If these walls could talk…
They’d regale us with tales of first dates, high school break-ups and marriage proposals. They’d reverberate with the sound of music, from the old organ music to big band swing to the Marshall Tucker Band. They’d rumble with the noise of fierce competition: the whirring and tapping of wooden wheels on the rink floor, set against the cheers and shouts of a noisy crowd.
They’d tell the story of life in a tiny seaside village through the generations — life in times of prosperity and want, in times wars and peace, in times of celebrations and sorrow.
They’d recall the howling winds that came a few years ago and the sounds of the angry sea lapping against them.
And the silence that followed.
“There’s a lot of history here — so many memories inside this old place,” lifelong Greenport resident Everett “Butch” Corwin says, surveying the cavernous space that housed the American Legion Burton Potter Post 185 roller rink.
The echoes of its past still linger: the organ, a large red metal refrigerator case emblazoned with the Coca-Cola logo, the Kist soda clock and sign that directed traffic on the rink. “Reverse”…”Men Only”…”Ladies Only”…”Couples”…”Clear Floor”…”Skates off.” Kist,incidentally, was an orange soda once made and bottled at a plant in the village.
Then there’s the memorial to Burton Potter, an Orient man who enlisted in the United States Army on April 21, 1917 and was killed in action in Selcheprey, France one year later, on May 28, 1918 at age 21.
“He was the first man from this area to die in World War I,” said Corwin, who is vice commander Post 185.
The glass case inside the building that bears his name holds mementos of Potter’s life — and death. A uniform, a gun belt, a citation proclaiming he had “Fallen for Liberty,” the handwritten letter from the adjutant-general addressed to “W.H. Potter, Orient, L.I.” informing him of his son’s death: “Deeply regret to inform you that it is officially reported that Private Burton Potter Inf. died of wounds received in action…”
The Greenport post is named for Potter, but the roller rink — more accurately, the roller rink being reconstructed there — has been dedicated in memory of another native son, George Costello.
“It was his vision, his passion to rebuild this rink,” Corwin said. “For me, now, it’s a labor of love — love for a friend.”
Costello died suddenly in December 2012, less than two months after Superstorm Sandy finished off the roller rink. Damaged by a prior nor’easter, the maple rink was destroyed by Sandy’s storm surge.
But extensive repairs — well beyond replacing the rink surface — were needed.
“Everything needed work,” Corwin said. “And George took it on as his mission.” He had worked on it for about nine months before he died of an apparent heart attack.
The Greenport roller rink was so important to so many people — generations of them — not only in Greenport Village but all across the North Fork. It was more than a roller rink. It was a gathering place, a large space for large-scale community events. It was part of the fabric of the community.
“As we’ve been working in here, you wouldn’t believe the number of people who’ve stopped in here to look around and tell us stories about what this place means to them,” Fred Schoenstein said. Schoenstein, a Sons of the Legion member who owns North Fork Welding with his brother Joe, has been serving as a general contractor, of sorts, for the massive renovation project.
Schoenstein, Corwin and a dedicated core group of Legionnaires have carried on Costello’s work. A new south wall was built and a new rubber roof was installed in 2012. The electric service has been replaced — the whole building has been rewired. A new heating system was installed. A new sprinkler system, too. A drop ceiling was removed and insulation has been installed on the cathedral ceiling, which is going to be finished with painted mahogany Lauan panels. New bathrooms are going in, as is a new concession area.
“Everything is being brought up to code,” Schoenstein said.
The new rink surface won’t be wood. A new “skate course” will be made of half-inch thick plastic tiles that snap together to form a smooth surface. The material is impervious and can’t be ruined by water, he said.
Much of the labor and even a great deal of the materials have been donated. And what hasn’t been donated has been sold to the post at deep discounts.
“There has been so much community support,” Schoenstein said. “We have pages and pages of donors, people who’ve contributed everything from $5 to $50,000. It’s been amazing.”
He estimates that finishing the job will require another $400,000, bringing the total job cost up to about $1 million. It’s a big nut for a tiny village and an American Legion Post of about 75 members.
The interior of the 14,000-square-foot building, erected in 1953, is “starting to look like something,” Schoenstein said. “I’m getting excited.”
The legion post plans to raise the rest of the funds needed to finish the George D. Costello Sr. Memorial Skating Rink by hosting fundraisers like the one scheduled for Monday, Feb. 22 and Tuesday, Feb. 23 at Skippers Restaurant. A $20 ticket buys dinner — a choice of three entrees:Yankee pot roast, chicken parmigiana or stuffed flounder, with salad, vegetable and potato, coffee and dessert.
In bygone days, the rink was the place to hold community events for charitable causes, it’s only fitting that events like that are held to help save the rink, Corwin said.
“It’s really a community asset, a very special community asset,” Schoenstein said. “I’m so glad to be part of its resurrection.”