Young and old alike rock and roll at Moonlight

Moonlight Rollerway’s skate rack in Glendale, CA. Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020. Isabel Liebgold/The Occidental

The intersection of San Fernando Road and Hawthorne Street is a safe haven for roller skaters. Constructed in the 1940s, this giant one-story warehouse was used to build airplane parts for World War II. Harry Dickerson bought the factory in 1956 and transformed it into “Harry’s Roller Rink,” complete with a huge, two-and-a-quarter inch thick maple floor. Mildred and Clifford Neschke, owners of Moonlight Rollerway in Pasadena, bought Dickerson’s rink, renaming it Moonlight Rollerway II. The original Moonlight Rollerway in Pasadena was sold in 1975, and Moonlight Rollerway II was bought by current owner Dominic Cangelosi in 1985. The Glendale location, tucked between grocery stores and storage units, still stands with the electric blue sign that reads “Moonlight Rollerway.”

Moonlight’s appearance resembles a mid-20th-century movie, as two sparkling disco balls hang above the rink. The wall is covered with stars and silhouettes of skaters, and the carpet’s rainbow swirl matches the ever-changing lights projected on the rink. The benches people use to change into their skates look like they belong in Central Park, and there is gold trim around the top of the rink. Moonlight has appeared in countless films, music videos and photoshoots, including the “Modern Family” episode “My Hero” and the 2015 film “Straight Outta Compton.”

Betty Palubeskie, a Moonlight employee of 27 years, said that some of the decorations were left from various films.

“They make them for a particular movie, and then they decide they don’t need them anymore, so they just leave them,” Palubeskie said. “The roller skates on the wall are from a film.”

Moonlight Rollerway in Glendale, CA. Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020. Isabel Liebgold/The Occidental

Heather Martin, a regular customer of 14 years, said Moonlight’s main appeal is not the look of the establishment but the communities it has formed. Palubeskie said Moonlight has a specific theme every day, drawing in crowds from all over LA and reaching up to 700 people on weekdays. Monday night is “Adult Night,” playing top 40’s music and appealing to young adults. Wednesday, or “Rainbow Skate,” and Thursday, or “Throwback Thursday,” attract a similar demographic. Rhiannon Whinery, a regular customer, said there is a tight-knit group of around 20 young adults that skate three to four times a week, constantly encouraging one another and growing together. Whinery’s friend Miria is one example of this constant support.

“Tonight I did something that I have been trying to do forever, and Miria was like, ‘Girl, you got this.’ She has been watching me struggle with it, and she does it really well and is always giving me tips,” Whinery said. “So it’s like a team even though it’s not. You see everyone out there, helping each other.”

Tuesday night attracts a completely different community, according to Palubeskie. Martin said that people who have been skating for 60 to 70 years, who love Cangelosi or who want to skate at a slower pace, come to hear him play the organ. According to Kathleen Morrow, Cangelosi’s niece, he began playing the organ in his early twenties. Morrow said he loaded up his organ in the back of his truck and traveled across the country, playing for competitive roller skating events. Cangelosi became so popular that he decided to make his own record, “Rinx Records,” at a Burbank studio, according to Morrow. She said she is very proud of her uncle.

“He was kind of like a sought-after celebrity,” Morrow said. “It was a big deal that Dominic was going to be there.”

Moonlight Rollerway’s skating floor in Glendale, CA. Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020. Isabel Liebgold/The Occidental

Martin said people used to roller skate exclusively to organ music, and Cangelosi has kept that tradition alive. According to Ronald Hines, a regular Moonlight skater of 60 years, a community of skaters has been coming to the rink for decades to hear the tunes. However, Hines said the community has been dwindling throughout the years.

“I am 80 years old and we have lost a lot of people,” Hines said. “We have seen them just die. There’s only about maybe 10 of us, 10 to 12 that come here that we consider old-timers.”

Regardless, organ music is still significant to this community.

“When [Cangelosi] quits, I’m gone,” Hines said.

Palubeskie said Cangelosi is integral to making Moonlight what it is today. Cangelosi keeps the maple floor an original by scrubbing the rink at least three times a week, re-coating the plastic twice a year and shutting down Moonlight every eight to ten years in order to re-sand the wood; he makes sure to take good care of his rink and ensures that it is a space for everyone. Moonlight is consistently packed, with 300 to 700 people skating every Friday and Saturday night and birthday parties booked months in advance.

Erin Talias has skated at Moonlight for 17 years, since he was 5. No matter what rink he visits, he said, nothing will compare to Moonlight.

“Moonlight is home,” Talias said. “It is my own.”