Phoenix Madison Square Garden once the center for events in the Valley

Jan 16, 2018, 5:05 AM | Updated: 12:48 pm
(KTAR Photo/Griselda Zetino)...
(KTAR Photo/Griselda Zetino)
(KTAR Photo/Griselda Zetino)
LISTEN: Phoenix Madison Square Garden once the center for boxing, wrestling in the Valley

PHOENIX – Standing near the corner of Seventh Avenue and Van Buren Street in Phoenix, historian Vincent Murray described what’s left of an arena that once hosted professional wrestling and boxing matches.

“You’re standing in the footprint of the building that used to exist here, which was Phoenix’s Madison Square Garden,” Murray said. “Above us are the trusses that they removed and salvaged them from the building and then utilized them for this outdoor interpretive space.”

The Phoenix Madison Square Garden was built in 1929. People from all over the Valley came here to see boxing and wrestling legends, like Zora Folley, Tito Montez and John Henry Lewis. Some of the matches were televised, which helped the arena grow in popularity.

According to Murray, a portion of the proceeds went toward Disabled American Veterans and the American Legion. Both organizations initially had offices inside the arena and helped promote the wrestling and boxing matches.

The arena likely got its name from the Madison Square Garden in New York, Murray said. It could hold about 1,500 people, and it wasn’t just for boxing and wrestling. Several big names, like Johnny Cash, also played here.

“Primarily this was focused on boxing and wrestling,” Murray said. “Then going into the 1950’s, it became a music venue as well.”

He said the Phoenix Madison Square Garden was a place where musicians who were starting out their careers would perform. Among them was Duane Eddy, a guitarist who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in in 1994.

Murray said this was also a particularly important place for African Americans and Latinos in part because there was no segregation.

“This was built in 1929 and segregation, unfortunately, existed in Phoenix,” Murray said. “But at Phoenix Madison Square Garden, that wasn’t the case. Everybody was welcomed to come in.”

The Phoenix Madison Square Garden remained open for 50 years until it lost popularity and closed in 1979. It became an auto parts warehouse until the City of Phoenix bought it and tore it down in 2005.

The city replaced it with an office building and had the developers incorporate the Phoenix Madison Square Garden Museum, after community members called on the city to preserve the arena’s historic significance.

The museum, which is only open on Wednesdays, showcases several dozen photographs depicting the history of the arena that once stood where the office building is now located.

One of the photos shows the exterior of the Phoenix Madison Square Garden before it was turned into an auto parts warehouse. On the front of the building were two medallions and a tympanum, which were preserved and now hang inside the museum.

Another photo in the museum was taken right before the last boxing match.

It shows the three trusses that are now displayed outside, a boxing ring in the middle, a balcony wrapped around the arena and several swamp coolers.

Outside the museum is a concrete interpretive square the size of a boxing ring.

Murray, who played a major role in designing the museum, said it was meant to be a stand-alone museum with no curator.

It was also meant to be the entrance to the Social Security Administration office, which was moved to the office building next door.

He said though the Phoenix Madison Square Garden is gone, the museum serves as a way to preserve some of its “fascinating history.”

“We’re just lucky that we’re able to retain some of this and to tell the story years later,” he said.

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Phoenix Madison Square Garden once the center for events in the Valley