days the Blue Horizon is generally considered the best place in the
world to watch a fight. But it took a long time for this intimate
fight club to rise up those ranks. The place started as a local
venue geared toward smaller fights. A modest seating capacity of
about 1,300 relegated the venue to a boxing minor league of sorts.
All the important big box office fights took place elsewhere -
places like the Arena, Convention Hall, and the Spectrum.
Meanwhile, the Blue Horizon became the place where young fighters
stared careers and older boxers ended theirs. The Blue Horizon hung
on for years, many of which were lean times, compiled a dizzying
list of events and participants, and in doing so became a
long-standing constant in Philadelphia Boxing. In the mid-1980s,
when it stood alone as an example of an old fashioned fight club,
and thanks to the urging of then house promoter J Russell Peltz, the
Blue was discovered by the USA cable network, which featured it many
times in their "Tuesday Night Fights" series. The network touted the
venue as something special and labeled it their favorite boxing
venue - thanks to it's old-world charm and a balcony that
practically placed the live boxing fan in the ring. With a large
national TV audience watching the competitive bi-monthly matches,
the Blue Horizon's reputation soared. Suddenly everyone wanted to go
see a live fight at this unique setting. A star was born. But as
suggested, it was far from an overnight success.
The Blue Horizon was originally built in 1865 as a ritzy residential property. For years, wealthy businessmen lived at the property located at 1314 North Broad Street. Around 1912 it was converted to a Moose Lodge and used for meetings, cabarets, and other events. It wasn't until 1960, when fight promoter and Philly boxing landlord-extraordinaire, Jimmy Toppi Jr. purchased the property, that the Blue Horizon's life as a prize ring began. Toppi named the place "Toppi's Auditorium". Later on, inspired by the song "Beyond the Blue Horizon", Toppi gave the venue the name that is still used today.
Purchased for $85,000 and slightly renovated by Toppi, the venue took flight when promoter Marty Kramer signed a lease and became the first house promoter. However, Steve Tomassi staged the inaugural show on November 3, 1961. The main event featured North Philly middleweight George Benton against Chico Corsey of Chester, PA in a scheduled 10-rounder. Benton won by KO in three rounds.
But it was Marty Kramer who ran regular shows through 1963, promoting more than 30 cards during that period. Highlights included six main events headed by George Benton (all KO wins), four by Len Matthews (3 KOs & 1 Draw), three featuring Dick Turner including his upset win over against Federico Thompson, three by Ike White, two by Sidney "Sweet Pea" Adams, another pair starring Jimmy Hairston and Bennie's Briscoe's very first main event (KO6 Sugar Baby Smith). An attendance high-mark for the arena in that period came when about 1,100 customers watched Len Matthews fight a draw with Eddie Armstrong on January 4, 1962. Kramer's Blue Horizon era ended in October of 1963, about two years after it began.
1865 - Building constructed
In 1966, Reading, PA fight promoter, Lou Lucchese came to the Blue Horizon to stage Gypsy Joe Harris vs. Johnny Knight on May 26, 1966. Gypsy Joe won the exciting match by 10-round decision.
The Blue Horizon went dark in 1967, 1968 and most of 1969. However, in September of 1969, a new era for the site (and for Philadelphia boxing) began. A 22-year old sports writer and life-long boxing fan named J Russell Peltz tried his hand at fight promotion. Many in the local boxing community thought Peltz was crazy for even trying. But the "boy wonder" approached the game with a blue-collar attitude. He envisioned regular bi-weekly shows that would tap the still prevalent boxing talent bulging from Philly's fight gyms. Peltz' workman-like efforts truly resurrected not only the Blue Horizon but the local fight game in general.
The first Peltz show came on September 30, 1969. The feature bout was a quick KO by Bennie Briscoe and the under-card included the pro debut of Eugene "Cyclone" Hart and the first local appearance by Bobby "Boogaloo" Watts (in his 4th pro bout). These three boxers would figure prominently at the Blue during the Peltz era. For his first promotion, Peltz set a site attendance record of 1,606. Somehow he figured out how to cram that many fans into a hall with a seating capacity of almost 300 less. It was a talent that would come in handy during his reign on North Broad Street.
Peltz ran 15 straight shows during his first boxing season (September '69 through May '70), relying on classy Trenton featherweight Sammy Goss five times as a headliner, and George Benton, Cyclone Hart, Leroy Roberts, and Lloyd Nelson twice each. Hart would make a total of 10 appearances on these 15 cards - winning all of them by KO. Willie "The Worm" Monroe and 'Lil Abner also made early marks on their career during this time. Another big night came on the third Peltz show (10/28/69) when heavyweight Leotis Martin stopped Wendell Newton in a thriller and Jimmy Young made his professional debut. Boxing was buzzing again.
A second season followed with 16 shows featuring more Briscoe, Cyclone, Goss, Nelson, Watts and the addition of Luis Lopez, Tiger Williams, and Richie Kates to the stable. After 31 events, Peltz left the venue to try promoting bigger events at larger arenas. His new undertakings would take off too, but the Peltz - Blue Horizon connection wasn't over yet.
