The City Auditorium: Home of Houston Wrestling

I first wrote this basic article over on the Houston ChronCom site back on July 11, 2008. Due to renewed interest that fired from the spark of yesterday’s Jim Menutis article, here it is again. The City Auditorium was the site of some memorable concerts and appearances by some iconic people. Certainly the famous stand of Fats Domino there against segregation was major – as was the early 1930s appearance by Babe Ruth for a role model talk to the youth of Houston, but even these major events failed to leave the old place with its major venue identity.

You see, the City Auditorium will always be first remembered as the home of Friday Night Wrestling. Let’s have a nice familiar-face look this morning at that little file in Houston History:

City Auditorium ~ Houston, Texas

The City Auditorium in Houston, located at 615 Louisiana, thrived from 1910 until 1962 as the downtown site of some top of the line historical speakers and entertainers. As mentioned earlier, Babe Ruth spoke there during the early 1930s. Elvis Presley performed there in 1955. Countless religious figures, including Billy Graham, conducted revivals there over the years.

The above photo is facing north. The tall building at the top is where most guests stayed, if they played the City Auditorium. It’s the Lancaster Hotel now. It was called the City Auditorium Hotel back then.

 

The Lancaster – in its days as The City Auditorium Hotel

The Lancaster Hotel is now the commodious and convenient place to be for those happy out-of-towners attending symphony concerts at the City Auditorium’s successor, Jones Hall, the venue that replaced the old auditorium in 1966.

For as long as we are honestly trying to maintain the true history of what has gone on in Houston over the years, we shall never be able to dismiss the most popular act that ever played this site as the very heart of the old City Auditorium’s dance card. The post World II popularity of professional wrestling married with the advent of television to make “Friday Night TV Wrestling” the most popular show in Houston for years.

Wrestling was not new to Houston after World War II. It had been around since the 1920s under the promotional drive of the late Morris Siegel. Wrestling just took to the “Big Eye” like fried eggs to a hot skillet. The combination instantly and simply cooked up the answer to every Houstonian’s hunger for easy answers to the many questions of Good versus Evil.

You didn’t have to think. All you had to do was watch.

We all knew it was fake. (OK, maybe 80% of us knew it was fake.) But it still didn’t matter. We tuned in to see the Good Guys and Good Gals win. (Yep!. We had “lady wrestlers” in those days too.) It would be impossible to recount them all here, but I will try to cover my favorites with a few words of special remembrance.

First of all, everything about Houston wrestling begins and ends with the name of one man, a man named Paul Boesch.

Paul Boesch followed Morris Sigel as Houston’s iconic wrestling promoter.

Paul Boesch (shown above) was a mostly retired wrestler with caulifower ears and a sharp, articulate intelligence. Boeach had an incredible intuitive feel for the dramatic moment and how to use the grudge element as everyday fodder for TV melodrama. As the announcer, and later as the promoter who replaced Morris Siegel, Paul Boesch was a master genius at knowing how to give the public what they wanted.

Once, in 1951, a bad guy wrestler named Danny Savich came on Boesch’s show to explain his atrocious behavior in a match he had just “won.” Instead of explaining, he punched out Paul Boesch too, daring him to do anything about it. By show’s end, Boesch had recovered enough to tell us over the air that he had spoken with Mr Siegel by phone – and that he would be making a one-match comeback next Friday to answer Danny Savich’s challenge.

There was just one catch. Because Paul Boesch was wrestling on the next card, he could not also broadcast that next Friday too. Anyone wanting to see the Boesch-Savich main event would have to buy tickets and see it live. I didn’t get to go, but I couldn’t wait to see the Saturday morning Houston Post sports page report. To my smiling great pleasure, the headline read: “BOESCH KOs SAVICH!”

 

 

Irish Danny McShane drew love and hate.

I hated Danny Savich, but I loved Irish Danny McShane! “Irish Danny” was sort of a gray-colored anti-heroic fellow in this black and white world, one who could be a good guy or a bad guy, depending upon the character of the other wrestler and the circumstances of how right and wrong was tilting in the wind on a particular Friday. In other words, McShane was sort of a politician who wrestled. He could stand up for justice, if that’s what the fans seemed to want. Or, if need be, he could remove a bar of soap he had hidden in his wrestling trunks and rub it in a opponent’s eyes, if that would help him win. On those times he battered a foe down or unconscious, McShane had this little bold chesty rooster strut he did around the ring. It angered the fans who didn’t like him, and it frequently had a way of reviving the fallen opponent, who then would suddenly get up and whip Danny’s donkey until he begged for mercy! I hated it when I saw Danny beg. “Get up and fight, you big galoot,” I would yell at the tiny TV screen, but, if it wasn’t in the script that night, poor Danny would just get whipped. Then I got to hate him too for giving up – at least, for a while.

 

Duke Keomuka – He karate chopped his foes before they even called those open hand blows to the neck by that term.

