February 1, 2008- Hershey, Pennsylvania
Do you ever get a chance to go to a place from your past that you really loved? I was able to with a visit to Hersheypark Arena in early February. This legendary arena which was built in 1936 is best known as the former home of the Hershey Bears, and remained so until 2002. Although the Bears now play a few hundred yards west in a new building on the same property this old barn still sits and remains active as a recreational rink and home of the Lebanon Valley College hockey team, as well as several area high school teams and other skating clubs. Just the mention of Hersheypark Arena brings to mind arguably the most famous building in all of minor league hockey history. This place is cool!
The arena sits on the same grounds as the famed amusement park, and you can see the rides and attractions in the background when approaching the building. It also shares a parking lot with the Hersheypark Stadium, which still houses concerts and high school playoff football. There are rumors of an outdoor AHL game being played next season at the stadium as well. Parking is free, although somewhat confusing to locate from the main road out front as the entire complex has an efficient, yet somewhat rambling route to get to the various attractions. You end up actually circling the newer Giant Center and then coming back around to the arena, which is also across the parking lot from Chocolate World, Hershey's visitor attraction. Obviously the crowds for a Division 3 hockey game pale in comparison to the sellout crowds the Bears used to get, so finding a parking space is no poblem. You walk in the side door of the arena, and forgo the old box office to a table where $4 gets you a ticket to a Dutchmen game. For me that $4 ticket was like a pass to a museum. Just past the ticket table you enter to brightly lit main arena area. I had only attended 1 Bears game back in the early 90's, but this place was just as I remembered it. There is a concourse aisle upon entering which is about mid way up the seating and allows access to the lower seating area. All the seats offer a great view, and despite the roof and some of the seats looking a little worn, the place looks like it could hold a Bears game today. Seating capacity for hockey is listed at a little over 7200. The seats are all wooden, and various colors depending on the section you are in. The rake of the seats is very steep. You can tell this is an old building as there are championship banners hanging on the walls from as far back as the 1947 Calder Cup. There are old style scoreboards high up on each end, while above center ice is a newer looking cluster of speakers which acts as the PA system. There is no center ice scoreboard. You have to look for a little while to find the shot on goal clocks, which are located above the concourse in opposing corners. The clocks still say "Bears" and "visitors" despite the Bears not playing here is over 5 years. The lighting above center ice is also different from the norm as there are 3 circular light clusters on the ceiling. Each cluster has a bunch of bulbs pointing down at the ice. There are also signs on the concourse which tell the patrons which exit to the rear concourse to take for various concessions and restrooms. You can sit in your seat and look around to find out where the bathrooms, or popcorn stand would be. There is also a sign indicating the location of the Bus Driver's Lounge. You dont see that much any more. The arched exterior of the building even has that old time arena feel. There is an old marquee sign on one end, and the other end is attached to the Hershey Museum. In the state of Pennsylvania the building is also famous for holding the state high school championships in both basketball and wrestling.
The game itself was a snoozer as top 10 ranked Hobart destroyed the home Dutchmen 8-0. The Lebanon Valley team is historically bad, and playing in the very tough ECAC West conference does not make things any easier. Its hard to say the game experience at a game where only 2-300 fans are present in a 7000 seat arena makes for much of an atmosphere, but just the history of the building makes attending a game here enjoyable. What I like most about the place is how unchanged it remains from its glory days. It still has the old uncomfortable wooden seats. It still has old fashioned cast iron radiators to heat the restrooms. It still has the charm that it had when I saw a Bears game here over 15 years ago. I would imagine that locals who were fortunate enough to follow the team in the 1940, 50s, and beyond would tell you it still has the charm it had back then. I would recommend that any hockey fan at least stop in to see this building if you have not, even if it is just to take a lap during public skating, or walk around the concourse. I am sure glad I was able to stop back and capture a piece of it for this site.
Other information about the Lebanon Valley College Flying Dutchmen is available at: Team home
Other information about Hersheypark Arena is available at: Arena Home
More photos of Hersheypark Arena are available Here
*Note- Some of the photos in the photo gallery were taken on return trips to the arena on December 28, 2008, and December 29, 2013