I remember in the early 1950s going with my dad to see wrestling matches. In particular I recall seeing the famous Gorgeous George in New Orleans. I remember going to see these events in what was called The Coliseum in the Garden District/Irish Channel. Is it a real place or a figment of my fertile imagination?
Alan B. Borne
The Coliseum arena definitely was a real place and was home to many important chapters in local sports history, including boxing and wrestling matches like the one you remember with the famously flamboyant "Gorgeous George" Wagner.
The Coliseum wasn't located in the Garden District or Irish Channel, however. It was at North Roman and Conti streets in the Tulane-Gravier neighborhood. It opened in July 1922 with a bout between local fighter Martin Burke and New Jersey boxer Charlie Weinert.
The facility was the brainchild of businessmen and promoters John Dillon, Frank Edwards, Al Buja and Peter Judlin, and at the time The Times-Picayune billed the Coliseum as "one of the finest and most compact indoor auditoriums in the South," with a seating capacity of 8,000. The 1938 WPA New Orleans City Guide listed its boxing matches among the highlights for visitors to the city. For a period in the 1940s, the building also was known as the Victory Arena.
Many well-known boxers fought there, including Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney, Joe Louis, Willie Pastrano, Ralph Dupas and Sugar Ray Robinson. Gorgeous George, the 1950s wrestler who was known as much for his hair and wardrobe as for his antics inside the ring, appeared at the Coliseum nearly a dozen times between 1951 and 1955. Many of those matches were broadcast on the city's new TV station, WDSU.
The Coliseum also hosted college and high school sports events and music performances. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. even spoke at an event there in 1957. The Coliseum closed in 1960 and today the site is home to a metal supply company.