In the Post World War II era, Hawaiian-born Duke Keomuka was cast in the role of a guy who was still fighting the Battle of Iwo Jima – on the side of the Japanese! Buried deep in that politically incorrect era were all kinds of racial hatreds that I couldn’t stand, even then. “How can you take sides with that dirty Jap?” some of the other kids would ask me. “That’s easy,” I answered. “The guy is really an American too. He’s just a great performer and he does things that nobody else can do! Besides, the war is over. My uncle fought there. And even he doesn’t hate all the Japanese people as you seem to hate them!” (I wasn’t the most articulate opponent of blind racial hatred in those days, but I tried.)

What could Keomuka do? He was the only wrestler back then who took his foes down with karate chops, and he was also the guy who taught all the others how to win a match with the “Asian sleep hold,” a move that fell only inches and seconds short of outright strangulation.

Boston’s Wild Bull Curry was a non-stop, two-fisted fury. The former boxer turned grappler never saw a chin he didn’t like to smack until its owner fell unconscious.

Wild Bull Curry had no redeeming or likable social qualities. He was just mean, mean, mean – and totally inarticulate on the verbal level. All he seemed to want was to separate every competitive head he saw from the shoulders of its owner, bashing his way mindlessly as a mad dog, I guess, to the top of the wrestling world. As far as I know, he never made it, but he sure left a large number of other wrestlers with smashed faces and heavy headaches along the way.

Miguel “Black” Guzman

Miguel “Black” Guzman was a highly popular Good Guy and a very big star with Hispanic wrestling fans. Guzman later became one of my favorite customers when I was selling mens clothes at Merchants Wholesale Exchange as a working UH college student. Blackie always came into the store with this beautiful woman. I never asked about their relationship. I was afraid to ask. Besides, it was none of my business. – Whatever happened in Merchants Wholesale – stayed in Merchants Wholesale!

Rito Romero. You always knew that Rito was a Good Guy. It took the PA announcer twenty seconds to say his name prior to bouts.

Rito Romero was another popular Hispanic Good Guy wrestler. When he and Black Guzman fought as a tag team against Duke Keomuka and Dirty Don Evans, some of the TV viewers trucked downtown and spilled into the live attendance crowd.

Dirty Don Evans Went to Our Church (I think).

Dirty Don Evans held nothing back. He specialized in rubbing soap into the eyes of his opponents to make sure that they could see cleanly, if not clearly, I suppose. As dirty as he did it at work, Evans also attended our church on Sundays during his stays in Houston. At least, I always thought this one guy was Evans. He sure looked like him, but maybe I was wrong. Not once did I ever see the guy in church rub soap in the eyes of the person sitting in the pew ahead of him. So, maybe it wasn’t Dirty Don after all.

Ray Gunkel, Getting Advice from Jack Dempsey

Ray Gunkel was the ultimate pretty boy Good Guy when he started his career in his 20s. When he returned to Houston in his 40s, he had transformed into one of the most mean-spirited Bad Guys in town. Must’ve been something he ate, maybe something like …  alimony payments? I can’t think of anything else that may have turned a good man into somebody that mean over a fairly short passage of time.

Gorgeous George dropped out of Milby High School in Houston.

Gorgeous George Wagner was a drop out from Milby High School in the Houston East End who went on to become the most famous wrestler of the early TV era. He sprayed the ring with perfume, dispensed golden bobby pins, and strutted around the ring like a haughty woman on his way to committing some dirty mayhem of his own upon “unsuspecting” opponents.

Those were the days, my friend. If you could suspend your recognition of the bogus reality that was pro wrestling back in the day, it was a great Friday night escape for Houstonians of a half century ago. And it was too, without a doubt, the main reason that most people remember the old City Auditorium today.

The place lived for years as the home of professional wrestling in Houston.

Try not to grunt and groan too much today, folks. It’s Friday and the weekend is upon us. Unfortunately for all of us, including those of you who are too young to remember: There is no more City Auditorium. No Jimmy Menutis. No Tin Hall. And, maybe worst of all, no Valian’s.

Have a nice weekend, anyway.

 

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24 Responses to “The City Auditorium: Home of Houston Wrestling”

  1. David Munger Says:

    Silento Rodriguez, Nick and Jerry Kosak, Big Humphery, Fritz Von Erich,
    Hogan Wharton, and Mr. Moto are a few more I remember. Bill, you woke up the echos.

  2. Frank M Says:

    Good column! Got to meet the likes of Danny McShane and Bull Curry during my many visits wiht Dad to the Sam Houston Coliseum for Houston Wrestling-McShane, as you know, was a ref for many years, and Bull Curry came in to referee a headline match, as did Joe Louis, and Mike Mazurkey. Dad & I also got pics with Andre the Giant!

  3. MaryA M Says:

    How could you forget Cyclone Anaya. In our family, my siblings and I, as teenagers, really looked forward to Friday Nigh Wrestling .

