The opening of Jacksonville Coliseum in 1960 supplied the city with a much-needed entertainment venue that would be capable of drawing big-name acts in music and sports.
But it wasn’t downtown Jacksonville’s first arena.
That distinction goes to The Arena, a modest venue at the corner of Main and Beaver streets.
The Arena – sometimes referred to as Main Street Arena – was run by promotor Jimmie Murdock, who took over the building in the late 1930s. Prior to that, the building had housed one of the smaller downtown theaters.
Murdock fashioned the somewhat-grungy building into a makeshift sporting arena, complete with a boxing ring. He hosted weekly boxing and wrestling matches, along with various other sporting events, utilizing a large signboard atop his own car to advertise the coming attractions.
Boxing shows took place each Tuesday night, while wrestling was the Thursday night attraction. Tickets for wrestling went for 75 cents, while boxing tickets ranged from a dollar to $2.60.
The venue drew competitors from local areas, regional circuits, and even some big-ticket names like professional boxer Jack Dempsey.
One of The Arena’s most popular attractions was its women’s wrestling, which drew packed crowds of mostly men. It also routinely hosted “midget” wrestling matches, a holdover from wrestling’s vaudeville roots.
Despite its modest accommodations, Murdock ran The Arena successfully for over two decades due in large part to his skill as a promoter.
Once the Coliseum was built, The Arena became a somewhat redundant presence in downtown Jax. Within a few years, it was shut down as Murdock moved on to promoting acts at the new arena.
The building that housed The Arena has since been torn down – not a huge surprise, given that it was already in poor shape during the venue’s peak. Few Jax residents even realize that it ever existed.
But sure enough, what’s now a nondescript street corner on the northern edge of downtown Jax was once home to some of the hottest acts in boxing and wrestling – male and female, average-sized or otherwise.