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.