15 Candles On The Cake For A.O.W.
There were fifteen candles on the cake when America On Wheels celebrated its 1953 birthday, with parties at ten roller rinks in four states and the District of Columbia. General Manager Bill Schmitz can point with pride to phenomenal growth in those fifteen years.
The chain, only one of its size in the entire World, started in 1934, with a pint- sized 40 x 80 skating place in Closter, N.J. and just one hundred dollars in cash. Today its holdings are rated in the millions.
There were many set-backs and heart-aches at first but take an idea and a man with courage and perseverance to make it work and success is almost inevitable. 1935 was an experimental rink operated in Palisades Park by Schmitz; then in ’36 came the original Paterson, N.J. arena (size 100 x 50) and in the same year the organization which was to become known the world over as America On Wheels opened a rink at Lake Hopatcong, which on opening night took in just $ 75.00. Then in fast succession came a tiny 50 x 50 rink in a White Plains upstairs loft and in the same year a new venture at Long Branch, N.J., which proved remunerative until fire razed the building in ’44. In the same year, 1938, Schmitz brought his original ideas and methods to Passaic, N.J., and the following year added and outdoor rink at Mountain View on Route 23.
The organization was growing now and in December 1939 on Christmas Day opened the huge Perth Amboy Arena with its full acre of maple flooring – largest in the world.
In 1940 the Casino at Asbury Park was added and in July of 1940 the Capitol Arena in Trenton, N.J. came into the AOW fold.
It was in 1940 that the AOW outfit built its first roller arena from the ground up, incorporating original ideas. This was the big Boulevard Arena in Bayonne, N.J. which started in late August and completely finished and opened for public skating just 45 days later.
The AOW organization which defied the timid and pessimists who said it couldn't be done, now branched out in earnest. 1940 saw the Mt. Vernon Arena under the AOW banner; in 1941 came Twin City Arena, flagship of the outfit. The St. Nicholas Arena in New York City (no longer used a roller rink but nationally famous as the little Madison Garden) was taken over in 1943. A hurricane took some of the wind from the AOW sails in 1944 when the Casino in Asbury Park was leveled by the big storm. But no single disaster could stay the outfit now and the Hackensack Arena was purchased from the Bendix Co. and opened in ’46 as a roller rink. Branching out now, the possibilities of Washington, D.C., were explored and soon the big National Arena was under construction opening in 1947. The new Paterson arena was opened in September of ’48 and a month later the Alexandria, Va, venture which has proved so popular, Bladensburg, Md., was the next city to be invaded by America On Wheels. The latest addition to the group, the palatial Peekskill (N.Y.) Arena was added in 1952, with its rare rotunda-type skating surface.
The AOW organization which started from such a modest beginning now has a multitude of holdings in real estate, apartment houses, stores and office buildings as well as the land on which many of the arenas stand.
Truly, the world has rolled along to the doors of the AOW associates in their first fifteen years, but says Bill Schmitz:
“Wait until you see us when we’re thirty.”
(Reprinted from the 1954 Annual National Roller Skating Guide)