OAK HARBOR — In the era of A-ha and parachute pants — the 1980s — a young James Croft would spend his nights skating at the Roller Barn.
More recently, he volunteered at the barn after it was converted in to the Oak Harbor Boys & Girls Club.
The club listed the barn for sale in 2019. A sale to a buyer who intended to demolish the building fell through. That’s when Croft and his family decided to buy it in the hopes of keeping the iconic red structure safe and sound. To realize that goal, they are raising money to restore the historic barn to its former glory.
Croft, who owns Toppins Frozen Yogurt, launched the “Save the Roller Barn” campaign. His mission is to raise $80,000 by March 31. As of Thursday, the campaign has raised $16,200.
He has a little over a month remaining to reach his goal.
“We love this barn,” Croft said. “We want to do everything we have to do to make it happen. It’s going to take everything we have, every dollar, every hour, everything we have as a family.”
Croft, 45, said he’s almost cleared the biggest hurdle, which is acquiring the barn. He is closing the purchase on March 31 and is raising money for the down payment. The next hurdles are restoration and modernization.
The barn’s roof is sagging and needs to be re-engineered. Croft estimates restoration of the roof will cost $750,000.
Originally known as the Neil Barn, it was built in 1912 and transformed into a roller rink in 1950. The Boys & Girls Club of Snohomish County has owned the barn since 1994. As Oak Harbor developed, a mix of commercial and residential development surrounded the building. Today, the red paneling can be seen peeking over rooftops along Highway 20.
The barn is not protected from urban growth and was at risk of being bulldozed. To ensure the barn remains in the community, Croft said, it needs to get listed on the National Register of Historical Places.
Preserving and protecting the barn is his long-term objective.
The barn has remained unchanged for most of its history. Croft said he remembers buying tickets from the same booth. Even some of the skates are still stored in the barn. He remembers paying 50 cents extra for the precision skates so that he could skate faster in races.
Croft said he plans to reopen the Roller Barn on June 30, the 70th anniversary of the roller rink.
“Regardless of how the barn is, because it is fully operable now, we will be open,” said Croft, who graduated from Oak Harbor High School in 1993.
The first song he will play during the reopening will be his favorite from the ’80s — “Take on Me” by A-ha.
Croft said he will be putting an arcade in the basement and converting the Frightville Haunted House to a laser tag arena. Half of the arcade will feature pinball machines and the other half will include more modern games.
He said the Boys & Girls Club will still have access to the haunted house as a fundraiser.
Croft said he would like to bring the barn back to the community by offering it as an events center.
“It’s a big space, and Oak Harbor doesn’t have a lot of space for big venues, so this is an area that can be rented, whether it be a wedding or a Navy pinning or something like that,” Croft said.
Croft’s “Save the Roller Barn” campaign isn’t your average fundraiser. It gives back to the community in three ways: When you donate to save the barn, you’re buying a membership for yourself or for a family that can’t afford it, and the funds from the sale of the building will go toward renovations of a new Boys & Girls Club.
As of Thursday, Croft reported that 43 have signed up for Roller Barn memberships, and 18 of those are going toward the Gift of Skate.
“Almost half of them are being forwarded, which is really cool,” he said.
Croft’s kids — Megan, 15, and Michael, 13 — go skating there nearly every Friday night. They were members of the Boys & Girls Club and Frightville volunteers.
Megan and Michael said they have fond memories of riding scooters and skateboards, flying paper airplanes and roller skating at the rink when the barn was the Boys & Girls Club.
“It’s brought happiness to so many generations, and I would hate to be in the generation that (sees it) go away,” said Megan Croft, a student at Oak Harbor High School.
“The barn watched the city rise, don’t let city watch the barn fall.”
This story was first published in Whidbey News-Times, a sister publication of The Daily Herald.
If you go
A Skate-A-Thon Fundraiser will be held 4 to 10 p.m. Feb. 22 at the Roller Barn, 98 NE Barron Drive, Oak Harbor. Collect pledges by the minute during this six-hour roller-skating fundraiser. Admission is $10 or free with $50 in pledges. All ages welcome. Register for the event at www.therollerbarn.com/skate-a-thon.
Want to help save the barn? Go to www.therollerbarn.com or find “Save the Roller Barn” on Facebook.