into a bygone era. Mr. Curtis wanted the skating surface to be just right for his skaters so he imported Tennessee Maple for the tongue and groove flooring that he painstakingly installed. The benches, vintage cash register and walls remain the same today as they did in 1939. With 18 windows and several large fans, who needs air conditioning?
Situated on an adjoining area to the Crystal Springs Water Preserve, Curtis leased the Springs area for 10 years and operated a swimming pool next to the rink for some time. His daughter, Bernice, met her future husband, Truman at the swimming pool, and another chapter of the rink’s history began when Truman Rooks took the reins in 1972. Skating was a tradition for the Curtis-Rooks family. Grandpa Curtis configured baby shoe skates for his three granddaughters, Marilyn, Barbara and Joellyn who say they were skating at age three. Truman said he skated himself until age 65.
Opening just before World War II, the skating rink is a Tampa Bay area attraction that chronicles many wonderful tales. Imagine the friendships that were created, the romances that blossomed and sometimes flourished, and the refuge from problems of the day that were provided by an afternoon at the skating rink. Army buses of soldiers from MacDill came twice per week during the 1940’s to enjoy the facility. Skating was a national craze; Lou Brooks in the book, Skate Crazy defines the period of 1937-59 as the golden age of roller skating, although roller skating dates back to the 1800’s. Throughout the years, the Crystal Springs Rink has hosted parties of all types. Once open seven evenings per week, the rink is now open on Friday’s and Saturdays and for private parties. For 35 cents in 1939, you could skate for two hours and today for $4, you can experience the era and get some wonderful exercise.
Roller skates have evolved over time! The original skates were clamp-on style and later shoe skates which then morphed into boot skates. Of course today, some skaters prefer the in-line skates, daughter, Joellyn mentioned. Joellyn has been co-managing the family facility since 1984. With three daughters, all remember working at the rink. Barbara shared that slumber parties were quite unique events to host when your family operated the community skating rink.
Truman and Bernice Curtis Rooks are terrific role models for the community. Truman has been a firm disciplinarian of the skating facility, setting the rules and managing the crew of kids. His daughters are proud of the many that stop by to say hi to Truman because of their fond memories of times there and his guidance. One particular poignant example was that of an anonymous letter he received with $50, from someone who wanted to make restitution for a childhood prank of stealing some flag decorations; Truman smiles and reflects that this must have been weighing upon his conscience and he just wanted to make it right.
Bernice, active in the Zephyrhills community, wanted to fulfill a lifelong ambition to be a teacher. She said her earliest memories were of ‘playing school’ and when she graduated from high school; her mother wrote a personal letter to Eleanor Roosevelt for financial help. (She said they did get a reply from the first lady but no funding). Her father sent her to business school and she worked for awhile until her three daughters were in elementary school, and then took a job as one of only three school bus drivers in the Zephyrhills area; I.A. Krusen was the local school leader and hired her for the job. With her daily contact with the students and often serving as a substitute teacher when the school needed her, she decided to enroll in the brand new University of South Florida (opened in 1958); for $50, a semester, you could take all the courses that you would like. Bernice’s student identification number was 18, meaning she was the 18th person to enroll at USF. Imagine how many students have enrolled since then! Daughters, Barbara and Joellyn, share that they accompanied their mother to classes a few evenings per week and at the time, with only three buildings on the USF Tampa campus, they were fixtures themselves. Bernice finished her degree in 1963 and taught school until her retirement in 1990 at East Zephyrhills, West Zephyrhills and Woodland Elementary Schools. While daughter, Joellyn, carried on the Skating tradition and eldest daughter, Marilyn, works at Verizon, middle daughter Barbara continued the teaching profession and served as a teacher in Zephyrhills for 36 years. The Rooks are proud to have four grandchildren and four great grandchildren!
Truly wonderful citizens of our community, imagine the many people who have been impacted by these three generations of Curtis-Rooks families. Here are some comments from our ZHS alumni:
I have many memories from the rink both for myself and my daughters. I wasn’t a very good skater but managed to stay off the floor. Days then were easy and not so much pressure as today! Phyllis (Geiger) Locke-Debien
Skating Parties! George Neukom
There was a group of ‘mama’s’, Carleta Sibley, Lee Howard, Eileen Smith, Hazel Potter, Corinne Peeples, and probably others, that took their “daughters”, Bunnie Sue and Carol Sibley, Arneta Howard, Peggy, Gail and Mildred Smith, Shirley Potter, Barbara Peeples to the Crystal Springs Roller Rink years back when you still rented the old- fashioned clip on skates which attached to your own shoes. We went every Friday night of the year, except during football season as we were all involved either in the band or cheerleading or majorettes, or all three, and usually at least 2 of the “mama’s” took us and stayed with us each time. They would take turns going if it was necessary, but they enjoyed visiting for the two hours we would enjoy skating, and nobody ever complained, just enjoyed it. The rink was usually quite full. Mrs. Curtis, who owned and operated it, was such a nice lady and we respected her even when she made us sit out for a few minutes to rest!!! As we got a little older, probably teenagers, our folks bought us each shoe skates and that was quite a thrill to have our very own to carry into the rink and not have to rent a pair. Truman Rooks, Mrs. Curtis’s son-in-law, still operates the roller rink and there are still children and teenagers getting to enjoy it! Gail (Smith) Geiger
I learned how to skate at the roller rink when I was three. My family and friends went there every time it was open. Mr. and Mrs. Rooks were very nice to us kids but didn’t allow any fooling around that might cause someone to get hurt. It was either very hot or cold, depending on the weather because there was no heat or AC. And when Mr. Rooks painted the floors it made the surface very slippery. You could hold on to the rope in the middle of the rink if you needed to. Our daughter, Jennifer, learned to skate with us, her family, and with one of the Rooks’ girls helping her when she was very small! Carol (McLeod) & Howard Reeves
I loved the wood floor and Mr. and Mrs. Rooks. They always made us feel welcome and it was the place my parents grew up skating and then we got to do the same. I knew where every bump was located on the floor and when first learning to skate, I used that rope in the middle and the walls to bump into. Oh those large open windows felt good on a hot night. I can remember being awed by how well Joellyn skated! Suzie (Hill) Pippin
I only went a couple of times as I was not a good skater and I got tired of falling and getting all bruised up. I do remember holding onto the window sills while I went around the rink. There were lots of windows that pushed out and were held up by a stick. No AC but we didn’t seem to mind. We were usually hanging out with friends. It’s amazing that the rink is still open after all these years! Clereen (Morrill) Brunty
I can remember hanging out the windows, because it got so hot. But the best part was when they were shutting down, and you got to help go around and shut all the windows. The little Rook girls were so cute and little and on their skates, skating better than everyone else! Melody (Wheeler) Williford
Great music! Sharon (Geiger) Reeves
Didn’t we all find our first love here? After two hours of skating I would take my skates off and the earth seamed like it stopped spinning while my head couldn’t stop. I still get that dizzy feeling every time I hear, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree” and the sadness you felt knowing that the night was over! Laura (Heller) Woodham
Having Friday night skate party’s at the roller rink was such a past time. It also helped when you knew the guy behind the counter. It was easier to get your favorite song played and for him to let you skate the other direction! Wendy (Hierlihy) Lair
I would skate there to just have fun! Sarah Baggett
All rights reserved. Photos © Madonna Jervis Wise
All rights reserved. Photos © Madonna Jervis Wise