A castle-like dwelling sits on the corner of Broad and Master streets in North Philadelphia, its facade resembling a vacant show theater during the day, and as night falls, an eerie haunted house. From the outside, the building seems lifeless. But once inside, it’s clear why this building’s 150-year-plus history is legendary.
So legendary in fact, that its name speaks for itself. The “Legendary Blue Horizon” has been a staple of Philadelphia culture since its construction in 1865. “The Blue,” as it is affectionately known, has hosted some of the city’s most notable sporting and social events.
The multipurpose venue is equipped with a ballroom and auditorium. The former estate’s three floors have hosted everything from weddings to concerts to trade shows, but it was boxing that turned this diamond in the rough into the gem it is today. Beginning in 1961, The Blue has hosted championship bouts for the USBA/IBF Super Middleweight, IBC and NABC state titles and the Hispanic championships.
Young up-and-comers as well as accomplished veterans have participated in fights inside the Blue’s CarMichael Auditorium. Fighters such as Fast Eddie Chambers, Jose Reyes, Yusef Mack and Bert Cooper have all helped to maintain what is regarded today as one of the last remaining old-time boxing arenas.
But the book on this historic building was nearly closed a decade ago. That is, until Veronica Michael stepped in and opened it back up again.
Michael, current co-owner, decided to purchase the building in 1994 when its closing seemed imminent. Through her community-based organization, Nia Kuumba, and the Avenue of the Arts city-based program, Michael’s plan called for major restorations and renovations to the building.
“At the time I was raising children and I felt that the youth needed to have somewhere to bring them off of the streets and something to participate in,” Michael said.
Even as renovations to the building improved its facilities, what was once one of the most celebrated boxing rings in the city was slowly becoming just a thing of the past. So after four years of owning the venue, in 1998 Michael decided to do something about the legend that once was, and, she argued, still could be. She became the first black boxing promoter when she created her own promotions company to spread word about The Blue.
“Many people didn’t expect for this to last for a long time,” Michael said. “They didn’t expect an African American female would be able to be involved in such a career, let alone sustain it.”
Michael also teaches a sports administration class at Temple. She often requires students in her class to help coordinate events at The Blue, not only relieving her of the stress behind running a major boxing venue, but to provide them with hands on experience - just not in the ring itself.
Chris Thomas, a 23-year-old graduate student, seized the opportunity to participate with the venue. “To get to come and be a part of some of the things that take place here is amazing,” Thomas said.
“The experience we gain through helping will come in handy one day.”
The experiences that Thomas speaks of have been embedded in the minds of those that have been frequenting the Blue for generations.
John DiSanto, founder of Phillyboxinghistory.com, has been an audience member at The Blue more times than he can remember. DiSanto has covered boxing in Philadelphia for more than 35 years and knows that for people in the know, The Blue and boxing are practically synonymous.
“There have been so many great fights here over the years,” DiSanto said. “There aren’t many arenas left where you can go and get that feeling of intimacy that helped make boxing the sport it is today.”
Highly respected publications have featured The Blue on their pages, including “Sports Illustrated,” “Maxim,” the “Washington Post” and the “Chicago Tribune.” The Ring Magazine, dubbed the “Bible of Boxing,” called the Blue Horizon the best venue in the world to watch a fight.
Fights there have been televised on stations like ESPN 2, USA, ABC and CBS.
Despite national media attention and helping to put The Blue on national “Who’s Who” lists in boxing, Michael’s most crowning achievement isn’t about the venue itself, but rather its decades-old fighting passion. “I’m just glad to be able to let young people know that if you put your mind and dreams to work that achieving is more that just pie in the sky,” she said.