Ernest “Puff” Edwards wore a train conductor’s hat and a sweatshirt to work on a recent Saturday. After all, he had nothing to prove to the patrons of the Elmwood Roller Skating Rink, where he first started working almost 50 years ago.
The rink, located a few blocks from 71st Street and Elmwood Avenue, originally opened on Oct. 11, 1945, under the ownership of an Italian-American family. In 1965, when Edwards was 11 years old, he stepped into the facility for the first time and met the owner. In 1967, Edwards started his two-year stint as the rink’s security guard, followed by three years as a ticket taker and more than two decades as manager, until in 2005, he finally bought the business.
As white residents of Southwest Philadelphia moved to the suburbs of Yeadon and Upper Darby after World War II, more African Americans moved into Southwest Philadelphia. By the 1960s, the Elmwood Roller Skating Rink became a haven for young African Americans.
Fast forward to a weekend afternoon almost a half-century later, and the skating rink was still burgeoning with life. Dozens of children struggled to conquer the sensation of skating while adults and teenagers whizzed by and skillfully glided backwards.
“I still run into people here who I haven’t seen in years,” said Khadiyah Johnson, 30, of West Oak Lane. She started skating at the rink with her mother at age 6.
“It’s all about helping people,” Edwards said about the rink. From holding funerals when community members couldn’t afford more formal ceremonies to setting up church pews for the temporarily homeless New Fellowship Baptist Church on the rink’s authentic maple wood floors, the Elmwood Roller Skating Rink superseded the role of a conventional rink.
– Text, video and photos by Jacob Colon