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Posted by on Jun 6, 2023 in Blog | 0 comments

Every Picture Tells a Story: Dallas Sportatorium (1970s)




The old Dallas Sportatorium was a massive rat-infested shithole of a barn made out of chain link fences stapled over with sheet metal just south of Downtown Dallas on Industrial Blvd. next to the Trinity River in between a chain of cheap liquor stores and scuzzy porno shops. Gawd, I loved that place.

It had a dirt parking lot littered with broken beer bottles that became a giant mud pit when it rained or the Trinity River flooded which happened all the time and lacked heating or air conditioning which made it almost unbearable year around, except for reptiles. Opened during deepest depths of the Great Depression, the arena originally held 10,000, later reduced to a capacity of 4,500 after one of (multiple) mysterious fires torched the building. It looked like the prison in Cool Hand Luke.

The Texas Jamboree (I think that’s the name) held a popular country music show there that was broadcast nationwide in the 30s and 40s. It was as popular as the Grand Ole Opry. Hank Williams, Sr. played one of his final concerts there. Elvis played the Dallas Sportatorium in the 50s several times. So did Chuck Berry and Ray Charles. Then, as the neighborhood deteriorated in the 60s, it started drawing rock and blues bands and was eventually transformed into the epicenter of the Dallas wrestling scene. Wrestling happened every Tuesday night at the Dallas Sportatorium. It cost $2 to get in. I think the ringside seats were $3. There wasn’t a bad seat in the house, even though the place was unfit for humanity and you might as well check any sense of reality at the front door. Everybody inside seemed like a character straight out of a Marty Stuart song. If there’s such a thing as cheap fun and trailer trash, this was working-class Dallas entertainment’s toxic waste dump.

Wrestling was the most entertaining thing on television when you’re an 11-year-old kid. I was 11 in 1973. I remember Dallas people hated and always looked down on Ft. Worth people, only 30 miles away, but looked to be 30 years behind the times, a “cowtown.” But Ft. Worth did enjoy one big advantage over Dallas in that its weekly wrestling matches were televised on local Channel 11, held at the Northside Coliseum in the Stockyards. We all watched wrestling from Ft. Worth every Saturday night. It was wild fun. The first match came on promptly at 10 pm, and the live show lasted for 90 minutes.

Wrestling had the good guys and the bad guys, and the bad guys were always far more interesting, at least to me. The bad guys also usually had “managers” (anyone else remember “Playboy” Gary Hart?), who were even more despised and despicable. Gary Hart used to dress in flashy clothes and was a hippie who wore sunglasses indoors, and, of course, he was a cheat. The bad guys would scream at the poor TV interviewer (usually a pip-squeek-looking Wally Cox figure), made wild threats at the yelling fans, and would often sneak up on the good guys in the middle of their TV interviewers and clobber them over the head with metal chairs. It was a miracle that no one ever suffered a concussion after being cracked in the skull with a metal chair. It was also incredibly odd that somehow an empty metal chair was always positioned right next to the ring. How convenient. “Here comes Gary Hart with a chair! Look out!” Bamm!

Saturday night’s TV broadcast was the most manipulative thing I’ve ever seen, far more contrived than any current reality TV show. The Ft. Worth matches would be at the 11:29 pm mark, about 60 seconds from going off the air. The timing was always uncanny. The main event wrestling match would be absolute bedlam, the good guy sprawled out on the canvass floundering like a fish out of water, and the bad guy would tower in the air about to leap off the corner turnbuckle and pin the hero with a choke hold, all while Gary Hart was stalking at ringside swinging a metal chair. Each time one of the wrestlers was slammed in the ring, sheets of thin plywood covered by the canvas would make this loud banging sound. I think they did that intentionally, The bell rang like crazy. Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding…..this went on 4 or 5 minutes. Meanwhile, a worthless good-for-nothing “referee” was helpless to stop all the mayhem. A few thousand fans just feet away were screaming their lungs out for blood. And just as the match was about to end, the announcer would hollar over the chaos, “…..well folks, that’s all for tonight, we’re out of time…..but tickets are still available to Tuesday’s matches at the Dallas Sportatorium.” Screen flashes black. Off the air.

To know who “won” you had to be there. Talk about a tease.

This photo was taken in 2001 (I think) when I visited my mother in Dallas. The Sportatorium had just suffered another one of its mysterious fires — how the hell does a chain link fence and sheet metal CATCH ON FIRE??? It was demolished a few years later. More to come.

Note:  My mother hated wrestling, and thought it was stupid, but she took me to several matches at the Sportatorium. I just realized there are far more great wrestling memories than I realized. So, I’ll post Part 2 tomorrow with some of those memories.

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