This week in Texas music history: The Dallas Sportatorium Burns

The venue venue eventually rose from the flames as a rowdy Metroplex phoenix of rockabilly and “‘rasslin.”

By Jason Mellard, Center for Texas Music History at Texas StateMay 2, 2024 10:21 am, , , ,

From KUTX:

On May 1, 1953, the Sportatorium burned down in Dallas amid rumors of arson by rival promoters. The popular venue had operated since 1935 and was the home of the Big D Jamboree, a country music variety broadcast that was Dallas’s answer to Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry or Shreveport’s Louisiana Hayride.

Owner Ed McLemore wasted little time in rebuilding. By Sept. 22, 1953, the new 6,300-capacity structure, dubbed “The Million Dollar Sportatorium,” resumed activities on South Industrial Boulevard.

Over the years the venue hosted a who’s who of country and rockabilly, including Johnny Cash, Wanda Jackson, Elvis Presley, and Hank Williams, Sr. 1956 saw the Jamboree debut of an artist closely associated with the program, Waxahachie’s Ronnie Dawson, aka “The Blonde Bomber,” with his hard-edged teen rockabilly anthems like “Action Packed” and “Rockin’ Bones.”

And while the Big D Jamboree alone solidifies the Sportatorium’s place in pop culture history, wrestling played an equal part in the venue’s success. North Texas wrestler and promoter Jack Adkisson, better known as Fritz Von Erich, took over the venue’s wrestling promotions in 1969. His work culminated in the establishment of “World Class Championship Wrestling” in 1982. The program promoted the Von Erich family of wrestlers — David, Kerry, Kevin, and Mike — a story reimagined in the 2023 film” The Iron Claw.”

The Sportatorium kept afloat through the 1990s with smaller wrestling promotions and concerts from touring acts such as the Beastie Boys, Cypress Hill, and Ministry before closing late in the decade.

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