AS I SEE IT 1/12: Historic wrestling venue to be torn down...and what you can do

by: Bob Magee

The legendary Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis, home to Memphis wrestling over many legendary years, will be torn down if Memphis Mayor Willie W. Herenton gets his way.

Memphis Mayor Willie W. Herenton stated in an interview aired on Memphis's WMC TV this past week: "I'm an advocate of razing the coliseum, cutting our losses. You can't have losses at the Coliseum and at the Pyramid if you're going to support the FedEx Forum."

The FedEx Forum, is a new venue being built in Memphis, accompanying the still fairly new Pyramid. City officials feel that the city doesn't need three venues, and seem to suggest that the Coliseum, with a $250,000 2003 deficit may make it the odd man (or rather odd building) out.

Coliseum management says 2004 is looking up with major shows like Three Doors Down and John Mayer coming in January and February, with 2004 projected at a $50,000 deficit with at least one major entertainment booker saying that Coliseum can at least break even, if not turn a profit, if Coliseum management is creative in booking entertainment and sports.

The issue seems to be that the mayor and several city council members don't want the coliseum taking business away from the Pyramid, which will have to work for business when the FedEx Forum opens.

A study is being done on the entire Fairgrounds site including the Mid-South Coliseum, and nearby Tim McCarver Stadium to see what can be done with the property. Nothing will happen in 2004 as the Coliseum has contractual obligations through the year...but beyond that may be a different story.

The Mid-South Coliseum is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. However, this designation only recognizes the Coliseum's "importance to the community". It does not protect the building's future, meaning the city can demolish the building. The only situation in which a listing on the National Register of Historic Places can preserve the historic wrestling venue is one where it receives federal funding. In such a situation, the building could not be demolished.

All too many historic wrestling venues have been demolished over the years. Here are just two of them.

The Keil Auditorium, originally the home of Sam Muchnick's St. Louis territory, and subsequently home to shows of WWF and WCW, featuring names ranging from Gorgeous George to Jack Brisco, Dick Murdoch, Dory Funk, Jr., Pat O’Connor and Terry Funk to The Great Muta, Rey Misterio (Jr.) and Konnan.

The venue had the interesting sidelight of having an Opera House attached to it; which is still standing, having been saved from demolition when the Keil Auditorium and its associated parking garage were torn down for the new Keil (now re-named Saavis) Center.

The Opera House was a smaller venue used for operas, concerts and more "highbrow" events. It was not unusual for a wrestling show to be scheduled at the Keil Auditorium at the same Friday nights that an opera or concert was being held at the Opera House. One wonders what some of those patrons of the arts thought about those in line close by them back in those days.

The venue featured its last major show on December 16, 1990 with Starrcade 1990, and was torn down in December 1992 to make way for a new venue called the Keil (now Saavis) Center, which houses WWE house shows and televised events to this day, as well as the NHL's St. Louis Blues, St. Louis University basketball and other indoor events.

The Sportatorium (Dallas, TX) at its peak featured Jack (Fritz Von Erich) Adkisson's World Class Championship Wrestling and the hottest wrestling feuds in North America as Terry Gordy, Michael Hayes, Buddy Roberts as the Freebirds went against Kerry, Kevin, Mike and Fritz Von Erich... along with Chris Adams, Gino Hernandez, Bruiser Brody, Iceman King Parsons, John Tatum, Eric Embry and numerous others. The promotion's TV, originating from the Sportatorium, went across the United States in the 1980s as one of the first territories to nationally syndicate their TV, and later out all over North America on ESPN.

While the unassuming looking building housed rock concerts and other events, its true fame came from its wrestling shows, though...a fame that was spread literally around the world.

Gray Pierson, who promoted wrestling at the Sportatorium (and actually ran the building for two years) had a great story about the building's fame from the 1992 Republican National Convention. Republicans were nominating then President George Bush Sr. for a second term as their party's nominee for President. President Bush invited a delegation from Saudi Arabia to attend the Convention. Pierson remembered that the delegation actually came via Dallas first,"...because they wanted to go to the Sportatorium. They had all these Secret Service men with them, and they came just to see the Sportatorium."

As an aside, it should be noted this wasn't the former President's first connection to wrestling. President Bush and wife Barbara were wrestling fans who attended Paul Boesch's Houston shows and were friendly with Boesch, to the extent that the legendary Houston promoter was a campaign contributor and helped the future President in his early Congressional campaigns.

