Capturing the Rhythm of
Downtown Santa Monica
Santa Monica Centric
Turning a parking lot into a parad-Ice
By Kevin Herrera

Creating Ice at Santa Monica is an act of coordination



For the majority of the year, the corner of Fifth Street and Arizona Avenue is home to a surface parking lot. Blacktop, pay stations, a couple of rundown station wagons and dirt are its defining features.


Then October comes around, and everything changes. The lot is transformed into the beloved winter wonderland known as Ice at Santa Monica, Downtown Santa Monica’s premier outdoor ice-skating rink, now in its 11th season.


Visitors see twinkling lights, evergreens adorned with holiday décor, 8,000 square feet of ice and plenty of smiles on the faces of the more than 59,000 skaters who glide, spin and twirl each season. But what they do not see is the tremendous amount of work that it takes to bring this home for the holidays to life.


“It’s really a feat of engineering to put an ice rink in the middle of Southern California, just blocks from the beach,” said John McGill, Downtown Santa Monica, Inc’s sr. field services coordinator who manages the build-out of Ice at Santa Monica. Over the last three years he has had to weld, hammer, saw and paint to make sure the rink opens on time.


“It’s a logistics challenge, making sure everything happens in the right order and tasks are done in a timely manner,” he added. “Because if not, you have people sitting around unable to do the work they need to, which creates delays.”


Coordination is the key. There are more than a dozen vendors responsible for everything from the delivery of portable restrooms to the actual construction and operation of the rink.


“You have to make sure the various vendors do not step on each other’s toes and play nice in the sandbox, which is fitting because there’s a big sandbox out there,” McGill said.  


He’s referring to the base of the rink, which is created by 475 tons of gravel and 25 tons of sand that must be packed and leveled by an experienced heavy equipment operator to create the right foundation for the rink’s critical components, which include the wood framing and metal railings, Plexiglass dasher boards, and, most importantly, the roughly 4,600 square feet of 1/4 –inch piping where roughly 1,500 gallons of chilled food-grade glycol is pumped through to help freeze water to make ice.


DTSM, Inc. works with the city to close the parking lot Oct. 1, then downtown ambassadors clean the lot and prep it for the delivery of building materials, rink components and holiday decor. Once power is hooked up, the rink contractor, Ice Rink Events, arrives with its team of eight to 10 employees to construct the rink. Portable offices are also delivered, along with tents, skates, benches and other rink necessities.


“We’re trying to get this completed in two weeks, which would be the fastest we’ve done,” said foreman Nick Delgado, a 16-year-veteran of ice rink construction who worked the first season of Ice at Santa Monica. Ice Rink Events is one of the premier ice rink contractors in the country and Delgado has built rinks all across the western United States.


To keep the ice cold enough for skating, two large refrigeration units are brought in and pump the glycol consistently through the tubes underneath the ice. Power is drawn from the city’s electricity grid, which is supplied by 100 percent renewable energy sources. Water to create the ice is pulled from the city’s supply of urban runoff that is treated before use.


“When we start construction all the locals see us out here and they start to get excited,” Delgado said. “It’s really iconic after all these years.”


(A construction crew lays down the plastic piping that is part of the foundation for Ice at Santa Monica)


Once the rink is open, more work has to be done to maintain it. That means rushing out in the middle of the night if the power goes out, or securing signage and tents in the event of a rain storm.


“If the ice melts, then people can’t skate,” McGill said. “There’s a lot of day-to-day maintenance.”


Ice at Santa Monica runs through Jan. 15, 2018, at which time vendors are brought back and the tear-down begins. DTSM, Inc. has to fill in holes in the asphalt and clean the lot before turning it back over to the city by Feb. 1.


“It’s a lot of heavy lifting,” said DTSM Inc. Field Services Coordinator Edwin Lopez, who assists in the build-out of the rink. “But it’s exciting to see it come together. I remember coming to see it just as a guest and thinking how awesome it was to have this in Southern California. It’s a way to bring a little bit of that winter experience since we don’t have a true winter here. I’m really excited to be a part of it.”


Ice at Santa Monica returns for its 11th season on Nov. 1, 2017 and runs through Jan. 15, 2018. For hours of operation, and to book skate lessons or party cabanas, visit or call 310.260.1199.



Ice at Santa Monica returns for its 11th season on Nov. 1, 2017 and runs through Jan. 15, 2018.

Kevin Herrera is a former journalist turned marketing and communication expert, beer enthusiast, cyclist, cultural observer/commentator and expert on all things Downtown Santa Monica. He is currently the sr. marketing & communication manager for Downtown Santa Monica, Inc.