Phoenix Madison Square Garden


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At 7th Avenue and Adams in downtown Phoenix a building once stood where people watched everything from boxing matches to revival meetings. It was called Phoenix Madison Square Garden. Over its fifty year history Arizonans listened to Jerry Lee Lewis banging the keys and Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, and Willie Nelson sing. They cheered on boxing great Zora Folley and professional wrestling legend Tito Montez, and witnessed Brother Branham preach. In 2005 the building was torn down and replaced by an office building; a placid and quiet place where every day people go to work. Perhaps if they listen carefully they'll hear the sounds of history still emanating from a place where people came together to sweat, pray and scream.


Narrator: At 7th Avenue and Adams in downtown Phoenix, cars speed by and pedestrians pass without a glance. But there was a time when the residents of a smaller, less urban phoenix gathered together at a building that once stood here to watch everything from boxing matches to revival meetings. It was called Phoenix Madison Square Garden.

Vince Murray: Phoenix Madison Square Garden was the first indoor arena built specifically for pugnacious sports; that is, boxing and wrestling. For 50 years, it was an incredibly popular venue for people to go to.

Al McCoy: It was an old building, but it had that rustic appeal where fans came and smoked cigars and drank beer and cheered for their favorite fighters.

Narrator: From 1929 to 1979, people from all over Phoenix flooded into Madison Square Garden. One of the most popular attractions was professional wrestling. Wrestling at Phoenix Madison Square Garden was a combination of sport and entertainment, a kind of ritual drama that pitted bad-guy characters known as heels against good guys known as baby faces.

Jody Arnold: I was a bad guy, and people did not like me, and I made sure they didn't like me.

Tito Montez: And I got a -- I got a knot up here on my head that I owe to Jody Arnold.

Vince Murray: You had people like Jimmy Londos, who was already famous, coming into Madison Square Garden, and then later on you had people like Gorgeous George, who was well known, very flamboyant. Tito Montez was the most popular wrestler known locally at Madison Square Garden.

Tito Montez: The time that I spent there, I was home. Sometimes I had bad matches, sometimes I had good matches. We spent more time there than we did with our own wives and kids.

Billy Anderson: Tito was a giant here in Arizona, one of the biggest stars this state has ever known. And we always recognize Tito and love him for everything he did.

Vince Murray: The women wrestlers were even more popular, to see women actually doing that.

Barbara Star: I started in 1974. And I wrestled until 1984. And I loved it, every minute of it.

Vince Murray: Depending on who was winning or losing, that audience could get really out of hand.

Tito Montez: It was crazy when you won. I mean, they would go crazy.

Tony Martinez: If you stop and listen, you can hear the crowd still. And it gives you chills.

David Rose: The sounds of the fans, the smell in the arena, the old dust that gets stirred up.

Vince Murray: The one match that I can remember the best, I cannot remember who the fighters were, but they ended up rolling out of the ring, out the front doors, and finished the fight out in the middle of 7th Avenue. The place was incredible.

Narrator: Phoenix Madison Square Garden was also a Mecca for boxing entertainment during the same period from the late '20s to the late '70s.

Raul Castro: It was a big crowd, a very lively crowd. It was quite a place. It was a place to be in those days.

Al McCoy: I was hired as the ring announcer, so, you know, "In this corner, wearing the purple trunks with the white stripe, weighing 172," that was me. There were many, many nationally ranked fighters here in Phoenix.

Vince Murray: You had people like John Henry Lewis, who was an African-American boxer, had got his start there, and he went on to national acclaim.

Al McCoy: Probably the best known would be the late Zora Folley, who, of course, was from Chandler, who fought for the heavyweight championship.

Vince Murray: Zora was probably the greatest boxer that ever came out of Arizona, and he got his start at Madison Square Garden.

Narrator: During the 1950s, Phoenix Madison Square Garden was also used as a popular music venue.

Vince Murray: After the war, people were kind of switching away from the "Glenn Miller Orchestra" style of music and moving into this new thing, which was Country and Western. And certainly Madison Square Garden was one of those places where Country and Western was taking off.

Narrator: Starting in 1953, a show called the Arizona Hayride brought a number of big-name acts to the Phoenix area, including Sanford Clark, Al Casey, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Clark, Buck Owens, Jimmy Spellman, and Jimmy & Duane.

Ray Odom: We had young people, we had people in their 80s or older. It was just the general population, and these were country shows, and these were great country music fans.

Vince Murray: And for four years, they were putting on some very popular shows. They were on the radio, they were on television.

Ray Odom: But hugely successful. It was just sold out every Saturday night. Johnny Cash, June Carter, Ray Price, Patsy Cline, the list just goes on and on and on.

Narrator: The music act eventually grew too large and moved on to other venues in the mid to late 1950s. But Phoenix Madison Square Garden continued to be home to boxing and wrestling events and even to Christian revival meetings.

Vince Murray: It was a place that you could go to hear the popular evangelical sermons of the time, where you could come and see people like Brother William Branham come and preach the gospel.

Narrator: Brother Branham, a preacher more popular at the time than even Oral Roberts, preached a progressive message of desegregation in a building that boasted open doors for every event, whether it was a revival meeting or a wrestling match.

Voice of Branham: To the whites, to the Spanish, to the colored, to the Indian, to whoever it is, peace be unto you. God bless you is my prayer. Amen.

Vince Murray: It was a place that was desegregated prior to desegregation existing everywhere else.

Narrator: In the late 1970s, competition from sports on television and a changing city landscape forced Phoenix Madison Square Garden to close. The building was used for other purposes until 2005, when it was torn down and replaced by an office building, a placid and quiet place where everyday people go to work. Perhaps if they listen carefully, they'll hear brother Branham preach, Jerry lee Lewis banging the keys, or crowds cheering on Zora Folley and Tito Montez, the sounds of history still emanating from a place where people came together to sweat, pray, and scream.

Al McCoy: But Phoenix Madison Square Garden has a lot of memories in those boards and nails that have been torn down.

Raul Castro: Madison Square Garden was very unique. It was a very unique place.

Ray Odom: That was our home every Saturday night for all those years.

Tito Montez: And Madison Square Garden was my home, and it'll always be my home.

Vince Murray: It's a part of Phoenix's history. It's a part of the way Phoenix was at one time.