The MV Ice Arena is an Island success story that goes back many years, with many players.
The gleaming state-of-the-art facility that held its grand reopening Jan. 20 is a far cry from the first incarnation of the MV Arena, which was an arena in name only, with no walls, no roof, no locker rooms, and no amenities. Sometimes, it barely had ice.
Officially, the MV Arena began in 1974, at the first official meeting of MV Arena Inc., headed by Don Lambert.
But the actual rink — the boards, compressors, and ice-making equipment — arrived on the Island three years later in February 1977, after being saved from a Walpole junkyard.
Island businessman, former selectman, and de facto historian Trip Barnes heard about the rink when he was off-Island, buying lumber.
“I’d gone to Building Material Wholesalers, which was then owned by the Grossman family in North Attleboro,” he told The Times. “The Grossmans had bought the Walpole Ice Arena with the intention of tearing it down and expanding room for lumber. I figured I could probably squeeze a little money out of them to save them taking it to the dump. Nobody off-Island was going to want a used ice skating rink.”
Mr. Barnes said the next day he went to what is now the Shell Station in Vineyard Haven, where the town fathers used to meet for daily discussions over coffee and cigars. “I walk into the triumvirate, Bob Bailey, Manuel Campbell, and Henry Cronig, and I asked what was going on with the ice rink, and they said people were trying to raise a couple million dollars and they had their feelers out and they’re talking to architects,” Mr. Barnes said. “I said ‘Why didn’t you come to me? I can get an ice skating rink at no cost.’ Bailey said, ‘This is serious, Trip, we’re trying to figure out how we’re going to raise the money.’”
Barnes volunteered two of his flatbed trucks, and other Islanders donated their trucks, their time, and their strong backs, and they caravanned to Walpole to get the rink — including a 1947 jeep that served as a Zamboni — and brought it home.
An article in the Feb. 9, 1977, edition of “The Grapevine” documents the occasion, with a picture of an 18,000-pound compressor being lifted off a flatbed truck at the former site of the Coca-Cola company in Tisbury.
“Barnes Trucking brought the compressor and other equipment to the Island at no charge, according to MV Arena president Donald Lambert,” the article states. “The Steamship Authority gave free passage, while Jubilee Distributors, Cape and Island Supply, Hood Milk, White Bros. Construction, and Coca-Cola Company of the Islands contributed men and equipment.”
“I called the Steamship [Authority] and told them what we were up to, and asked them for a free ride, and said it could get them some good press for a change, and they gave it to us,” Barnes said. “When we got back, it was like the whole Island showed up at the dock and helped move all the stuff to the location, which is where the ice rink is now.”
The high school donated the land, on the condition that there would be no change in use.
Albert White, former owner of White Construction, told The Times his company donated the asphalt parking lot. “It was donated in my parents’ name; there was a plaque with their names, Antone White and Mary Caton White,” he said.
“The lights are a good story,” Bob Mone, MV Arena stalwart, told The Times. “Jimmy Gibson was the electrician. He went to the Oak Bluffs ballfield and took the lights down, and went to ComElectric and got four telephone poles and put the lights up. Things were different then. It was a real shoestring operation. We were always in the red. Vendors would say ‘Yeah, pay us when you can.’ The community just got behind it. Trip was very instrumental in getting it off the ground.”
Mone said Tom Taylor has also played a big role in MV Arena history. “We had a lot of naysayers in the beginning,” Taylor told The Times. “They said we’d never do it without state or federal or town money. It’s important to remember that Islanders of all income levels have contributed to the success of the arena.”
One of those Islanders was James Taylor, who played a benefit concert for the arena in 1989.
Tom Taylor said the plans for the first arena went before the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, but the permitting process didn’t slow things down. “The permits flowed hand in hand with the construction,” he said. “We built the first arena on compacted sand. As long as it was cold we were great, but if you had a warm spell, we were starting from scratch.”
The dicey ice didn’t dampen Islander enthusiasm for the first arena. “People came out of the woodwork,” Mr. Taylor said. “We had quite the men’s league going. Part of the reason it got off the ground in the first place is that there was a bunch of guys who really wanted to play hockey.”
Taylor said that prior to the construction of the first rink, Don Lambert, Ron Jackson, and Jim Rodgers took a boys hockey team to Falmouth every Sunday for a short stretch of ice time. “They’d leave on the 9:45 boat, skate for an hour, and come back on the 2:45 boat, in an old gray school bus called the Gray Goose,” Taylor said. “That was the birth of Martha’s Vineyard Youth Hockey. There was a very strong figure skating group then, as well. Nan Rheault and Molly Finkelstein were key in developing that program.”
Today the MV Youth Hockey program has more than 250 kids participating. There are about 100 participants in the figure skating program based at the arena.
Taylor said that the arena has been constantly evolving since it was unloaded from the ferry in 1977.
“In 1980 we got a concrete surface down, and in August of 1981, Don and I met with Fairleigh Dickinson Jr. and secured a loan, which was forgiven under Sam Sherman’s tenure [as MV Arena president]. That first roof was a major turning point in the history of the arena.”
In addition to Dickinson, Taylor said the Levine, Barnes, and Swartz families and MVYouth have been major benefactors that have helped make the arena the superior facility it is today.
“It’s the most up to date ice-making equipment there is,” he said. “You won’t find better-quality ice anywhere in the United States or Canada.”
Barnes believes more than anything, the MV Arena stands for what Islanders can accomplish when they take matters into their own hands.
“The rink and the Ag Hall and the skate park were all huge community efforts,” he said. “Three hundred people showed up to build the Ag Hall, which was a barn that was from off-Island. When Islanders really wanted to get something done as a community, we found a way to do it.”
“It’s a great story with a happy ending,” Mone said.