Beginning in the mid-1930s, a roller skating craze swept the nation. The hobby reached the height of popularity following the end of World War II and remained hugely popular in the 1960s and 1970s. In Indiana and across the Midwest, roller skating rinks in almost every mid-sized town; larger cities often had competing rinks.
James & Marg Wall
In Fort Wayne, James and Marjorie Wall opened a roller-skating rink in 1950 that would become a local landmark. When Marjorie (known as “Marg” to her friends) was only 16 years old, her father died in a tragic accident and she took a job at the local Barr Street Market to help support her family.
A few years later, Marjorie met her future husband, James Wall, at the Lincolndale Roller Rink. The couple hit it off and married only 3 months later. They were married only briefly before James was drafted into the service. Like many women of her era, while he was away, Marg supported her growing family with an industrial job at the Salisbury Axel Company making gears for airplanes.
When James returned from the war, he began searching for the right opportunity to open a family business. Ironically, he and his wife eventually settled on the same business that had brought them together in the first place: a roller skating rink. The couple purchased land on Coliseum Boulevard, about two miles outside of Fort Wayne’s city limits.
Construction of the Wall’s Roller Skating Rink
To finance the cost of construction, which according to an oral history of Marg Wall cost about $85,000, the couple took out a loan from People’s Trust & Savings Bank of Fort Wayne. Intending to save money, and as a convenience to allow Marg to more easily participate in daily business operations, the couple built a family home attached to the back of the roller rink. They would eventually raise 12 children there.
The Roller Dome opened on November 10, 1950, to great fanfare. In the early years, skaters rolled across the rink to tunes from a record player. Later, the Walls upgraded to organ music. In the 1970s, the rink took on a disco-theme, complete with disco ball lighting and accompanying music.
Through the years, the Walls put together many memorable entertainments for local children and teens. Their all-day skates were particularly popular among local children. Parents could drop their kids off at 9 AM to skate all day and pick them back up at 5 PM. Over 1,000 children showed up each week to crowd the Roller Dome and enjoy the festivities. All-night skates were popular with the older, teenage crowd. After arriving at 7:30 PM, patrons could skate all the way to 6 AM at the rink. Roller Dome even had a popular New Year’s Eve event that drew children and adults alike.
Charged with day-to-day operations at the rink, Marg became a fixture at the establishment and a local celebrity. She once estimated that she worked 24/7 to make the rink a success, but loved every minute of it. Roller skating was her life’s work.
Shortly after opening the Roller Dome, Marg wrote up a list of rules titled “Rules of Conduct and Dress” that skaters who visited her establishment were expected to follow. The rules were later adopted by skating rinks nationwide. Many of Marg’s rules are posted at the rink’s main entrance and continue to be used by the Roller Dome today.
In 1969, after two successful decades of experience in the roller-skating industry, the Walls diversified their business operations. They opened the Wall Skate Supply Company to sell the equipment necessary to maintain a roller-skating rink. They also began to purchase or build additional skating rinks until the couple eventually operated seven rinks. At the height of their success, the Walls owned rinks in Fort Wayne, South Bend, Muskegon, Michigan, and Racine, Wisconsin. Their son, Ken, eventually extended the family business with additional rinks across Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Florida.
After spending years experimenting with the perfect flooring for a roller-skating rink, the Walls developed a specialized floor coating that became highly popular in the industry. The Walls eventually began marketing their special floor coatings to other skating rinks nationwide. In his later years, James also acted as a consultant, training other rink owners on how to operate a successful business. Eventually, the couple became so famous in the roller-skating industry that they were both inducted into the Roller Skating Hall of Fame.
When James Wall died in 1993, Marg continued to manage the Roller Dome with the help of her children. In 2002, Marg was awarded Indiana’s highest honor for her contributions to the state, a Sagamore of the Wabash Award from Governor Frank O’Bannon. In addition to her work in the roller-skating industry, Wall was honored for her devotion to charitable causes and business acumen.
Marg Wall died on April 21, 2015, at the age of 92. Today, the original Roller Dome, Roller Dome North, still operates in Fort Wayne and is one of the city’s most beloved landmarks. Roller skating has lost the cult following it enjoyed at the peak of its popularity, but sometimes you just need to dust off a pair of skates and have some fun.