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Do You Remember the Tallahassee Sports Stadium?

By Damien Filer 


Note: this article originally appeared in Apalachee Magazine Issue 1 / December 2023. Apalachee is a publication of the Tallahassee Historical Society.


Graphic by Brendan Crellin for Tallahassee Historical Society's Apalachee Magazine Issue 1 / December 2023


Do you know what Andre the Giant (the “Eighth Wonder of the World”), The Doors (an iconic rock band), and the “Queen of Exotic Dancers” Tempest Storm (dubbed “the most controversial act in Tallahassee history”) all have in common?

 

You could have seen all of them in a nondescript warehouse on SW Capital Circle in Tallahassee in the 1970s.

 

Today, that warehouse is the home of MultiStone Custom Countertops. One of the reviews on its site says, “5 stars for the historic significance of this building...former Tallahassee Sports Stadium. Hosted many great wrestling events back in the 70s.” Indeed, for almost a decade that warehouse was home to the biggest names in professional wrestling anywhere in the world. This included legends such as Dusty Rhodes, Terry Funk, Jack Brisco, and so many more. Every Friday night, right here in little old Tallahassee. Can you imagine?

 

Those names were a big deal to me as a kid. The biggest. When I figured out that wrestling—like what I was seeing on TBS, The Superstation—was happening live, right up the road from my house, I started working on my mom to take me. One night, she did. Moreover, she was a photographer, so even though this was decades before we all had a smartphone camera in our pocket, I have pictures of those matches all these years later.

 

Lately I’ve been thinking about that night and that place. How rundown and dirty it felt. But when “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes appeared in the flesh, dancing around the ring all bigger than life, I was swept into another world. We all were. At one point, an irate young fan charged the ring. The police intervened as Jack Brisco was helped from the stadium by his brother, Jerry. My mom and I followed them, the police, and a growing crowd outside. What a night.



 See the kid in the white shirt coming into the ring during the match between Jack Brisco and Don Muraco? I don’t remember and haven’t found a record of the match, but my theory, based on the pictures and the wrestlers’ reputations, is that Muraco wouldn’t release Brisco from a figure-four leglock, and that the wrestler in jeans is trying to free Brisco from the hold. 

 

Law enforcement intervened in the ring.  


Mom and I followed the procession outside.

 

That was a long time ago. I’m fifty-three now. I drifted away from wrestling in middle school when I discovered girls and guitars. And, to me, wrestling has never been the same since Vince McMahon admitted to the New Jersey State Senate in 1989 that it really was just entertainment, not an athletic contest. He committed what had been considered, for more than a century, to be the cardinal sin in wrestling. Back then, the industry went to great lengths to protect the secret of their contests being predetermined. Kayfabe. As a kid, I didn’t even think about it as being real or not real. It was extra-real, bigger, louder, cooler, better than real. Super-real!

 

There’s a time as a kid when you’re old enough to know that Santa Claus isn’t real. However, until that well-intentioned aunt, or less well-intentioned older kid, confirms it officially, you cling to the illusion that it is bigger and brighter than your “real” life. Whether it is the “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes or jolly old St. Nick, we want to believe. Don’t spoil it for us. 

 

Looking back, I started to wonder just what was known or remembered about that old warehouse, located on what we then called the Truck Route. That warehouse hosted some of the greatest wrestlers from one of the all-time great eras of professional wrestling, and even iconic bands and other performers who passed through the Capital City.

 

I have to think The Doors playing there on March 11, 1972, was a pretty big deal. Jim Morrison had been an FSU student from 1962–64 and allegedly exposed himself in Miami in 1969. In 2010, then-Governor (and Doors fan) Charlie Crist worked to have the Florida Clemency Board arrange a pardon for Morrison’s convictions stemming from these onstage antics in Miami back in the ‘60s. In 1972, tickets to see the Doors and Badfinger at the Sports Stadium went for $4.00 in advance, $5.00 at the door.

 

People have shared recollections—some of which can be corroborated, others not—that they saw the Allman Brothers with Dr. John, Black Oak Arkansas, and Don McClean at the stadium. Curiously, I can find no record of Lynyrd Skynyrd, the other big Jacksonville band of the 70s, ever passing this way. A Tallahassee Democrat article from September 22, 1974, offers a review of a Sly and the Family Stone show at the Sports Stadium. One person recollects the terrible acoustics in what they describe as “an oversized pole barn with metal walls” when they saw the show in ’78 or ‘79. Another even remembers seeing “No Show” George Jones there. Others recall B.B. King, Marshall Tucker Band, and Ronnie Milsap.

 

The Florida Division of Corporations only shows records for the building for 1977 and 1979. But according to Florida Parcels, the Tallahassee Sports Stadium was built in 1971. It was owned by wrestler, promoter, and Tampa resident Eddie Graham (legal name, Edward Gossett) with lawyers Lester Welch and Thomas Smith from 1972–80. This jibes with the Division of Corporations’ list of registered agents for the 1977 and 1979 filings. The dates also coincide with the advertisements for wrestling and other shows in the warehouse. ClustrMaps says March 14, 1972, is the date the place was established and that it operated for eight years and four months. Interestingly, that date of operation is three days after the Doors show as advertised in the Florida Flambeau.

