Donnelly Design | Sports Basement – Berkeley Iceland
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Sports Basement – Berkeley Iceland

Sports Basement has a unique business approach which focuses on engaging the communities where their stores are located. They took on what was most likely their largest challenge when they decided to turn the historic Berkeley Iceland into their most recently opened store.

Berkeley Iceland was an indoor skating facility funded by local community leaders and built by W. A. Bechtel in 1939. It was home to a number of highly notable events, including first gold medals for future Olympic champions Dick Button in 1947 and Peggy Fleming in 1966. Frank Zamboni became manager in 1956 and eventually the rink owner.


Most importantly, Iceland had for a number of years been an important gathering place for the Berkeley community.


Changes in state and local building, environmental and life safety codes made it so the refrigeration system was no longer practical to maintain or economically feasible to replace, so in 2007 the rink was closed. A local citizens group was formed to protect this important part of Berkeley history and community from demolition, however it was difficult to find someone with the vision for reuse of such a specialized building.


Iceland’s landmark rooftop sign was in a state of disrepair.


Sports Basement’s unique concept and focus on community engagement proved to be the right answer to this community concern. It took Sports Basement in excess of 2 years to gain the necessary approvals and entitlements to move their construction project forward, however, they persisted and now have a completely unique and very large store in the heart of Berkeley. They have engendered great community support, as they have carefully preserved much of the building’s historic structure and character. The Sports Basement culture overlaid on this funky building has turned out to be a perfect marriage.

I lead the design effort for the site branding signs (while with GNU). Blending Sports Basement’s brand with the iconic original identification signs, and keeping to historic construction and lighting detailing meant taking a different approach to retail branding.

We thoroughly surveyed the existing signs and found historic photos to understand the original design intent. We determined from this survey work that refurbishing of the existing sign structures was impractical, but we were determined to closely replicate the original sign elements.

Integrating Sports Basement’s brand into this design approach was another significant challenge. Fortunately, Sports Basement’s branding approach is not the typical standards color/font/brandmark approach used by larger chain retailers. Part of their integration with communities is acknowledgement that their brand might need to be flexible enough to adapt to various community and architectural conditions, therefore this was an ultimate test of this flexibility.


As the existing signs were too deteriorated to refurbish, so we took the strategy of designing new elements, staying as true as possible to the original signs while carefully integrating Sports Basement’s brand.


We think the result is an excellent melding of their brand with the historic building (and sign’s) tone in the community.


Thanks to Howard Curtis for his great work in the design effort, Ellis & Ellis for their high quality fabrication work, and Sports Basement for their unique vision in seeing this project through.


The original rooftop sign is now the backdrop for the store’s checkout counter.