The ruin of a Redondo landmark

"Dottie Shores could barely stand to look at the blackened remains of the Redondo Skating Arena the day after a fire leveled it.Like other people who regularly skated there, Shores wept at the destruction caused by the fire, which occurred in the early morning hours of Jan. 20, 1951.The penny arcade machines, pool tables and bowling lanes on the first floor ignited. The fire burned so hot the coins inserted into the machines fused. On the second floor, the 180-by-80-foot maple floor burned to ashes. And the pipe organ, which had filled the two-story building with hits like Blue Moon, sat in barely recognizable pieces.Shores, who had skated there for more than 10 years, said she was devastated to see the beautiful rink - one of the most popular in Puget Sound - destroyed. She and her husband skated there twice a week, enjoying the spectacular view of the water while they skated.  It was so completely gone, Shores says. Two floors of wood. It went up fast. We were all so shook. I wanted to get away from that particular scene. Those things, I don't want to see.Last Saturday marked 50 years since the day a fire robbed the Betts family - Weston and Lauree and their children, Evelyn, Byron and Barbara - of their livelihood. But the fire destroyed more than a family's business; it cost the Federal Way area a well-known landmark.(Redondo) was the place to go in those days, Evelyn Pattison says.Weston Betts built the Amusedrome, a dance hall and penny arcade, at Redondo Beach in 1922, according to Historical Society of Federal Way records. In 1936, he converted the business from a dance hall into the Redondo Skating Arena and Amusement Center.Hundreds of kids and adults alike drove from as far away as Enumclaw and North Seattle to skate on the gleaming maple floor. Betts prided himself on operating a rink where parents felt safe dropping off their teen-agers for several hours of entertainment. He kept the rink so clean the railings shone and the floor gleamed.Like dad said, we didn't have one spot in the rink building a cigarette could have rolled into and burnt, says Byron Betts, now 74. He was very particular.Evelyn Betts Pattison, now 78, remembers freestyle skaters practicing spins in the center of the rink. On the outer edge, couples danced - essentially waltzing on skates. Many a romance blossomed at the rink, Pattison says.The Betts were heading to California for a vacation at the time of the fire. Pattison and her husband, Pat, had worked at the rink. After the second skating session ended at 12:30 a.m. that Saturday, they had walked to their cabin a few blocks from the rink and gone to bed.The shriek of fire department sirens awakened them about 1:50 a.m. From the front of their house, Pattison saw flames shooting from the second story of the center.It was the worst feeling I think I've ever had, she says. There was nothing you could do.Pattison took the kids to the house of her grandmother, who lived next door, and started down the beach toward the center. The brightness of the fire lit her way and she watched, stunned, as the rink burned until there was nothing left but timbers - a big, black mess, she says.A state patrol officer tracked down Weston and Lauree Betts in California and let them know about the fire. They hurried back. So did Byron Betts and his wife, May, who were vacationing at the ocean with another couple. Many members in the family had trouble listening to a pipe organ after that night without remembering the way the fire had left the organ at the rink in pieces. It took years before I could listen to a pipe organ, Pattison says. The whole family. Every time, the tears would just roll.Loss estimates ranged from $300,000 to $500,000. Investigators never determined what caused the fire but several other skating rinks in Puget Sound mysteriously burned to the ground in the next few months so the family suspects arson.Later that day, hundreds of skate enthusiasts began arriving to see the damage for themselves. Tears streamed down their faces as they saw the complete destruction of the place where they had spent so many fun Friday and Saturday nights.We always said we didn't know anyone would cry over a building burning but it meant so much to them, Pattison says. It was like a second home to them almost.Other members of the family went on to operate skating rinks, including Pattison's West Skating Center in Federal Way, which Pattison and her husband opened in 1979. In fact, seven of Weston and Lauree Betts' grandchildren own and operate six skating rinks in Washington. But the fire sent the family in different directions, with the Pattisons moving to Spokane, and Barbara and Eric Englund moving to Everett.Pattison, whose husband died last year, and the Betts live in condominiums built on the site of the Redondo Skating Arena and Amusement Center.Fifty years later, time hasn't dulled the memory of the fire's impact. It was like a death in the family, Pattison says. It lasted a long time. "

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