Dancing on Ice by Sonja Henie - A photo from 1948.
By Mike Mackin History Center communications manager
One of sport's greatest spectacles, the Ice Capades, got its start at an unassuming ice rink in Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood.
In 1932, Pittsburgh entertainment entrepreneur John H. Harris leased Duquesne Gardens, a garage turned skating rink on North Craig Street, and began scheduling events, including ice hockey, boxing, and rodeos.
It was difficult to draw a large crowd to hockey games during the Great Depression, so Harris hired Olympic skater Sonja Henie to entertain the audience between periods. The performances were a rousing success, and Harris soon set out to create an ice show to rival the song and dance spectaculars that were popular on Broadway.
Harris' Ice Capades premiered in 1940 and brought together more than 150 performers trained by an Olympic champion and outfitted in some of the period's most expensive and elaborate costumes.
By 1945, the Ice Capades toured for 48 weeks out of the year and dazzled spectators in 20 different cities throughout North America. The show remained popular for several more decades and often featured former Olympic figure skaters.
Harris sold the show in 1963, and the popularity of the Ice Capades began to decline by the 1980s, eventually filing for bankruptcy in 1996.
The Ice Capades' enchanting blend of athleticism and visual spectacle helped pave the way for today's ice skating extravaganzas that entertain millions.
Visitors to the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum at the Heinz History Center can learn more about the Ice Capades and other sporting events at the Duquesne Gardens.