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    Monday, July 15, 2024

    History Remembered: Groton's skating rink gone, but memories roll on

    This building, located on Bridge Street in Groton, was built in 1955 and formerly housed several roller skating rinks and the Electric Boat Company’s purchasing department. Recently purchased, the new owner anticipates it will be torn down.(Courtesy of Mark Oefinger)

    Groton’s Galaxy Roller Rink, the only roller skating facility in southeastern Connecticut, closed just over three and a half years ago. The recent announcement of the sale of the building that housed the rink, and the strong probability that it will be torn down, brought a considerable amount of disappointment to the many who had enjoyed skating there for over a half-century.

    After receiving several inquiries about the background of the building and rink, I decided to put on my “research hat,” dig into the past, and pen a short article to pass along the history about this unique Groton business.

    So, let us begin.

    Towards the 1950s, Elias “Lou” Trefes, an energetic business entrepreneur from Westerly, along with his father, Harry, and brother, Charles, conceived the idea of building a large roller skating facility on Bridge Street in Groton, near the entrance ramp to Interstate 95. They felt that the location would be convenient for not only residents of Groton but also for skating enthusiasts from surrounding communities, east and west of Groton.

    At the time, the Trefes family owned and operated several businesses in the Westerly and Misquamicut Beach areas of Rhode Island, including the Atlantic Park and Casino, which provided several amusement rides as well as a large, 50-by-100-foot, roller skating rink.

    On the evening of Oct. 14, 1955, after investing close to $100,000 on this business venture, the Trefes family held the grand opening of the Melody Skating Rink. The building, one of the largest flat roofed buildings in southeastern Connecticut, was 206 feet long and 180 feet wide, and housed a wooden skating area that was 80 feet by 180 feet, as well as a smaller area for “beginners.”

    The opening was attended by hundreds of skating fans and enthusiasts who not only enjoyed an evening of skating but enjoyed dance and free style skating exhibitions by state, regional and national champions.

    The new sporting and entertainment business became extremely popular for people of all ages. Skating classes on the beginner, intermediate and competitive levels were held at the rink by trained and experienced coaches and professionals.

    Groton’s Bill Beebe, who ultimately worked for the Trefes family at their rinks, tells the story of his being about 12 years old when he began skating at the Melody. It appears that skating was a “natural” for him. After years of experience and training, he not only became a coach at the Trefes roller rinks, but he also participated and won awards in various skating competitions on the state, regional and national levels.

    Beebe relayed some interesting stories which exhibited examples of Lou Trefes’ vast business interests. He recalled Lou having created a special cleaning formula for skating boots. Called “Boot Glo,” it was produced in bulk and then placed into smaller labeled bottles for sale to other skating businesses.

    Trefes also designed a special wheel for skates which not only reduced damage to skating floors but also enhanced skating speeds. A Connecticut company manufactured the wheels for Trefes and then Beebe had the task of removing excess molding material from them.

    The wheels, named “Mercury Wheels,” were then packaged and sold to other roller skating facilities.

    The Melody continued to maintain its popularity; however, for reasons unknown, in 1965 Trefes leased the building to the Electric Boat Company for use by their purchasing department.

    In speaking with former employees who worked in the building, it was learned that approximately 200 workers were assigned to the building. The desks and working area for the vast majority of the employees were located on what was once the main skating floor area.

    Managers maintained closed office spaces in the area surrounding the main floor. There was also a separate area on the perimeter of the main floor where copy and printing facilities were located.

    Interestingly, there were no partitions separating the workspaces, and it was quite a noisy work environment. It was relayed that, at the time, smoking in the workplace was permitted and smoke often times permeated the work area.

    In the mid-months of 1977, shortly after the end of the lease agreement with Electric Boat, two EB employees conceived the idea of converting the roller rink into an ice skating rink. After pursuing the idea and securing the necessary financing, the rink owner (Trefes) refused to grant a lease for the business.

    In November 1977, a new roller skating rink, “Roll on America” opened for business in the building. The rink was managed by Kenneth Perkins, who at the time was partners with Lewis Quintin, who had managed eight roller skating rinks in Virginia and Pennsylvania.

    It was necessary for Perkins to refinish the wooden skating area and also patch holes in the floor, which had been made to accommodate electrical and telephone wiring used by EB.

    Perkins, along with his wife Susan, who was a skating coach and instructor, taught beginner, intermediate and advanced lessons at the rink and revitalized attendance at the business. Within a year, crowds averaging from 400 to 600 per day were at the rink each weekend day.

    It was necessary for the rink to order an additional 1,000 pairs of (rental) skates to add to their stock of 700. They also added a small pizza restaurant to the rink in 1985.

    The Perkinses remained in business until 1987 when their lease ran out. Trefes was at the time considering leasing the facility to JC Penney for use as a warehouse. Ultimately JC Penney backed away from leasing the building.

    The rink remained empty for the next few years.

    In 1990, a lease was granted to “Skatetown USA,” under the management of Edgar Watrous, a five-time United States roller skating champion. Little background information was discovered relating to this business.

    In 1995, and continuing for the next 12 years, two City of Groton police officers, David Thomas and Randy Gerovitz, leased the building and opened under the name Galaxy Roller Rink.

    Thomas and Gerovitz, through their police experience, had developed a great deal of respect and rapport among local youths and the local community, and geared the business toward being “family oriented.”

    They instituted various security and policies to deter problems from occurring at the rink.

    The Galaxy Roller Rink developed numerous programs to attract its business base, including special nights for school age youths and adults. They held special private skating parties for school and church groups, as well as private birthday parties. Overall, the rink developed a great reputation as a venue for fun and entertainment for families and kids.

    In 2007, Matt Longino, a young man who had worked as a DJ at the Galaxy, and who obtained a college degree in business management, approached Thomas and Gerovitz with an offer to take over the business. Feeling confident that Longino would continue running the rink as a family-oriented business, they relinquished the reins to him.

    Longino continued to manage the rink in a well-thought out and family-oriented manner for the next 11 years. Unfortunately, the lack of maintenance to the building created conditions which started to impact attendance. In 2018, Longino had to make a business decision based upon the lack of attention to the maintenance by the owner and did not renew his lease.

    With the recent developments concerning the demise of the building, the history of Groton’s one and only skating rink comes to a close.

    Jim Streeter is Groton Town historian.

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