‘Suspicious’ fire destroys former Just For Fun Roller Rink in McHenry

Past owner ‘heartbroken,’ says she had plans to restore building and reopen business

A fire overnight May 27 into May 28, 2021, destroyed the former Just For Fun Roller Rink, 914 N. Front St. in McHenry.

The former Just For Fun Roller Rink in McHenry is a “total loss and has collapsed” after a fire that the McHenry Township Fire Protection District described in a news release Friday morning as “suspicious” and under investigation.

Past owner Lisa Duncan said Friday morning that she is “heartbroken.” She said she had plans to work with a local investor to take back the building, restore it and open it for skaters in January.

Determining the cause of the fire is “going to take a little bit of time” because of the size of the building and the amount of damage, Fire District Battalion Chief Kevin Sears said in an interview.

Investigators were at the scene Friday morning, but the investigative process was hampered by the weather, Sears said. A determination on the cause is likely to take weeks as opposed to days, he said, adding that even narrowing down a point of origin would be difficult in a building that size.

The fire district was dispatched at 10:27 p.m. Thursday to the building at 914 N. Front St., where crews found the structure “heavily involved in fire and being driven by strong winds” out of the north, according to a news release.

The fire was reported by several people who happened to be traveling past the scene, the McHenry Police Department said in a news release Friday morning.

Fire crews began a defensive attack by applying water to the building using deck guns on several engines. Three truck companies also used aerial devices and several large diameter hand lines, according to a release.

After using the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System to request help, the fire district received assistance from 17 other fire agencies either at the scene or to handle change of quarters to respond to other emergencies.

Because of safety concerns and the number of fire apparatuses needed, Front Street was temporarily closed from Elm Street/Route 120 to Kane Avenue, according to the police department. The road reopened at 6:17 a.m.

The fire was brought under control about midnight and was “mostly extinguished” by 3:30 a.m., according to a release. Several hot spots were expected to flare up throughout the night into Friday because of strong sustained winds, so the fire department said it would check on the building periodically.

A damage estimate was not available Friday morning, but no injuries were reported.

The fire is considered suspicious and is being investigated by the fire district, police department and the Illinois State Fire Marshal.

A fire overnight May 27 into May 28, 2021, destroyed the former Just For Fun Roller Rink, 914 N. Front St. in McHenry.

One reason the fire is considered suspicious is because the building was vacant, Sears said.

A witness reported seeing “two subjects in the area around the time of this incident” to the police department, according to a release. It was unknown as of Friday morning whether those people were connected with the fire, the department said.

Anyone with information is asked to call the McHenry Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Division at 815-363-2599. Those wishing to remain anonymous can use the department’s tip line at 815-363-2124.

“We are deeply saddened that McHenry has lost such a historic building to a fire,” according to a post on the the roller rink’s Facebook page. “As some of you may recall, we closed our McHenry location last fall; however, so many of us in the McHenry community have such heartfelt memories that were made in this building.”

The building at 914 N. Front St. opened as a dance hall in the 1920s before later being converted into a roller rink. Lisa Duncan bought the rink in 2001, vowing to the building owner that 100% of its earnings would go toward the aging structure’s upkeep, and an effort by the community and local businesses in 2015 seemed to have saved the rink.

But the financial hit from the COVID-19 pandemic proved too great, and the rink closed permanently in mid-September.

The other Just For Fun Roller Rink location in Mundelein remains open, and its owners have been making upgrades, Duncan said.

“I’m kind of like numb,” Duncan said Friday morning. She began receiving calls, texts and Facebook messages about 11 p.m. Thursday from dozens of friends telling her the rink in McHenry was on fire.

Duncan met her significant other, Toby Tagliapietra, at the rink and was planning to marry him there in 2020, but the plans were quashed because of the pandemic. She reluctantly made the 6-mile trek to the building with Tagliapietra to see the carnage for herself.

When she arrived, the building she fought so hard to keep open – where she mentored thousands of children and teens for years, hosted parties for generations of families and poured in hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep afloat – was engulfed in relentless flames. She was met with hugs and tears from dozens of former skaters.

A "suspicious" fire overnight Thursday, May 27, 2021, into Friday at the former roller rink in McHenry left the building a total loss, fire officials said. The fire remains under investigation.

“I just felt like I was in shock,” she said. “I saw flames come out of the front door, and I’m just shaking. Everything is gone, and we are not going to be able to come back. ... Nobody can take our memories, [but] it is just so heartbreaking. So much of my heart and soul is in that place.”

Duncan said that at the sight of the fire, Tagliapietra told her his heart was “actually exploding.”

“With all of the hard work he has put into that place to make it what it was, to see it crumble in front of our eyes is unbelievable,” Duncan said.

One former skater told Duncan that “the rink wasn’t just a building, it was our family.”

Barbara Nowak, 18, of McHenry celebrated her First Communion and had all of her birthday parties at the rink. She, her sisters and mother also worked there. Her sister had her baby shower there, and her nephew’s first birthday was celebrated at the rink.

She also was set to have her graduation photos taken at the rink Friday.

After seeing video posted Thursday night on Facebook and witnessing the billowing smoke outside her home, which is about five minutes away, Nowak called Duncan and made her way to the building, where she remained until 3:30 a.m. Friday.

“That’s my home,” Nowak said Friday morning, her voice cracking. “That’s just always where I went. I met all my friends there. It is where I would go whenever I got sad. That was just my peaceful place.”

When Nowak arrived, she said she “saw fire. Nothing else. Nothing else. … It really hurts.”

Regarding plans to reboot the business, Duncan said she was approached by an investor Sept. 20, the last day she was physically moving out of the building and after two times the taxes were to be bought by outside companies who then backed out.

The investor expressed interest in working with her to restore the building. The new plans included multiple uses with the roller rink remaining front and center, as well as basketball, indoor soccer and space for exercise classes, Duncan said.

The 2.65-acre property that the rink sits on, located along the busy Route 31 corridor through McHenry, remains for sale for $220,000, according to its listing.

• Northwest Herald editor Emily K. Coleman contributed to this report.

We are deeply saddened that McHenry has lost such a historic building to a fire. As some of you may recall, we closed...

Posted by Just For Fun Roller Rink - Mchenry on Thursday, May 27, 2021