Meet Me at St. Nick’s

By Clarence George on March 24, 2013
Meet Me at St. Nick’s
Over its 56 years, from 1906 to its closing in 1962, St. Nick's hosted only one title bout.

St. Nicholas Arena, better known as St. Nick’s or The Rink, was on the northeast corner of 69 West 66th Street on Manhattan’s Columbus Avenue…

On second thought, don’t bother. It’s not there anymore. Hasn’t been for a long time. It was torn down decades ago, and I’m not sure what took its place. ABC, I hear tell. Nothing worth seeing, you can bet on that.

St. Nicholas Arena, better known as St. Nick’s or The Rink, was on the northeast corner of 69 West 66th Street on Manhattan’s Columbus Avenue. The arena was originally a rink, opening in 1896 for hockey and skating. Recognizing the error of its ways, St. Nick’s converted to the Sweet Science in 1906.

A mini Mecca of Boxing? Hardly. An unassuming shrine, but one well worth visiting. Not for championship bouts, that’s true. Over its 56 years, from 1906 to its closing in 1962, St. Nick’s hosted only one title bout, in 1938. Joey Archibald faced Mike Belloise for the vacant NYSAC world featherweight title. Archibald won by majority decision.

A rich history, nonetheless. Jack Johnson, Jess Willard, they fought there. So did Muhammad Ali when he was still Cassius Clay. It’s where he stopped Billy Daniels by seventh-round TKO on May 19, 1962, nine days before The Rink closed its doors for good. Floyd Patterson had his pro debut at St. Nick’s, stopping Eddie Godbold by fourth-round KO in 1952.

Remember the DuMont network, which broadcast live fights every Monday night from 1954 to 1956? Not leaving anything to the imagination, the show was called Boxing from St. Nicholas Arena, and originally aired on NBC from 1946 to 1948.

Where walk the ghosts now that the arena is gone? For men died there. Not surprising, given that St. Nick’s hosted some 30,000 fights in its 56 years. Middleweight Laverne Roach died following his bout with Georgie Small in February 1950 and lightweight Sonny Boy West died after his match with Percy Bassett, 10 months after Roach. But The Rink’s most notable death was that of Benny Leonard.

No shortage of great lightweights—Joe Gans, Lou Ambers, Beau Jack, Ike Williams, Roberto Duran… But Leonard’s the best. He was tough, sure, but he was also a master of psychological warfare. In Leonard’s 1921 title defense against Richie Mitchell, the referee was explaining the new rule—you know, the one that cost Jack Dempsey the win in his rematch with Gene Tunney—when the champ interjected. “Let me get this straight,” said “The Ghetto Wizard” to the ref. “As I understand it, every time I knock him down I’m to go to a neutral corner.” Leonard won by sixth-round TKO.

April 18, 1947, and Leonard had celebrated his 51st birthday just a few days before. He’d long hung up the gloves, but had turned ref. He collapsed and died of a massive heart attack after reffing the first six bouts of the night’s card. At least he died in the ring.

Leonard gone. Over at lightweight, we have pink-gloved Adrien Broner, the WBC crown nestled snugly upon his coiffed head. Joy.

St. Nicholas Arena gone. Well, at least we still have Madison Square Garden…sorta. It’s not where it’s supposed to be and I don’t like its looks. Have you been? Grown men dressed like juvenile delinquents in T-shirts and the ubiquitous baseball cap with the bill overhanging the neck. Gone the days of the suit in varying shades of gray, the boiled white shirt, the hand-painted tie, the fedora in gray or olive with black or green ribbon with the brim low over the eyes, a Lucky Strike at mouth’s corner with another snug behind the ear, the unmistakable snap of burnished Zippos clacking open and shut, that brief intoxicating smell of Ronson. Nobody smokes at the Garden anymore. Nobody’s allowed to. The nannies have spoken.

Me, I don’t much care for what’s new. If it ain’t air conditioning or antibiotics, I don’t know and I don’t want to know.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

40's TV: Anti-Racism PSA from The DuMont Network (1949) (REAL)



40's TV: DuMont Television Set commercial from 1949



Dick Tiger vs. Ellsworth "Spider" Webb - 2



8 Different DuMont Network IDs/Closing Logos



Discuss this in our forums

Related Articles

Comments

This is a place to express and/or debate your boxing views. It is not a place to offend anyone. If we feel comments are offensive, the post will be deleted and continuing offenders will be blocked from the site. Please keep it clean and civil! We want to have fun. We want some salty language and good-natured exchanges. But let's keep our punches above the belt...
  1. Clarence George 12:02pm, 04/03/2013

    Yes, I mention that in the article.  Well, not your acquaintanceship with Small, but that Roach died following a bout with him.