 

Eddie Graham and his son Mike were legendary Florida promoters and wrestlers. Tragically, several members of the Graham family committed suicide, including Eddie, his father, his son Mike, and grandson Stephen. Dusty Rhodes inducted Eddie Graham into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2008.

 

Thomas Smith, another of the owners, was an attorney who had graduated from Harvard Law School and served as a naval officer. He represented Championship Wrestling from Florida. He was a pilot and, according to his obituary, saved the passengers onboard a plane that crashed. He was also a Harley (Harley-Davidson, not Harley Race) enthusiast.

 

Like at the Doors show, ringside seats for these legendary wrestling cards were going for five dollars or less at the Sports Stadium in the ‘70s. Today, a poster advertising the matches at the Tallahassee Sports Stadium is listed for $750 on JO Sports, Inc., a retail company that sells boxing memorabilia.

 

People remember Dusty Rhodes making appearances all over Tallahassee. Accounts include him partying at The Electric Eye after the matches, and buying a Rolex at a local jewelry store (and “pretty things” for the ladies accompanying him). He also dined at Morrison’s Cafeteria and shopped at Capital Records and Tapes. Dusty, Andre, and Ric Flair all were sighted at Tallahassee’s landmark Brown Derby restaurant. And another story has Dusty and Harley Race eating breakfast at Frisch’s Big Boy on West Tennessee Street.

 

Kenny Ayers, whom I encountered on Facebook, shared the following story with me.

 

“Me and my buddies walked into the Brown Derby, as usual, and someone said Andre the Giant was in the restaurant. He was our hero back then. We saw the match, but couldn’t believe we actually [were] seeing him in that scenario. We walked in, he was by himself [at] a huge corner table eating his salad, which was an entire bowl that they kept at the salad bar. He was so massive. We just stared for a minute and then started talking to him. The nicest guy in the world. We didn’t want to wear out our welcome, so we went back to the bar. I talked to the waitresses later, and they said he ate two of those salads and four of their 32–oz “Great Steaks." And an awful lot of liquor...No pictures back then. Didn’t have today’s technology. Ha...A really great experience...that’s all I know.”

 

One person remembers their father being a regular at the matches. Drunk on Wild Turkey, he caused accidents in the dirt lot of the Sports Stadium, and even stabbed a wrestler in the calf who he was mad at for cheating. That’s how seriously fans took wrestling in the days of kayfabe. A lot of people also remember fondly the large cups of 75-cent draft beer and boiled peanuts outside.

 

A post on WrestlingMemories.com from someone who went to wrestling matches at the Stadium described it as a Butler building with chairs around the ring and wooden bleachers. He remembered that the bleachers appeared to be segregated. You can see evidence of that in my mom’s photos. I don’t remember whether I noticed it as a kid. I’m sure she did.

 

Longtime Tallahassee residents will remember Centennial Field, where Cascades Park is now located. It was constructed in 1924 and operational until 1975. Centennial Field was a Tallahassee institution that hosted the first Florida State football games, an exhibition baseball game between the minor-league Tallahassee Capitals and the New York Yankees, political rallies, and, of course, professional wrestling.

 

The Tallahassee Sports Stadium, operational from 1972–80, served as a kind of stopgap between Centennial Field that closed in ’75 and the Tallahassee-Leon County Civic Center that broke ground in 1978 and opened September 14, 1981. There are references to people calling the Sports Stadium the “old Civic Center.”

 

Tired of hunting and pecking in obscure corners of the internet for clues about this forgotten piece of Tallahassee history, I decided one night to get in my car and just drive out there and see the building for myself for the first time in decades. My wife was kind enough to ride with me. Even knowing where it is, I drove by it the first time. It’s an unassuming building on a largely unchanged stretch of SW Capital Circle.

 

Then, on a Friday afternoon, I drove out there again while it was still open. The matches at the Sports Stadium were on Friday nights in the 1970s. I imagined I was driving back in time as I wound my way through rush hour traffic on that Friday afternoon. Tallahassee is built up so much more now than it was forty-plus years ago. But once I passed the airport, things started to look more and more like they did back then. I even saw a guy selling hot boiled peanuts by the side of the road just before I pulled into the still-dirt parking lot at 4721 SW Capital Circle.

 

I snapped a picture before I stepped inside that building for the first time in more than forty years. Doing my research for this article, I was told the ring was still standing in the building. And that the building was slated to be demolished for Capital Circle to be widened. I was told all kinds of things. Now that I was standing in the building, I was hoping for a tour, maybe some more information from the current owner. I got a friendly reception, but I was told the owner was away, and he would need to give his blessing for me to get a tour of the building.

 

It seems the ghosts are in my head more than they are trapped in the confines of that Butler building. But they’re there. Maybe there should be an historical marker in front of that old warehouse so people know what happened there.

 

The old Tallahassee Sports Stadium as it looks today.

 

This isn’t the full story. I’m putting this out in the world in hopes of finding people who know more, have pictures, memories, anecdotes, or records to help fill in the missing pieces about this part of Tallahassee history. If you are one of those people, please email me at filerdamien@gmail.com.

 



Damien Filer is a Tallahassee native, author, and fan of the old territory days of professional wrestling. A fictionalized version of the Tallahassee Sports Stadium figures prominently in his new novel, Ambush at the Palace, written under the pen name D. R. Feiler.

 


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