San Diego history: Coliseum Athletic Club tells a story of a bygone era of fight clubs
by Johnny McDonald
Published - 01/06/12 - 03:35 PM | 2 2 comments | 48 48 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Coliseum Athletic Club was located at 15th and E streets. Courtesy photo. Illustration by Kendra Hartmann
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The impressions of old ticket windows can be seen along the wall at 15th and E streets, once the home of San Diego’s Friday night fights. Boxing’s future elite performed in the smoke-filled Coliseum Athletic Club.

It was a gathering place for San Diego’s leading citizens, gamblers and occasional visits by Hollywood celebrities, stopping off en route to a weekend of horse racing at Agua Caliente.

They didn’t seem to mind that the old metal and wood flip-down chairs were in constant need of repair. As long as two men were willing to pound away for four to 10 rounds of boxing, they were satisfied.

The symmetrically shaped 3,521-seat arena sprang up in 1924 when professional boxing and wrestling were legalized in California. Around part of the perimeter were “cheap seat” bleachers, called the gallery.

The Coliseum became one of Southland’s three major boxing marquees, along with the Hollywood Legion Stadium and South Los Angeles’ Olympic Auditorium.

The scene inside the old clubs was like nothing that can be found today. The raucous atmosphere where fighters exited a cramped dressing room and walked down an isle to the ring is missing from today’s matches staged in nightclubs, hotels or casinos.

Inside, mystic sounds might echo the flourishing days of the 1920s and 1930s.

The tiny dressing room became the headquarters and a springboard for future world champions Jimmy McLarnin, Tommy Loughran, Henry Armstrong, Ceferino Garcia and Jimmy Braddock. In later years, there would be Archie Moore and Ken Norton.

Fans would congregate around a concession stand outside the arena before the fights and during intermission. The management finally caved, removing some bleachers and building a concession stand inside, which almost became the club’s undoing when an unattended stove was responsible for a fire in 1938 that destroyed the interior. Fortunately, the solid walls held firm.

The 22-year-old Moore arrived from St. Louis the next day, scheduled to fight in the following week’s main event. Locals found him lodging and a watchman’s job until the club’s interior was rebuilt. The ageless wonder, who fought until he was 49, had a Coliseum record of 22 victories (15 knockouts), four losses and two draws, made San Diego his home until he died in 1998.

The place struggled in the 1950s and 1960s when crowds dropped off. Finally, unable to recover from the losses, its doors closed on Aug. 1, 1974. While 1974 nationally had been a good year for boxing, the club was not so lucky: financial losses reached $50,000.

The original owners, Frank Higgins and Tom Landis, operated the place until promoter Linn Platner took over from 1925 until 1943. The trio of Hugh Nichols — a Hollywood wrestler — Grady Skelton and Travis Hatfield made the most of it through the war years.

“We ran around 50 shows a year and probably had between 10 to 12 sellouts when we had to turn people away,” Platner once said. “And we had some great fighters. They were looking for work, we were looking for talent.”

The glamour long gone, the Coliseum today is just another bland section of a huge warehouse, the interior gutted of chairs, boxing ring and dressing room. Nothing but the outside impressions of the ticket windows — remnants of a forgotten era — remain.

In its heyday, however, the Coliseum saw no shortage of big names, both in the ring and in the bleachers. Curley Morgan, the ring announcer from 1927 until the 1950s, startled a few ringsiders one night.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he opened. “I’d like to introduce you to Al Capone.” The gangster stood up and took a bow.

Yes, everyone came to the Coliseum.
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Robert M Harding Jr.
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April 15, 2017
I recently helped Helix Mechanical on April 14th 2017, and I love history, and when Craig the foreman of job explained to me what it was, I WAS FLOORED !!! in the late 1960s my Dad would drag me willingly to the Friday night fights !!!! Many times i sat with the lights down dark with just the arena lights on, smoke filled atmosphere sitting up in the bleachers looking down. The great memories of my late Dad (who loved boxing) I can recall him pointing out Jerry Quarry, a heavyweight n those days. Cant remember if he was in the crowd or he fought. (can someone look that up 68-69) Dad always pointed out famous people to me that sat near the ring in the pit. I got to walk around on the concrete walkway again this day, just like I used to when holding my dads hand at 6 years old. WE SHOULD HISTORICALLY save some of this. Can they incorporate it in the next business. What a great theme for a night spot.

Marcus A. Ojeda
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October 22, 2017
My Father took me to the fights to when I was a little guy.

These are some great memories.

I can remember when the announcer would introduce fighters that were in the audience before the main event. Kenny Norton was introduced and also the big villain Jack O'halloran, who gave Norton a kick in the rear as he was leaving the ring. The crowd booed him like crazy! There was this big fight with Mike Quarry and another guy who's name I can't remember, Quarry who was supposed to go on to fight Michael Spinks, (Leon's brother) was KOd with a single shot to the head. The crowd exploded! It would get so loud in there! People stomping there feet and hands on those hollow bleachers. Coins and dollar bills thrown in the ring for great fights, lame fights got boo's and beer thrown in the ring. There was fighter who was called "Windmill White" who would always jeer on the crowd as they booed him. He was a tall light heavy weight and would enter the ring by stepping over the top rope and hit his opponents from behind his back. He was always entertaining to say the least.

Then there was Irish Spud Murphy, in high school fighting main events. He was awarded fight of the year in 1978 against a Mexican fighter named Erik.

I saw another artical stating his opponent was

named Sammy Meza. I remember the fighter being named Erik. Spud fought out of gym Boxing Club of America which was located in East San Diego run by his father Mr Murphy. Gym was sponsored the late Dr. Michael Dean. Other fighters out of The Boxing Club of America that I can remember were Steve Delgado, Micah True and Mike "the animal" something.

Spud went to my wedding in 1979.

I was very sorry to hear of his passing in 1989.

He was a good guy..

Getting back to the coliseum, Art Gonzalez took me to a wrestling match, I remember a guy named Farmer John, he came out in overalls. This was probably around 1968. Later in the 70's I remember there be being a big poster hanging on the wall by the concession stand of Andre the Giant.
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