In the early-morning hours of Saturday, July 30, 1968, the six-year-old Lake Hills Roller Rink in Bellevue's Crossroads neighborhood is almost totally destroyed by fire. A popular facility for roller skating, the venue has also been a significant part of the growing teen-dance circuit that supported the rise of the Pacific Northwest's vibrant rock 'n' roll scene. Owned and operated by the Howard Monta family, Lake Hills brought numerous big-time music stars to town and also helped kickstart the careers of hit-scoring local talents like Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Kingsmen, and Merrilee and the Turnabouts. Rebuilt, Lake Hills will rise from the ashes, go on to weather the disco years, and finally serve as an incubator for a local heavy-metal scene that will produce scores of bands including Heart and Queensryche.The Rockin' Roller Rink
The Lake Hills Roller Rink building at 16232 NE 8th Street was constructed in east Bellevue's Crossroads neighborhood by the Bell & Valdez Company in 1962 for Howard and Ida Monta. Built in collaboration with the Soule Steel Corporation, it featured a skeleton of giant structural-steel girders that allowed for a huge open central area perfect for skating -- and for dancing to live music.The skating business was an immediate hit, but already by the spring of 1963 Howard Monta Jr., the owners' son, was pointing out that summer was approaching and they should find some way to draw patrons in during that typically slow season. He advocated that they launch a regular weekly teen-dance program. And so, in conjunction with Pat O'Day (b. 1934) -- a popular radio DJ at Seattle's top pop station and the operator of a growing teen-dance circuit -- they began with dances featuring a couple of the best rock 'n' roll bands in the Northwest: first the Viceroys and then the Wailers. And from then on, the rink would be associated as much with dancing as with skating. Nearly all of the most historically notable early local combos would gig there including the Tiny Tony and the Statics, Little Bill and the Bluenotes, the Dynamics, Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Kingsmen, Merrilee and the Turnabouts, the Sonics, the Bards, and Don and the Goodtimes.
In addition, Lake Hills also presented shows by touring national stars including Jerry Lee Lewis, Them (with Van Morrison), Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, the Turtles, and the Lovin' Spoonful. The venue even weathered changing times by adding a psychedelic lightshow during 1967's Summer of Love period when it booked local hippie bands including the Daily Flash, Crome Syrcus, and the Emergency Exit. But then ...The Big Fire
At some point Howard Monta Jr. and his wife Liz had taken on the roles of co-managers of the venue. Howard also had other jobs: Between 1961 and 1966 he served as a City of Seattle firefighter, and he would be a Seattle police officer from 1968 to 1997. At about 5 a.m. on the morning of July 30, 1968, the couple was awakened by loud knocking on the front door of their home -- which was located a mere two blocks from the rink.It was their newspaper boy. Monta recalled:
The Entire Interior
"He said: 'Howard, your skating rink is burning.' I was confused, because the building was constructed of cement block and steel. I hurried over there and was shocked to see fire coming out of the office window, and heavy smoke pouring out of the roof vents. I told the fire captain [King County Fire District 14 crews were already on site] that I had experience as a firefighter, and asked if I could help. He said that if I had the key to the back door, I could open the building so that the smoke and fire could vent to allow them to get inside with water hoses. I entered the back door and observed fire shooting across the floor from a severed natural gas pipe that was hanging down from a furnace. I held my breath and started running the length of the main floor in an attempt to open the rear fire door. As I reached the area of the stage, I ran right into a large scaffold that my dad had left in the middle of the floor. My wind was knocked out of me, but I managed to struggle to the rear door and burst out to the fresh air" ("Brief History ...").
The fire had evidently begun hours prior at about 3 a.m., and the flames had already done their damage by the time it was contained. The Seattle Times reported that "the entire interior of the popular teenage dance hall was burned. Even skates in the building were ruined, and structural steel girders were warped" ("$90,000 Blaze ...")And if all that wasn't heartbreaking enough, Monta noted that in addition, "We lost six years of records along with precious and irreplaceable souvenirs in one terrible morning" ("Brief History ..."). The mind reels in pondering the probable stash of music history memorabilia that went up in smoke: dance posters, band contracts, promotional photographs, media newspaper clippings, artist autographs -- maybe even the pair of skates that Ida Monta had long prized because they'd been autographed for her by rockabilly-pop singer Conway Twitty.
The Show Must Go On
The cause of the fire was, at least initially, considered undetermined, but it was clear that the rink would need to be closed down for rebuilding and repair. Howard Monta Jr. stepped up to the challenge by renting the old Vasa Park Hall at 3560 W Lake Sammamish Parkway SE on Lake Sammamish -- where his parents had initially entered the roller-rink and dance-concert business years ago before opening their own rink -- and temporarily running his skate and Saturday-night-dance operations there.With the support of the Pat O'Day and Associates company, the Montas survived this upheaval and brought the Lake Hills venue back to life. That life went on to span subsequent musical eras including the disco days and a robust heavy-metal scene that saw the emergence of bands that gained worldwide fame, notably Heart and Queensryche. Finally shuttered on the 1980s, the building was razed in 1998 and the site is now a part of Crossroads Community Park.