I read an article in yesterday’s Dallas Morning News that the legendary Sportatorium is to be torn down very soon. The Sportatorium was a world-famous wrestling arena (home-turf of the Von Erich dynasty), and it was also the home of the Big D Jamboree (a venue for country and rockabilly performers in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s — sort of a rival of the Louisiana Hayride — Elvis played here several times). A landmark! None of my friends ever believed me when I told them that our parents (both Comparative Literature majors) regularly took my brother and me to wrestling matches at the Sportatorium. My father loved wrestling. He also loved country music, and although I missed the Big D Jamboree era, we went to several country music package shows in the ’70s at the Sportatorium. I wanted to go see it before they tore it down, but I didn’t actually know where it was. Ah — South Industrial and Cadiz (south of downtown and not a part of town you’d take your grandma to). I found it this afternoon (take a left at the jail!), and it’s in a pretty sorry state of disrepair, just a big hulking metal building waiting to be put out of its misery. What a shame. I loved the atmosphere in that place.
Since I was in the area, I decided to drive a few blocks down to Corinth Street and see the OTHER famous country music venue, The Longhorn Ballroom, originally owned by Bob Wills and called The Bob Wills Ranch House, one of the largest country music venues in the country. When Bob decided to get out of the nightclub business he sold it to that nice young mobster Jack Ruby who, in turn, eventually sold it to Dewey Groom. It was the Billy Bob’s of its day. HUGE. This is where the Sex Pistols played in 1978, causing some consternation amongst the regulars.
I went there only once, I think. Sometime in the ’80s when they were trying to make it into an alternative music venue. It was the coolest place I’d been in: fiberglass cactus EVERYWHERE. Wagon wheels, bales of hay, cowboy stuff … acre after acre after acre. It hasn’t been in use for years that I know of. I think Ray Price was booked there a couple of years ago in an attempt to resuscitate it.
We’ve been hearing for YEARS that a Gilley’s is supposed to open south of downtown, but it’s yet to make an appearance. The developers are waiting for tax abatements from the city first. (The original Gilley’s is the honky tonk in Pasadena, Texas made famous by the movie Urban Cowboy.) The mayor thinks it’s ridiculous to give a tax abatement to what is essentially a BAR (and it is ridiculous), but tourist and convention traffic is disappearing, and Dallas needs SOMEthing to draw in the punters. The hapless tourists who DO come here have to go all the way to Fort Worth to see a real-life “Texas-sized” honky tonk. Whatever happens, it will NEVER be as cool as the Longhorn Ballroom. Gilley’s may have that damned mechanical bull-ride, but they won’t have the gigantic fiberglass longhorn out front.