Quick question: What could $60,000 get you today? A pretty decent down payment on a dream home or the start to a college education. Perhaps a really, really nice new car or even the satisfaction of giving your child the wedding day of their dreams.
All great ideas and goals in today’s world, but did you know that in Cleveland in 1907 that very amount of $60,000 was about to bring to the city the notoriety of having the largest indoor skating rink in the world? It’s a pretty safe bet that this little nugget of Cleveland history has passed most of us by.
In the spring of 1907, the Humphrey brothers, Dudley Sherman II and David, started construction on yet another attraction sure to excite Northeast Ohioans, the Elysium Arena at the corner of Euclid Avenue and East 10th Street.
Just in case the Humphrey name doesn’t ring a bell, they are the family that brought and sustained memories for people all over the area through the family popcorn business and, of course, Euclid Beach Park. So needless to say, the Humphreys had everyone excited to see the finished product of their latest endeavor, a 2,000-seat indoor skating rink, complete with artificial ice.
The arena went up pretty quickly, as it was opened the morning of November 23rd of that same year, allowing the public to experience it that very afternoon. For many, they were able to experience being on ice for the very first time. A new source of pride and excitement for Cleveland was born.
I'm not sure if this was on the radar of the Humphreys at the time, but apparently there were quite a few Canadians that had become permanent residents of the area who saw an opportunity to once again have the opportunity to play their favorite sport from back home, hockey.
Almost immediately, the Elysium’s first manager, O.C. Riegel, put together what became Cleveland’s first amateur hockey league. Believe it or not, Riegel acted quickly enough to have the “league” ready to play their first game on December 3rd, a mere few weeks after opening the doors. Can you imagine anything today coming together so quickly? I know I can’t.
Four teams - the Clevelands, Collegians, Bankers and Ohios - became so popular with fans, many experiencing hockey for the first time, that Riegel began bringing additional attractions such as the alumni of Yale and Princeton University to play the locals.
All of this was very exciting for a city that just seemed to be clicking on all cylinders, but it was not without a few bumps in the road. Early in 1908, The Cleveland Plain Dealer began to report on the fact that the women of Cleveland were not thrilled with the “fire and brimstone” language that players hurled around the ice. Their pleas were taken seriously enough for new rules against cussing to be put in place. The crisis was averted, and the league and hockey continued the journey that eventually brought some really great professional hockey to the area.
After hockey progressed to the point that a bigger building - the Cleveland Arena - was needed, the Elysium stayed alive to serve as barracks for the Student Army Training Corps of Case Institute, a used car showroom and, yes, even a bowling alley. However, it eventually fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1951, fourteen years after the Cleveland Arena opened relatively close by at the corner of Euclid and E. 36th Street.
Primary reference source: High Sticks and Hat Tricks by Gene Kiczek