Near the end of that first Peltz run, former lightweight king Bob Montgomery was the promoter of record for three Blue Horizon shows in 1971. However after Peltz and Montgomery fights, the venue went dark for another two years.
In 1974, Peltz Boxing returned to the Blue for a whole new chapter of the venue. By this time, Peltz was running the boxing program at the Spectrum, and his return to the Blue Horizon was akin to the creation of a boxing farm system. For the next several years, Peltz developed fighters before the smaller crowds at the Blue before graduating them to the big time of the Spectrum. Peltz ran 32 shows between 1974 and 1981.
In 1982, Harold Moore took over at the Blue, running four shows over the next two years. However in 1984, with the Spectrum all but dead for boxing and focused more on the Atlantic City scene, Peltz returned to the Blue Horizon once again.
On March 6, 1984, Peltz made his return and ran shows consistently until 2001. He wasn't the exclusive house promoter during this period, but he was the dominant force at the legendary site. Other promoters during the era included Greg Robinson, the DePasquale Brothers, Rob Murray, Mike Maltepes, Eddie Woods, Tommy Frazier, Datom Promotions, Frank Gelb, Pro Vantage Boxing, Ring Warriors, Fred Jenkins, Don Elbaum, and Pete Lyde.
On June 25, 1986, another major milestone for the Blue Horizon occurred. In the main event, Juan Veloz decisioned Johnny Carter over ten rounds. However, the important footnote on this night was that the USA Network recorded the show for a delayed broadcast.
Once everyone saw the Blue Horizon in all its throwback glory, the venue became a star. The broadcast team, the network execs, and boxing fans watching on TV all over the county, all fell in love with the place. So, the Blue Horizon became a regular stop for the popular Tuesday night boxing TV series.
With each subsequent appearance on the show, the Blue gained in popularity. Suddenly everyone wanted to go to see a fight on North Broad Street, and the Blue Horizon became a star. Tickets began selling fast regardless of the line-up. Peltz Boxing even began selling "season tickets", allowing fans to lock down seats for future fights, assuring their spot for one sellout after another.
The roster of prominent local and visiting fighters at the Blue is a very long, impressive list. Bernard Hopkins, Robert Hines, Rodney Moore, Nate Miller, Tony Thornton, Anthony Fletcher, Charles Williams, Hugh Kearney, Marvin Garris, Vincent Pettway, Frankie Mitchell, Sharmba Mitchell, Calvin Grove, Tony Green, Junior Jones, Tim Witherspoon, Steve Little, Bonecrusher Smith, Arturo Gatti, Fernando Vargas, Earl Hargrove, Anthony Boyle, Terrance Lewis, and many, many others.
Always a place for local club fighters and rising contenders, the Blue Horizon took a step up and hosted their first world title fight in 1997. Homegrown super middleweight Charles Brewer defended his IBF title with a 12-round decision over Boston-born Joey DeGrandis on December 2, 1997.
In 1994, the building was purchased by Vernoca Michael's community-based organization, Nia Kumba. Within a few years, Michael began promoting shows herself (as Blue Horizon Promotions). Her main support was Philly legend Rob Murray and later Hall of Famer Don Elbaum.
The Blue became an official Philadelphia historical site in 2000, and a permanent marker was placed directly in front of the building right on Broad Street.
The Blue Horizon became the backbone of the local fight schedule through the 2000s. Other promoters shared the venue (especially Greg Robinson's Power Productions). Even Russell Peltz occasionally returned for a show or two (once in 2004 and three times in 2009).
On December 7, 2007, the very first Briscoe Award winner for the "Philly Fight of the Year" went down at the Blue Horizon. Philly junior welterweight Lenny DeVictoria came off the floor to stop rising star and Blue Horizon "house fighter", Tel Aviv's Elad Shmouel in round six. For three years straight, the Blue was the site for Philly's best fight: Gee Cullner W8 Jameel Wilson (2008) and Teon Kennedy TKO10 Francisco Rodriguez (2009).
Tragically, Francisco Rodriguez died two days after his thrilling bout with Kennedy from injuries suffered in the competitive fight. This was the first fatality at the venue since Clarence "Jody" White died after his bout with Curtis Parker in 1978.
The Blue Horizon's glorious run as a boxing venue came to an end in 2010. On June 4th that year, after the final bout of the final show at the site, the building was shut down for a license violation. When the crowd of about 700 fans filed out of the Blue that night, they had no idea they'd never be back. The Blue Horizon was dead.
Despite an occasional rumor that the Blue would make a comeback, it never again held a public event. Eventually the place was shuttered and went into disrepair. Various rumors and plans to convert the building into something else, have yet to materialize.
A current plan to turn the place into a hotel appears to be legitimate, but as of 2019, no work has begun. Regardless of what the building becomes, its true identity will always be as one of Philadelphia's greatest and most-loved boxing venues.