Growing up on the east coast of the United States, I was only relegated to watching the WWF on television. It wasn’t until the mid 1980’s when I got cable TV, that a whole new world of professional wrestling was opened up to me. I was able to watch the NWA on the Superstation TBS and of course World Class Championship Wrestling on ESPN. It was WCCW that really piqued my interest seeing stars like the Von Erichs, the Freebirds, Gino Hernandez, Chris Adams and Iceman King Parsons. The fans were red hot from the beginning of the show until the end. It all hailed from….as WCCW announcer Bill Mercer said…”The World famous Sportatorium in Dallas, Texas.”
The World Class show really opened my eyes to a less cartoonish brand of pro wrestling with just as much quality of entertainment…if not more. The arena always looked jammed with die hard wrestling fans. The fans at the Sportatorium seemed red hot from the opening bell of the card to the ending of the main event. This to me, what made me really delve deeper into the business and the various other promotions and territories across the country and around the world.
The original Sportatorium was built by the Cox Fence company in 1934 and was shaped as an octagon. The first promoter to bring professional wrestling to the building was a man named Bill Willoughby. He promoted wrestling until 1940, when one of his employees named Ed McLemore bought his company. It was McLemore who really grew the popularity of pro wrestling in Dallas, Texas. A portion of the Sportatorium was burned down by arsonists as mentioned here. It was ultimately renovated and reopened in 1953.
After Ed McLemore died in 1969, he left his Big Time Wrestling promotion to his business partner Jack Adkisson aka Fritz Von Erich. According to his son Kevin Von Erich, Fritz wanted to rename the Dallas promotion Major League Wrestling, but was talked out of it and eventually settled on World Class Championship Wrestling or WCCW for short in 1981.
WCCW really exploded and became one of the hottest territories once the feud between the Von Erich family and Freebirds commenced. The Dallas Sportatorium became the main site of some of the most classic battles and feuds in the history of the wrestling business. If you were lucky enough to purchase a ticket and attend a show there live…you got to literally reach out and touch many of the stars as they made their way to the ring through the swarm of rabid onlookers.
The Sportatorium seated roughly 4,500 and during the early 80’s…you better believe was standing room only. Fans lit up cigarettes without a second thought. There were no metal barriers keeping fans protected from the action…just a simple rope. According to Jim Cornette, Fritz never kept up on renovations and the place began to slowly deteriorate. Cornette said that the place was infested with rats (The four legged kind). The bathroom didn’t have separated urinals…but a trough for all to relieve themselves in between matches.
Despite all of these issues, the Dallas Sportaorium was beloved by many. A wrestling landmark that saw so many greats like Lou Thesz, Harley Race, Ric Flair and many more compete within the tin walls. The Sportatorium also saw musical legends perform there including Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley.
When WCCW folded, the Global Wrestling Federation moved in to the Sportatorium beginning in 1991 until 1994. Jim Crockett Jr also promoted cards at the famed venue after he had sold his own promotion to Ted Turner. Ultimately, the Sportatorium was left in shambles. Homeless individuals used the vacated landmark as a shelter. In February of 2003, the place was completely demolished. The once proud venue that was located at the intersection of Industrial Boulevard and Cadiz Street near downtown Dallas was no more.
As the area where the Sportatorium once stood is being upgraded…there have been some rumblings of a possible new Sportatorium being built (not at the same address). Pro wrestling in Texas has seen a big reemergence of sorts lately and a new Sportatorium would be an awesome addition. Whether that actually happens or not, remains to be seen…but for now I think back to the run down tin barn that was once a Mecca for professional wrestling.