Every Tuesday night at the Moonlight Rollerway Skating Rink in Glendale, 84-year-old Dominic Cangelosi ascends to the small stage where his name glows with yellow lights and rapturously begins playing his vintage Hammond B3 organ to the delight of the crowd.
As the patrons spin across the glossy Maplewood floor, Cangelosi gloriously belts out fox trots and waltzes — bouncy tunes that harkens back to a bygone era.
Back in the ’30s and ’40s, organ music reigned supreme in skating rinks across the country. But today, the rinks hire deejays who digitally play rock and roll tunes for a younger crowd. There are only a handful of organ players left, and Cangelosi — who has played the organ at national and world skating competitions for decades — is determined to keep the spirit of organ music alive.
His love for organ music — and the Moonlight — started early.
“When I was 15 or 16, I used to belong to a youth group and we used to come here to roller skate,” Cangelosi recalls. “I really enjoyed listening to the organ music. One day, I asked if I could learn some of the tunes, since I was taking piano lessons. My teacher started teaching me some tunes and eventually I started playing here.”
Originally a foundry for airplane parts in the 1940s, the roller rink was originally in Glendale and was owned by Harry Dickerman. It operated as Harry’s Rollerink from 1950 to 1968. Then Mildred and Clifford Neschke, who also owned a skating rink in Pasadena, bought the Glendale location in 1969 and renamed it the Moonlight Rollerway II.
“In 1977, the Moonlight Pasadena was sold and reopened as a furniture store, but the Neschke’s kept the Glendale location,” Cangelosi remembers. “I was the staff organist there until 1985 when the Neschkes, who wanted to retire, offered me the opportunity to buy the Moonlight.”
Despite soaring real estate prices that have forced many skating rinks to close, the Moonlight, a cultural jewel in Glendale that has existed at the same street corner of San Fernando Road and Hawthorne Avenue for 60 years, has operated in the black ever since Cangelosi bought it from the Neschke’s .
And no wonder — stepping through the doors of the Moonlight is like being transported back into time. There’s no place like it — its architecture, which pays homage to the ‘50s through the ‘70s, features shiny silver disco balls that spin from the ceiling and neon colored disco lights of yellow, green and orange that merrily bounce off the floors and walls.
“People like the sound system and the atmosphere,’ noted Cangelosi. “I get lots of compliments on the look and the cleanliness of the place. Customers will walk in and I hear comments like, ‘I can’t believe it! I feel like I’m back in the ‘50s!”
The original shiny Maplewood floor has remained since the 1950’s and is a drawing card for scores of skating aficionados. “Patrons love the floor,” Cangelosi said. “The Maplewood grips their skates and gives them better traction. Customers love how smooth it is since there are no nails holding it together. We recently had it recoated it so now it smoother than ever.’’
And then there’s the snack bar — an authentic ’50s replica. “We sell hot dogs, pizza, nachos, corndogs and funnel cakes,” said Cangelosi, who added there’s always a line of folks waiting to purchase the tasty treats.
The Moonlight has become a favorite with television and movie folks as well. “That’s why we call it ‘The Roller Rink to the Stars’ because we do so much filming here,” said Cangelosi. “Nissan, Jack in the Box and McDonalds have filmed commercials here. “‘Modern Family’ ‘Glee’ and ‘The Goldbergs’ have filmed here,” Cangelosi recalls. ‘And the movies ‘Straight Out of Compton’ ‘Lolita’ did some filming here as well.”
The Hollywood crowd flocks to the Moonlight too. “Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Justin Bieber, Danny DeVito, Rhea Pearlman and John C. Reilly have all skated here,” said Cangelosi. “Even Prince skated here whenever he visited L.A.”
But it is the local patrons — regulars and newcomers alike — that really keep the beloved Moonlight in business. “We estimate that 100,000 people come to my rink each year. On Saturday alone, we might have 1,500 to 2,000 people skating here in one day,” Cangelosi marvels.
The family atmosphere at the Moonlight has made it a favorite destination for generations of skaters.
“We have customers that skated here as little kids–and now they bring their children and grandchildren,” Cangelosi said proudly. ‘We have lots of birthday parties and anniversary parties. People travel from West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Santa Clarita, Palmdale, San Bernardino, Long Beach, San Diego and Orange County just to skate at the Moonlight.”
One of the regulars is 87-year-old Lillian Sait, who travels from Orange County to skate on Tuesday nights, when skaters—ranging in age from 70 to 90—hit the floor to spin to Cangelosi’s live organ music.
“I started skating at the age of four,” Sait recalls. ‘I like to skate backwards and do spins and turns.” But Sait noted that the senior crowd is quietly dwindling. “My skating partner, who was 92, died in 2015,” Sait recalls, who wears a pacemaker. “A lot of skaters have died or just can’t skate anymore,” she said sadly. “But I feel wonderful when I skate. The Moonlight is absolutely beautiful. It’s like entering a whole new world.”
And Cangelosi said that the employees are like family, as well. “I have employees who have been with me for 10 to 20 years,” he said.
One of the Moonlight’s DJ’s, 19-year-old Jessica George, describes the Moonlight as her home away from home.
“I started taking skating lessons here in 2006 and then I started working here in 2014,”she recalls. “It’s a wonderful place to work. I play pop hits and whatever is currently on the radio. You get to meet all different types of people and Dominic takes such good care of the rink.”
George is also a member of the Moonlight Rollerway Artistic Skating Team, where advanced skaters enter skating competitions across the country to show off their jumps, spins and footwork. “I won a gold medal for my freestyle skating,” George said proudly. “I was so excited.”
The Moonlight’s theme nights always draw a crowd. Tuesday night attracts the regulars and old timers, Wednesday night is LGBT Rainbow Night which brings the West Hollywood crowd, and Sunday night is family night which draws patrons of all ages. Friday and Saturday nights, the Moonlight turns into a crowded teen haven—and even their parents join in the fun.
“I’m going to keep the Moonlight exactly the way it is and not change it at all,” said Cangelosi, who added that he has no plans to retire. “Working here at the Moonlight is the greatest job in the world.”
The Moonlight Rollerway Skating Rink is located at 5110 San Fernando Road in Glendale. 1 (818) 241-3630 or is moonlightrollerway.com.