Photos: The Amazing History Of The Soon-To-Be Demolished L.A. Sports Arena
Fifty-six years ago this month, the Los Angeles Sports Arena opened its doors to the public and for decades served as the premier destination in L.A. for sports and entertainment. And while the Sports Arena has many events planned until at least April 2016—including tonight's boxing match between Mauricio Herrera and "Hammerin'" Hank Lundy—there is a proposed plan to demolish the historical venue to build a soccer stadium. Thankfully, though, the amazing history of the Exposition Park venue guarantees its permanent status as an L.A. icon.
From J.F.K. to Cassius Clay, Magic Johnson to Michael Jackson, the Arena has hosted an impressive array of legends from the worlds of sports, politics and entertainment. While the aging venue may have been overshadowed by more modern options in recent years, for innumerable Angelenos and visitors from around the world, the Arena has long been the place to catch a show. Joe Furin, general manager of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and Sports Arena, tells LAist, "It's not just a building and walls and a roof and the events that happened there, but it's deep in the fabric of the community of Los Angeles and the growth that the city had."
Built to host the 1960 Democratic National Convention where John F. Kennedy was nominated for president, the Sports Arena was considered L.A.'s first convention center. When the doors opened on July 4th, 1959, then-Vice President Richard Nixon dedicated the Arena to veterans of World War II and the Korean War (it's neighboring counterpart, the Coliseum, pays tribute to WWI vets). But before J.F.K. took the stage, a huge crowd packed the Arena on July 8th to watch the bantamweight boxing title match between Jose Becerra and Alphonse Halimi (seen below, in Spanish), considered the equivalent of Muhammed Ali vs. George Foreman for those days.
The Sports Arena would go on to host many more boxing matches, featuring some of the biggest names in the sport. Known as the place where fighters went when they were too big to box at the nearby Olympic Auditorium, fans gathered to see world champs, including Rubin "Hurricane" Carter and Cassius Clay (before he was known as Muhammed Ali). Decades later, the Arena also hosted the boxing competitions for the 1984 Olympics.
Basketball was another major attraction offered by the Arena, beginning when the former-Minneapolis Lakers first arrived in town and called the venue their new home for the next seven seasons. The Clippers also played at the Arena when they arrived from San Diego in 1984 and played there for the next 15 years. And let's not forget that the Sports Arena also was home to USC basketball (1959-2006), and UCLA basketball (1959-65). Plenty of hockey has also been played under the roof of the Arena, including minor league team the Los Angels Blades (1961-67), as well as the Kings in 1967. And from 1960 until 2004, the venue was home to the annual Los Angeles Invitational track meet.
The Arena has also hosted countless other entertainment spectacles of all stripes, including the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus, Ice Follies, Wrestlemania, car shows and more. Over the decades fans have also flooded the venue to see Bruce Springsteen, The Grateful Dead, U2, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Black Sabbath, and scores of other musicians and international performers.
And J.F.K.'s nomination was far from the only political event hosted at the Arena. That same year, 25,000 people showed up to the 18,000 seat venue to hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak at a Freedom Rally. The following year future California Governor and President Ronald Reagan was joined by Pat Boone and other speakers at an anti-communism rally that warned the roughly 16,000 attendees of the threat of "Red treachery." In the decades to come, numerous political rallies and religious gatherings were held both inside and outside the walls of the Arena.
As many entertainers and heroes—both local and international—as the Los Angeles Sports Arena has hosted over the past 56 years, it seems the iconic destination may not be with us for much longer. Despite renovations and retrofits over the years, the historic venue has found it difficult to compete against more modern alternatives that have sprouted up around town. Part of what made the Arena so special—its ability to host such a diverse array of tenants—ultimately may have been part of its downfall. Starting with the Lakers departure in 1967, teams were no longer content to share the spotlight with others and sought homes that could cater more to their specific needs and branding.
More recent proposals to update the aging space were met with the costly and seemingly insurmountable challenges of modernizing the Arena to current standards. So while there's no date set in stone for demolition just yet, the venue's days seem to be numbered. Fortunately the spirit of the Los Angeles Sports Arena will live on in the hearts and minds of Angelenos and anyone else who has visited the site over the decades. As Joe Furin explains:
We have visitors, we have people come by and I always ask them "Where are you from?" and "Why are you here?" and that's where you really get the sense of the connection to the community. They'll say, "This is where my dad took me, or this is where my grandfather took my father to a game." And you realize what a special connection there is here for a lot of people.
Editor's note: This post originally stated that Saturday night's boxing match may be the arena's last show before being demolished for a soccer stadium, however, the venue still has events planned until at least April 2016 before the proposed plan for demolition. We apologize for the error.