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Spa to KO Hollywood Legion Lanes

May 17, 1985|LYNN SIMROSS | Lynn Simross

It was a solemn farewell Wednesday night as old-time boxers and wrestlers gathered for the closing of the Hollywood Legion Lanes, formerly Hollywood Legion Stadium where, for four decades, so many of them had fought and wrestled their way through professional careers.

The 1919 landmark on El Centro Avenue in the heart of Hollywood is soon to be added to the list of Los Angeles' growing health spa businesses.

Actually, Hollywood Legion Stadium went down for its final count in 1960, when it ceased being a fight and wrestling palace and was made into a bowling alley.

But the stadium had a glamorous heyday, becoming a favorite hangout of film celebrities in the 1920s, '30s and '40s, when Hollywood really was Tinseltown. When you went to the fights or wrestling matches at the Legion, you didn't know whether to watch those in the ring or the movie stars in the seats around it.

At the fights in those days you probably would have seen Rudolph Valentino, Lupe Velez, Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Humphrey Bogart, George Raft, Al Jolson, Ruby Keeler, Douglas Fairbanks, Errol Flynn, Claudette Colbert, Dick Powell, Victor McLaglen and Betty Grable, to mention a few of the Legion's more famous fans.

"There's so much nostalgia here for me," said Count Billy Varga, watching an exhibition wrestling match at the lanes on Wednesday. Varga's first professional wrestling match was at the Legion in 1940, and he was a favorite of the crowds there until the stadium closed in 1960. He won the world junior heavyweight title there in a match with Danny McShain in 1948 and the heavyweight title in 1957.

"My dad and I have 65 years of wrestling here," Varga said, explaining that his late father, Joe, wrestled at the Legion from the 1920s until he retired in 1938. "After Dad retired, then I came in. I must have had 750 or 800 matches here. It really makes me sad to think this is the end of it."

Varga, who is now an actor and businessman, retired from wrestling in 1972, but is president of the Golden State Boxers & Wrestlers Assn.

Plans now, according to Hollywood Legion Lanes manager Barry Coleman, call for the building to be turned into a Holiday Health Spa.

"This is a sad, sad day in all of our lives," said former light-heavyweight champion Archie Moore, who had come from his home in San Diego to attend the Legion farewell. "I only fought here three times, but I always loved to come and watch the guys fight."

Art Aragon, a former welterweight who holds the record for the most bouts at Legion Stadium, 25, commiserated with Moore on Wednesday, calling the Legion closing "a sad ending."

Among the boxers who appeared at the Legion are an endless list of sport's celebrities: Joe Louis and James J. Braddock, heavyweights; Moore and Maxie Rosenbloom, light heavyweights; Mickey Walker, Bobo Olson and Ceferino Garcia, middleweights; Jimmy McLarnin, Henry Armstrong and Young Corbett III, welterweights; and George Latka, lightweight.

Wrestling stars who were often on the card of the old stadium include: Varga and McShain, Gorgeous George, Strangler Lewis, Mike Mazurki, Baron Leone, Argentine Rocco, Wild Red Berry, Ted and Vic Christy and Woody Strode.

"It's too bad they couldn't make a stadium of it again," Varga said. "Wrestling has come back in a big way. It's really popular now."

To be sure, few folks ever will recall the last strike rolled at the Legion Lanes, but lots will remember the final left hook and the last flying tackle.

'Planes of Fame'

Speaking of flying, airplane buffs in Southern California will be converging on Chino Airport on Saturday and Sunday for this year's "Planes of Fame" air show, featuring flybys, aerobatics and simulated "dogfights" of World War II aircraft, including a Japanese Zero.

"It's the world's only 100% flying original Zero," said Darrell Rohman of Los Angeles, who isn't a pilot but is a member of the Planes of Fame Air Museum that sponsors the annual air show and exhibit of vintage and modern aircraft at Chino. "There's also a P-47 and a P-51 Mustang."

According to Rohman, interest in the museum and the show has increased this year, probably because of the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. Gates open at 9 a.m. and flying begins at 1 p.m. on both days.

"We're expecting a ton of people," Rohman said. "As many as the airport can hold, I'd say. And I hope they'll remember to bring lawn chairs. There's no seating here."

Peanuts on Parade

Cartoonist Charles M. Schulz is celebrating an anniversary of his own this year--35 years of drawing his Peanuts cartoon, the most successful comic strip in history that is now printed in 2,033 newspapers.

To mark the occasion, Schulz, who lives in Santa Rosa, has put together a free, traveling exhibit of Peanuts illustrations, including characters Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy and their pals.

"The Graphic Art of Charles Schulz," an exhibition that will tour 10 museums throughout the country, includes 124 drawings and pencil sketches for the cartoon strip, dating from Oct. 2, 1950, when it began, through 1984. They never have been on public display. One strip will be shown in 13 of the languages in which Peanuts currently is printed.

The Peanuts exhibition premieres this weekend at the Oakland Museum on Oak Street, running from Sunday to Aug. 31. It then will visit museums in Albuquerque, Chicago, West Palm Beach, Fla., Evansville, Ind., Brooklyn, N.Y., Huntsville, Ala., San Antonio and Minneapolis.

Its next California showing will be at the Palm Springs Desert Museum, Nov. 20-Jan 18.

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