With its flashing lights, laser beams, spinning disco ball and blaring music, Whalley’s Stardust roller rink drew huge crowds for decades.
Before closing in 2005, it was a landmark for generations, the place to be for thousands of kids. Now, as Amy Reid reports, the Stardust is making a comeback of sorts.
In its prime, hundreds of teens flocked to the venue on a typical Friday or Saturday night to strap on a pair of roller skates and glide around the polished floor.
While widespread popularity of roller rinks took off during the post-Second World War baby boom, it wasn’t until the days of disco that the upbeat, dance-style venues like Stardust popped up.
Gone were the days of outdated organ music and boring lights and in were flashy mirror balls and disco tunes. Naturally, the end of the disco era hit the roller rink industry hard, with many rinks closing their doors.
While there was once more than a dozen roller rinks in B.C., they all slowly bit the dust. But Surrey’s venue on 135th Street held on longer than most….
Everybody has a Stardust story.
Just ask anyone who grew up in Surrey.
Chances are, you’ll find someone who met their first boyfriend there or had their first kiss there or snuck a bottle of beer into the bathroom.
For decades, it was a beloved nighttime venue for Surreyites.
But as all good things must, the attraction came to an end in 2005, a casualty of the changing times.
Some might say the Whalley facility’s closure about a decade ago was the end of an era. But rewind to the late ’70s and Stardust was the place to be.
A slow Friday or Saturday night in those days would see about 600 people fill the building, said longtime rink manager Bonnie Burnside.
“It could take you 45 minutes to walk to the front of the building to the back,” she recalled.
But over the years, the crowds dwindled and by the time Stardust closed its doors, the numbers had fallen to 50 or 60 a night.
Burnside attributed Stardust’s demise to changes in demographics and the way teens socialized.
“Times had changed,” she said.
But that didn’t mean people weren’t sad to see it go.
“It means something,” said Burnside, who now serves on the Downtown Surrey BIA. “When we first announced we were closing, people were writing petitions and sending it to the city because they didn’t want us to close.”
She didn’t, either.
Her mother, father, sisters and even nieces all worked at Stardust.
Fond memories, for Burnside, were the many charity roll-a-thons, Battle of the Band events and special Olympic programs.
She also enjoyed being part of a rink that was “ahead of the curve,” as she put it.
Rinks from the U.S. would look to Stardust for ideas, Burnside recalled.
“We were the first ones to bring 10-foot video screens into the area,” she said of the ’80s. “And you actually couldn’t get MTV up here so what we would do is get one of the operators in Eastern Washington to videotape them and send them up.”
And the bird dance?
“We got them into that,” she said, laughing. “Then all the ones in the States started doing it. We didn’t invent the dance, but we brought it into roller rinks.”
When the rink closed, many people wanted to take away a little piece of Stardust, but what they didn’t realize, according to Burnside, is “it wasn’t the building.”
“It took me a while to get my head around this,” she mused, “and eventually I’d like to do my Masters in placemaking, but I realized what we were actually doing is we were creating memories.”
And if the instant popularity of a reunion event in the works is any indication, Burnside was right on point. Tickets to the initial event sold out in a matter of days.
REUNION EVENTS PLANNED
Longtime Surrey resident and event organizer Krissy Williams had a small gathering in mind when she created a Facebook group, “Stardust ’80s and ’90s Reunion.”
But nostalgia took over.
More than 2,100 people have joined the group so far, and counting.
Because of the massive interest, she added two additional nights and Williams said even that may not be enough.
“There’s a lot of people that miss Stardust. They want it back,” said Williams.
It was the first place she went after moving to Surrey.
“I was nine and two girls in my complex would go there. They invited me one night and ever since that night I went all the time until I was 19. So for 10 years straight.”
Williams’ children also grew up going to Stardust.
Her eldest son’s first outing was to Stardust when he was less than a week old.
“The old manager would take him into her office and give me a break and let me hang out with my friends,” she said.
Friendships were forged over the years, she said, but she’s lost track of many. That’s sort of what the event is about, she said – reconnecting and reminiscing.
The scene will be set in the old Stardust building, which still stands today as a roller rink of sorts, playing host largely to roller hockey and ball hockey teams.
Now called Central City Arena, the venue also offers skate and birthday party packages, and they do in fact hold public skates, every Saturday from 8 to 10 p.m., complete with lights and music.
It’s not the Stardust the regulars will remember, but Williams is hoping to bring in a few nostalgic elements into the reunion event, such as the disco ball.
“It’s not the same floor. Everything’s changed in there. Except the bathrooms,” Williams added, laughing.
“It’s the original bathrooms.”
Williams thinks the place will be packed.
“I expect a lot of people standing in parking lot,” she remarked.
Williams wishes youth today had a venue like Stardust.
“It kept a lot of kids out of trouble,” said Williams. “My mom never had to worry about me. We would go to all-night skates and it gave us something to do. Kids don’t have something like that at night anymore.”
While some hope for a rebirth of the beloved Stardust, Burnside said that’s unlikely, especially in its old building.
“There’s been a lot of interest in it lately,” said Burnside. “I don’t think it’s going to be long before somebody finally buys it.”
For tickets to the nearly sold out, adult-only reunion skates, visit the Facebook group. Only 125 tickets are being sold for each night and the events will run from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Feb. 12, 13 (already sold out) and 20.
With files from Tom Zillich