Bruce Springsteen will sound the final note on Saturday for the venerable Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. The concert will be the last event at the old, oblong building which over the years has sent a young New York senator to the White House, hosted some of the greatest athletes in professional sports history, and has been home to music, rodeos, ice shows, cultural presentations—you name it—in the heart of South Los Angeles.
Springsteen is very familiar with the arena, having played 34 shows (counting Saturday) and at one time calling it “the dump that jumps.”
The Sports Arena was designed by Welton Becket, who also designed the circular Capitol Records building in Hollywood, as well as the Beverly Hilton Hotel and the Cinerama Dome movie theater. Vice President Richard Nixon christened the arena in 1959 and just four days later it hosted a prize fight between Jose Becerra and Alphonse Halimi.
There have been lots of great sports action at the Sports Arena. Both UCLA and USC played their home basketball schedules there beginning in 1959; the Bruins, led by Lew Alcindor, won the 1968 NCAA championship there and again in 1972 with Bill Walton. The Trojans moved to the nearby Galen Center in 2006.
The Los Angeles Lakers began their tenure locally at the Sports Arena, with the likes of Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, Rudy LaRusso, Walt Hazzard and Gail Goodrich gracing the hardwoods. The Los Angeles Stars of the American Basketball Association played there from 1968-70 and were coached by NBA Hall-of-Famer Bill Sharman whose team included All Pro players Mack Calvin and Willie Wise.
The Los Angeles Clippers played from 1984 to 1999. The Los Angeles Blades of the Western Hockey League skated from 1961-67, and the Los Angeles Sharks of the Western Hockey Association called the Sports Arena home from 1972-74. More recently, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont hosted a rally that attracted 27,500 people.
Hollywood made considerable use of the facility. In 1976, director John Avildsen, shot boxing scenes for “Rocky.” He designed the interior to look like the Spectrum in Philadelphia, and the filming went so well that the championship match from “Rocky II” was also shot there. Carl Withers, who portrayed Apollo Creed in the movie franchise, this week looked back fondly at the old arena: “The first show I saw at the Sports Arena was a James Brown concert. When we finally were about to shoot ‘Rocky,’ I never made it to Philadelphia to shoot there. We shot all the fights in the Sports Arena downtown. And I had one of the great honors (of my acting career) of sharing one of the locker rooms (which was transformed into a dressing room)—because it was a low-budget film—with the great Burgess Meredith. We were so fortunate [the filmmaker and crew] transformed (the interior) to make you think you were in Philadelphia. But we had this great iconic building, the Sports Arena, that was such a huge part of that movie.”