  4. Patrick Callahan Says:

    Great piece – those were the days of grainy round (TV) screens on some sets – not every fanily ahd a TV so it made for some great gatherings- McShane used to solicit freight for the old Herder Truck Lines, and came to the office where I was employed (Jefferson Chemical Co. – in the Melrose bldg.) several times

  5. John B.(Bat) Oggero Says:

    What about all of the great boxing matches held there and the other “non wrestling and boxing?”

  6. Art Smith Says:

    I would go to the auditorium with my father. He liked The Great Scott. I enjoyed the whole article.

  7. J. B.a Says:

    Ah yes, the Houston auditorium was with air conditioning not as we know it today. It was improvised.by having large upright ceiling fans blowing air over 100 lbs. of cakes [blocks] of ice in to the arena. I did provide some relief during the bad days of July and August. My mother and father were real regular fans of theirs. Winter time warmth was taken care by wearing your coats to events there.

  8. Larry Price Says:

    Paul Boesch was a supporter of Boys Harbor in La Porte. During the Christmas seasons of !956 and 1957 I was a resident of Boys Harbor and went on Friday Night wrestling broadcasts a couple times to tout the Christmas trees we were selling. Paul let two of us sit with him during the broadcasts and bought both of us nice satin jackets they were selling. We met Duke Keomuka, and a Mexican wrestler who wore a bad guy mask. What a hoot.

  9. Ken Dupuy Says:

    Thanks for bringing back memories of my attendance at some of those Friday night matches. These guys inspired me to want to imitate them in pretend matches with my younger brother. We’d “fight” using the same slaps and punches that the “real” wrestlers used, missing each other’s heads and bodies by mere inches. One would swing and the other would clap his hands to imitate the sound that would be made had we really punched the other The one attacked would fall back or even fall on the ground. Oh to have been one of those wrestlers!

  10. Bob Griffey Says:

    I remembered my dad taking me to the matches at the hotel, He [James Griffey] actually ran a gambling opertion out of ‘412 club’ & Talk of the Town’ located in the hotel. No one mentioned ‘Billy Don Dixon” a black wrestler that always was a great performer. But ‘Bull Curry” was my favorite.

  11. Sublingual Vitamins : Says:

    ceiling fans are great for cooling a warm room with large area. i prefer them over multiple desk fans..;

  12. Tumbleweed Says:

    one other reason to remember the old City Auditorium… It’s the place where Johnny Ace told Big Mama Thornton that the gun he was holding wasn’t loaded- then he lost at Russian Roulette.

  13. Bar Fridge · Says:

    7 blade ceiling fans have much better performance compared to those three bladed fans `,,

  14. miller sparlks Says:

    The City Auditorium was the coolest place. I cant remember where the ring was seems like on the stage. Much better than the Coliseum. MY favorites were El Medico and Pepper Gomez and Danny Mc Shane. Best match was the night Mc Shane took off the mask of El Medico. What a match!

  15. John Spurlock Says:

    Beside Curry and McShane, my favorites included Don Leo Jonathon, Pepper Gomez, Torbollino Blanco, Cyclone Negro, Duke Kiomuka, Sailer Art Thomas, and Dory Dixon. I forgot about wrestling for many years but got re-interested during the steroid years of the 70’s with Superstar Billy Graham, then in the 80’s with Hulk Hogan. But, the best showman of them all was the “Macho Man”, Randy Savage.

  16. cherry blossom Says:

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  17. Anthony Says:

    I remember watching Irish Danny McShane, Pepper Gomez, Bull Curry on tv out of Houston. I believe they used to come to Beaumont to the Beaumont Sportatorium in the late 50’s and through most of the 60’s. Great shows. I understand the Paul Boesch and McShane were neighbors and took care of each others places while the other was out of town. Is that correct?

  18. business suits Says:

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  19. Robert Says:

    I watched Houston Wrestling every Friday night , my favorite was The Destroyer and Fritz Von Erich. Too bad I missed the City Auditorium, but the Sam Houston Coliseum held some great matches also. I attended from 1966 to 1973.

  20. Corky Wendler Says:

    I remember well the matches at the city auditorium. My dad would take me every Friday night until I was old enough to go with friends.

  21. Andrea Hardy Says:

    Gosh, I never saw a wrestling match but remember so many of their names. Fun site! How can I still be alive?

  22. Kenny Couch Says:

    So glad I found this, I ran across a bunch of old programs on eBay and they really brought back some memories. I still have a family copy of The Wrestler signed by Pepper Gomez!

  23. David Velasquez Says:

    david velasquez-in the early fifties wrestling was the sport for us young kids. fifty years later I can recall all their names. Sonny Meyers was my favorite. That ‘Atomic Split” was devastating. That was his signature hold. We used to go the City Auditorium and wait for the wrestlers to come out and we stood there with our mouths open. Thank you God for those memories!

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