So with these memories of historic wrestling seems that the Mid-South Coliseum may join this list of fondly remembered venues only visible in our mind's eye, if Mayor Herndon has his way.

Ironically, Herndon had to hold off a spirited challenge, just to get elected, from Memphis wrestling legend and public figure Jerry "The King" Lawler, who spent each Monday night year after year at the Mid-South Coliseum.

PWBTS, the flagship site of this column, regularly features Scott Bowden's Kentucky Fried Rasslin' which tells great stories about Bowden's career as a manager with and around the legends of Memphis wrestling.

But more than a few outside Memphis remember the legendary days of Memphis wrestling.
The Philadelphia independent wrestling scene of today even got its birth back in the late 1980s and 1990s with a Memphis flavor, as 'Rasslin Radio talk show host Joel Goodhart, sponsored fan trips to Memphis and later founded the Tri-State Wrestling Alliance, a promotion with a heavy Memphis blood and brawling flavor which stayed in business from 1989-1992, with its most notable program the Cactus Jack-Eddie Gilbert series of matches in 1990 and 1991.

From the TWA came ECW in 1992, and the rest, as they say, is history. Another thing that came to wrestling and to the Philadelphia wrestling market from those Memphis trips and seeing those shows at the Mid-South Coliseum was a fan attending one of the Memphis trips...wrestling fan Brian Heffron, who was about to go to wrestling school... He's better known today as The Blue Meanie.

Those fans, and generations of fans that treasure all the wrestling that happened at the Coliseum would like to see the building remain open and to see the City of Memphis make an positive effort to keep such a historic structure open.

One wonders what country music fans would think if a Mayor of Nashville suggested that the Ryman Auditorium, home of the Grand Old Opry, be torn down so a new, bigger building could be "properly supported". I suspect that Mayor would be ridden out of town on a rail or worse.

Those fans who would like to share your opinions on this matter with the Memphis Mayor and City Council, their contact information is below (thanks to Devon Cutting for the information):

Willie W. Herenton
City Hall
125 N. Main Street
Suite 700
Memphis, TN 38103
Phone: (901) 576-6007
Fax: (901) 576-6023

EC Jones
Council Member - District 1
2920 Vista View
Memphis TN 38127
(901) 358-2918

Brent Taylor
Chairman of the City Council - District 2
736 N. Ericson
Cordova TN 38018

Tajuan Stout Mitchell
Council Member - District 3
3558 Acacia Drive
Memphis TN 38116
(901) 398-7408 .

Janet Hooks
Council Member - District 4
993 S. Cooper
Memphis TN 38104
(901) 278-1122

John C. Vergos
Council Member - District 5
671 West Drive
Memphis, TN 38112
(901) 523-2746
(901) 522-8840

Edmund Ford
Council Member - District 6
917 Summer Shade
Memphis TN 38116
(901) 396-1555

Barbara Swearengen Holt
Council Member - District 7
1636 Sydney
Memphis TN 38108
(901) 458-9406

Joe Brown
Council Member - District 8 Position 1
1384 Jackson
Memphis TN 38107
(901) 274-4724

Rickey W. Peete
Vice Chairman - District 8 Position Two
915 N. McLean
Memphis TN 38107
(901) 278-7464

Myron Lowery
Council Member - District 8 Position 3
128 Harbor Isle Circle
Memphis TN 38103
(901) 521-4300

Pat Vander Schaaf
Council Member - District 9 Position 1
3600 Beechollow
Memphis, TN 38128
(901) 386-7846

Tom Marshall
Council Member - District 9 Position 2
5859 Ridge Bend Road
Memphis, TN 38120
(901) 791-0115

Jack Sammons
Council Member - District 9 Position 3
208 St. Albans Fairway
Memphis TN 38111
(901) 576-6786

Pamela Crislip
City Council Staff Member

Pat Kelly Donaldson
City Council Staff Member

Ann Gallaway
City Council Staff Member

Lisa Geater
City Council Staff Member
576-6783 .

May Hailey
City Council Staff Member
576-6782 .

Lisa White
City Council Staff Member

Juaness Keplinger
City Council Staff Member

Pat Lewis
City Council Staff Member

Suzanne Martin
City Council Staff Member

Brenda Shands
City Council Staff Member

Venita Walker
City Council Staff Member

Sophia Wordlaw
City Council Staff Member

Until next time...

(Credit for pictures: Keil Auditorium picture from BALLPARKS by Munsey and Snipes and The Sportatorium picture from All Things Callaway).


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