As I See It: ECW Arena Memories, Part 1

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It started out a warehouse at Swanson and Ritner Streets in South Philadelphia. Over 18 years it became most of the well-known wrestling venues on the planet.

While it's future seems uncertain, let's take a look at the building's history. There's a lot of it.

First off, take a minute this week to call Stein and Silvemann, the lawyers who have been majoriity owners of the building since the 1980s, who are setting up Joanna Pang as the leaseholder; and let them know that you want independent wrestling to remain at the ECW Arena. Share some of your own memories with them if need be. The firm's office telephone number is (215) 985-0255.

Now for memories...

First, the ECW era.

I have a lot of personal memories coming out of the ECW Arena.

I was ready to go to that first ECW show back on May 14, 1993, the date that Eddie Gilbert and Tod Gordon scheduled their first show of Eastern Championship Wrestling in a nondescript looking bingo hall, located in a section of Philadelphia that former Strictly ECW head Tony Lewis later described as "West Hell". I was told by friend and ECW employee Kathy Fitzpatrick that this new building was at Swanson and Ritner Streets. In those pre-internet days, I looked up the intersection on a SEPTA map in my office. According to that and another map I looked at, the intersection didn't exist. But she insisted that was the place.

I found out years later that the members of the Viking Club Mummers group had paved over freight train tracks and created an unofficial extension of a street. Thus, the intersection did exist...sort of. So on the afternoon of the show, after asking around the neighborhood, and finally checking at the local Forman Mills discount store, I asked where the Mummers practiced. The sales clerk pointed down the street. Finding the building, I went inside, and saw the Bingo equipment up on the walls. I went into a place that looked nothing like any wrestling venue I'd ever been to, and thought "What in the hell is this?"

Even those of us used to shows in flea markets, bars, schools, and even parking lots thought..."a Bingo Hall?" We found out that this building was Viking Hall, the home of the South Philadelphia Viking Club, the neighborhood Mummers group that practiced there for the yearly Philadelphia New Years Mummers parade. We also found out that they did "Midnight Bingo" there to fund the Vikings. This meant that in the promotion's early years, they were supposed to be out of there in enough time to allow set-up for Midnight Bingo. As we left ECW shows, the "bingo ladies" were out there waiting impatiently to get in.

Well, beginning that night, it became the home for ECW, Eastern Championship Wrestling, and became the home of the most controversial wrestling promotion of the 1990s. It featured incredible technical wrestling, unbelievable violence and some of the most cretaive booking ever.

Here are memories of the ECW Arena, memories many of you in the United States and around the world have seen via TV, tape, DVD and online.

1993

About a year later, Tod Gordon was ready to take things up a step with Sports Channel Philadelphia (its only exposure had been low-power TV clearance on W07CB Channel 7, viewable in center-city and West Philadelphia only) , and brought in Eddie Gilbert to book, with brother Doug. With Gilbert also came Terry Funk, who had recently done an interview in PWTorch about his idea for a "hardcore" style wrestling TV show. Along with these two came a well-known loud mouthed manager named Paul E. Dangerously. How little we knew or suspected what was to come. The first TV taping at Cabrini College on March 13, 1993 before about 60 people. This small crowd came despite a snowstorm that dumped two feet of snow on the Philadelphia the next day.

The Texas Chain Match Massacre with Terry Funk vs. Eddie Gilbert on June 19, 1993 was the first ECW show sold on tape commercially, with what was then the largest crowd in the young promotion's history. These two gave the fans at the Arena an old school all-Arena bloody brawl of a kind not seen anywhere in Philadelphia, save Gilbert's own program in 1991 with Cactus Jack in the ECW's predecessor, the Tri-State Wrestling Alliance.

In August 1993, many ECW fans got their first live exposure to Japanese wrestling through W*ING workers The Headhunters, Miguelito Perez, Crash the Terminator (aka Hugh Morris), and Mitsuhiro Matsunaga.

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