Though many locations I photograph and share this year will remain anonymous due to numerous reasons – from the people who like to ruin them, as well as for the sake of keeping their stories and location as mysterious as most explorers love them to be, there will be the few throughout the year that do get a bit of the spot light. This location happens to be one of those. Not only is this a place known world-wide, but demolition has now begun, which will very soon leave this as nothing more than a memory, as sad as that is. It’s also sad that so many people find this desire to go out and ruin locations for other people. I wish we could all share a love for their beauty and history, simply photograph them, enjoy them and leave…that’s sadly not the case. Since this place is on its way to the dirt, I suppose I would like to share its story for those interested, and those who care about history and the beauty of these places.
I do want to thank Kari Miller – another photographer who I know through photographing abandoned places. She was amazing enough to help us out on this one and make it possible to see it before it was completely torn apart! You can check out her photos (which are incredibly awesome) over at her website here – www.peelingpaintphotography.com
The Blue Horizon – a beautiful, historic boxing venue in Philadelphia. The venue formerly held 1,500 seats and was even voted the #1 boxing venue in the world by The Ring magazine. So, how exactly did it come to be abandoned and nearly forgotten about?
How can we become so wasteful, blind and forgetful of these structures that tell great stories of United States, or even World history? Surely this venue has far more historic significance than many of the numerous abandoned warehouses sprawled across our country’s landscape. An article in Sports Illustrated had even said that they believed it was the last great boxing venue in the country. So how is it that the future befalling this once great structure is nearly the same as these disused warehouses, or for that matter, the trash in your very own kitchen?
I always find it so difficult to grasp when I see places like this simply allowed to fall into such disrepair, crumbling to pieces. I find it so insane that someone can even conceive the idea in their head that it would be better off having nothing, or in this case, covering historically significant beauty with a parking garage.
Of the numerous amazing, historic moments to take place within these walls, one of the most unforgettable moments to many would be the appearance of the Blue Horizon ring in the film Rocky V, when some of the fight scenes with Tommy Morrison being filmed in this very location. The ring was also used during the filming of boxing scenes in the movie Annapolis, featuring James Franco and Tyrese Gibson.
Let’s take a step back and talk about how it all began, because I personally believe that these places need to be remembered, not just so simply tossed like they were trash.
The building which would come to be home to this great boxing venue was actually originally constructed for entirely different purposes. Before its life as a boxing venue, the Blue Horizon was constructed as three four-story Second Empire style houses in 1865. Second Empire was an architectural style largely popular nearer to the second half of the nineteenth century, spanning into early years of the twentieth century. The name derives from use of architectural elements commonly found in structures during the era of the Second French Empire.
While 17th century Renaissance foundations transformed, they acquired a mix of earlier European styles, with the most notable being Baroque. This was often combined with mansard roofs or low, square based domes.
This style quickly spread throughout Europe and across the Atlantic, evolving as Baroque Revival architecture. In the United States, this style became widely used in the design of municipal and corporate buildings.
The buildings were originally constructed to appeal to the newly rich, however around 1912-1914, the properties were sold to the Loyal Order of Moose. Carl Berger – a Philadelphia-born architect – oversaw altercations made to the homes in 1914 to suite the fraternal lodge, including the addition of a ballroom, auditorium and bar that would later become a jazz bar for the public. The Loyal Order of Moose Lodge #54 held over 20,000 members by 1920, breaking records at that point for the highest membership of any fraternal lodge in the world. With membership reaching well over 40,000 during the late 1920s, plans were made for expansion of the building, unfortunately with the Great Depression sweeping the nation, the lodge was forced to close and plans were abandoned.
Though it would be many years before boxing would become a regular event within the building, lodge #54 held the first two boxing matches during the Moose era, one on March 1st, and another on March 28th of 1938. The March 28th match featured heavyweight Willie Reddish, who would later train Sonny Liston and Joe Frazier.
In 1961, building ownership changed hands when Jimmy Toppi Sr. purchased the property for $85,000 – which today is generally the price of a McDonald’s Big Mac with extra sauce and a large Coke. The building would take on a new name, when Jimmy renamed the building after “Beyond the Blue Horizon” – a song from the 1930 film Monte Carlo. With renovations underway, the Blue Horizon would be on its way to becoming one of the greatest, and most historic boxing venues of all time. Once renovations were complete, boxing shows became regular entertainment within the Blue Horizon on November 3, 1961.
The first event held featured Hall of Famer George Benton pitted against Chico Corsey. Regular shows were held at the Blue Horizon in its early days of life as a boxing venue. Thanks to a grant from Madison Square Garden, promoter Marty Kramer was able to put on these matches, helping to develop young fighters. During 1963 – 1964, Jose Stable, Dick Turner, Harold Johnson, Henry Hank, Stanley Hayward and Curtis Cokes were seen televised nationally across three separate events at the Blue Horizon. There would be a 3 year break from any fights, after May 26, 1966 when “Gypsy” Joe Harris took a 10 round decision over Johnny Knight in a fight promoted by Lou Lucchese.
September 30, 1969 – the first event held after three quiet years, when J. Russell Peltz had his first promotion of his Hall of Fame career. This event set a record in venue attendance, with an attendance of 1,606 people. In 1971, Peltz left the Blue Horizon after 31 cards to promote at larger venues, such as the Spectrum. Peltz returned in 1974, continuing to promote more fights at the Blue Horizon than anyone else in its history. This era brought many greats, such as Matthew Saad Muhammad, Bernard Hopkins, Cyclone Hart, Tim Witherspoon and Bennie Briscoe. Peltz would come and go, promoting cards until promoting a final event in 2009.
Over the course of its life, the Blue Horizon has hosted international, regional and state title fights. Of the many historic occurrences mentioned above, a quite historically significant one would be in 1998, when Veronica Michael became licensed as the first female African American boxing promoter in the state of Pennsylvania. She would come to promote bouts featuring established fighters such as Eddie Chambers, Yusef Mack, and Lajuan Simon. In 2008, she was named one of the top 50 women in business in the state of Pennsylvania by Governor Ed Rendell. Michael had worked to turn this beautiful venue into a cultural center for the neighborhood, hosting special events, meetings, cabarets, weddings and more.
Due to tax problems, the Blue Horizon was closed for good in 2010. In January of 2011, West Philadelphia developer Mosaic Development Partners received a grant of 6 million dollars in order to build and 18 million dollar hotel/restaurant complex, complete with jazz bar and fitness center in place of the once great Blue Horizon. Knowing that these developers are from West Philadelphia, it’s no wonder Will Smith left – these were probably the same people that pushed him around. In July 2013, Mosaic’s plans called for the venue to be demolished, making way for a luxurious parking garage for their fancy new hotel. As of the beginning of 2017, demolition is underway, and we will soon welcome a shiny, brand new hotel to our landscape instead of, ya know, saving the history, even perhaps building around it so that we may still share its story with the world.
Staring the ring down, I felt like a cat, hyped on catnip in a room full off dangling red and blue yarn. It may have been the fact that I was given the opportunity to photograph an incredibly historic space, standing in the place were many great and famous fighters, actors, actresses and others once did. It may have also been the fact that I was limited to a 30 minute window to capture this amazing place, knowing that the city would be in within the week to continue deconstruction of the entire venue to make way for a parking garage. I’m pretty sure it was largely a combination of both of these things. I mean, can it really get any shittier than that? It’s like the city is dumping pieces of its resume into a toilet.
I can surely say that I am glad to have been given the opportunity to capture this once great venue, and share its story as best I could. All we can do from here is watch sadly, while more neglected history crumbles into the cold dirt of our Earth.