Those of us who can remember the Akron Armory have given away our age. The Armory was demolished in 1982; you do the math. In researching information for this post, I found that there is much less information on the Akron Armory than for most other posts that I have researched (and I could find NO indoor pictures.) For a building that was so popular, there are few people who have strong memories of the place (other than those posted here.) So while we review, think about your best/favorite memory of the Armory because I’m going to ask you to share it with the rest of us.
Construction of the Akron Armory was started in the summer of 1916 on the site of the former First Methodist Church (it had burned down 5 years previously.) The Armory was built on the north side of the Summit County Courthouse, on the corner of High and Quarry (now Bowery) Streets. Due to legal and labor problems the $187,000 project was not finished until two years later. The new auditorium had a maximum seating capacity of 3000. It was the largest indoor gathering place in the city for many years.
Just weeks after completion the 1918 influenza outbreak hit Akron and the Armory was used as a temporary hospital with hundreds of cots covering the main floor. Thousands of patients were treated here throughout the crisis.
Of course the main purpose of the Akron Armory was as a training site for the local National Guard, but the auditorium was used for many civic and entertainment purposes. It is up to each individual to pick what they consider to be the greatest event in the Armory’s 64 year lifespan, but here are some of the highlights (or “lowlights”) that I found:
-Feb. 13, 1920- In front of a maximum capacity crowd, South High School upset West High School in a basketball game, South 16-West 13.
-1936- Rubber workers rallied at the Armory in January, called for a strike, and formed the United Rubber Workers Union. After 6 weeks, they rallied at the Armory again and ended the strike. (They got to keep a 6 hour work day, among other demands.)
-1937- First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt lectured to a crowd of 3000.
-1942- Russian Jewish American violinist, Yehudi Menuhin, a star act at the time, played to a sold-out crowd.
-Oct.11, 1948- Harry Truman spoke here on his “Whistle Stop Tour” of Ohio. Aids claimed it was a turning point in his presidential campaign.
-1948- Billy Graham Crusade
-Jan. 1952- The Freshmen concert.
-Feb. 3, 1957- Johnny Cash concert.
-September 10, 1957- Chuck Berry, Fats Domino performed.
-Oct. 14, 1958- Buddy Holly concert.
-Sept. 27, 1960- Sen. John F. Kennedy spoke during his presidential campaign.
-Oct. 1960, WAKR 20th anniversary concert with Chubby Checker and Brenda Lee performing their hits “The Twist” and “I’m Sorry.”
-November 5, 1972- Raspberries concert.
-February 3, 1974- Rare Earth and S.O.U.L. concert.
-April 12, 1974- Ted Nugent concert.
-April 32, 1974- Mountain concert.
-1974- Sha-na-na concert.
-1980- For three weekends in Jan.- 45th annual Golden Gloves boxing tournament.
Other events included: Tuesday Music Club, Akron City Hospital Rummage Sale, spelling bees, city and townhall Meetings, Shriner Circuses, regular and Golden Glove boxing matches, and many elegant balls for the Rubber Companies.
Of course the events that most people remember started on Saturday afternoons with the announcer on the National Wrestling Federation (NWF) TV program exclaiming, “ON THE CARD THIS SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE AKRON ARMORY…” What red-blooded male can forget when good battled evil, the hick battled the debonaire, and “David” battled “Goliath?” How many of these names do you remember: Li’l Abner Osborne, The Executioner, Johnny Valentine, Mighty Igor, Bobo “Coco-butt” Brazil, Waldo von Erich, The Executioner, Luis Martinez, The Sheik, Haystacks Calhoun, Pampero Firpo, Johnny Powers, Kurt von Hess, Abdullah the Butcher, and my favorites, Big Chief White Owl, and “The Big Cat” Ernie Ladd?
Even with all these events, the National Guard still fit in regular training sessions.
As they say, “all good things must come to an end.” In 1936 improvements were made to the roof, ceiling, and lighting. And though new meeting rooms and a rifle range were added, complaints still came. Bill Nemoyten, manager of the Akron Symphony Orchestra said it “resembles a dilapidated 18th-century barn.” Menuhin, the concert violinist, called it “a long barn of a stage, cold and drafty…seats were miserably hard and creaked every time you breathed or shifted, in vain, to get comfortable.” Dick Shippy, ABJ reporter, said, “the music bounces off the walls and makes everything sound like a ‘cavernous echo chamber.’” And Mark Ravenscraft, County Commissioner 1978, called it “a white elephant, ugly and wasteful.” When professional wrestler George “The Animal” Steele was told the Akron Armory was being torn down he said, “Good, I hated walking up all those steps.”
Many fought to save the structure; one of the most unique suggestions came from County Commissioner Ted Cole who proposed turning it into an aviary and botanical garden. The attitude of his opponents was, “Great, just what we need, a giant birdhouse.”
The “white elephant” passed hands from the state to the county back to the state and was demolished in 1982 to make way for the Ocasek Office Building.
A few more tidbits;
-During the 1936 renovation, the WPA built sidewalks and steps, and erected “The Doughboy” in front of the Armory. During demolition it was moved to its new home in front of the Summit County Courthouse.
-The Akron Armory was used as the venue for the movie “…All the Marbles,” a 1981 movie about a female wrestling tag team and their manager. Mildred Burke who often wrestled at the Armory trained the actresses.
-Speaking of female wrestlers… Female mud wrestling started at the Akron Armory, clear back in 1936. See Mark Price’s excellent article for details, http://www.ohio.com/news/first/mighty-mud-maidens-1.178579
- Last but not least, possibly the most controversial figure to be associated with wrestling at the Armory: Dr. Sam Sheppard. Yes, the same Cleveland physician who was charged in 1954 with the murder of his wife, and whose story was the inspiration for the TV show “The Fugitive.” After Sheppard was cleared, he became a professional wrestler and used the name “The Killer.” Though he only wrestled a few times, at most, at the Armory it was amidst a chorus of “BOOs.”
So, I guess I did compile a “bit” of information about the Armory, but I would still like to hear your best/favorite memories of the Akron Armory.
Since the Armory is gone, other than our memories, the best reminder we have are pictures. Thanks to Summit Memory and the Ruth Wright Clinefelter Postcard Collection for their contributions of postcard images.