  2. beaujack 10:59am, 04/03/2013

    CG, i noticed on the St Nicks introduction fighters of your thread, you list amongst other names, Laverne Roach and Georgie Small. Well Laverne Roach a good looking MW ex Marine, died in the ring after a bout with an acquaintance of mine Georgie Small… Small world it is…

  3. Clarence George 09:47am, 04/03/2013

    And let’s not forget his commercials!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aa1WUzYtrbc

  4. beaujack 09:40am, 04/03/2013

    Yes , I recall Rocky lived in Manhattan and owned a Pizza parlor on 3rd Ave ...Rocky was an “animal” when he first started boxing, but became “civilized” when he married his wife Norma…Still the most exciting fighter when he started, that I ever saw. A digitalis fighter for sure…

  5. Clarence George 08:51am, 04/03/2013

    FYI, Beaujack:  Just heard from one of my doormen that Graziano lived in the building right next door!  Funny, but I never knew that.  Well, it certainly facilitated his visits to Youngman.

  6. beaujack 05:12am, 03/31/2013

    Yes Ruby Goldstein became a famous referee.He refereed many famous fights with Joe Louis, Ezzard Charles, Rocky Marciano etc He was the referee in the Emile Griffith /Benny Paret bout in 1962 when Paret was kod by Emile Griffith and died soon after. Goldstein was accused of allowing the fight to continue too, too long after Paret was helpless on the ropes….

  7. Clarence George 02:13am, 03/31/2013

    Another good one, Beaujack.

    Didn’t Goldstein become a ref?

  8. beaujack 09:08pm, 03/30/2013

    My dad, an ardent fight fan who saw my idol Harry Greb murder Gene Tunney in their first bout in MSG in 1922, claimed after Rocky Graziano ruined the great young prospect Billy Arnold also at MSG, that this fight we saw reminded my dad of the night in Coney Island when a great young punching LW prospect named Ruby Goldstein, called the “next Benny Leonard”, was flattened by another toughie from Nebraska named Ace Hudkins…Goldstein a tremendous boxer-puncher who dropped everyone he fought promptly dropped Hudkins on his back with the first right hand, but Hudkins [as tough a fighter ever] got off the canvas and flattened Ruby Goldstein soon after. Ruby Goldstein went downhill after his confidence was shattered by the later named Nebraska Wildcat, Ace Hudkins…History repeats itself…

  9. Clarence George 09:43am, 03/30/2013

    A night to remember, Beaujack?  I’ll say!

  10. beaujack 08:11am, 03/30/2013

    Yes 4 months before Fritzie Zivic then a 32 year old veteran decisioned the 19 year old Billy Arnold in 8 rounds. My dad and I saw the fight and Zivic was able to avoid the bombs of Arnold for a close decision…Prior to the Zivic bout Arnold flattened his first 24 opponents before his ill fated fight with Graziano in May 1945…In the end of the 2nd round Graziano battered and bloody from the powerful punches of Arnold threw a right hand bomb and hurt Arnold badly before the bell. In the 3rd round Graziano hit Arnold with bombs and the referee stopped the contest because Arnold was terribly hurt…So hurt that I still recall as Arnold walked down the steps from the ring unattended, he fell on the MSG floor in a heap until his seconds picked him up…Arnold was NEVER the same after that beating and retired soon after, losing most of the time, at the young age of 22…That night Harry Truman was at the fight and he shook hands with another young sensation, lightweight prospect from Ohio ,
    Tony Janiro…A night to remember, for me a youngster…

  11. Clarence George 06:52am, 03/30/2013

    Perhaps you disagree, Beaujack, but I think it was the stoppage more than the defeat that ruined Billy Arnold.  He had been beaten once before, by Fritzie Zivic, and yet went up against Rocky Graziano brimming with confidence.

    He retired from the ring at 22 with no apparent skills, which you’d think would pretty much guarantee bitterness and hopelessness, and winding up on the streets.  But he did all right for himself…and his family.

  12. beaujack 06:02am, 03/30/2013

    I saw Henny Youngman,king of the one-liners many times. When someone asked him “why you only do one line jokes “?, Youngman replied ” I can’t remember two line jokes”. Rocky Graziano lived for awhile on Ocean P’kwy in B’klyn, NY. I saw him first at Stillman’s gym AWOL from the Army and numerous times after, including his fights with Harold Green a neighbor of mine…But the fight that “made” Graziano was in 1945 when Graziano a 1-8 underdog flattened a sensational young puncher Billy Arnold at MSG. Billy Arnold was called ” the new Joe Louis”,was ruined by the ko, and Rocky Graziano became the new “Stanley Ketchel”,after his come from behind knockout…

  13. Clarence George 03:14am, 03/30/2013

    Thanks for sharing those terrific memories, Beaujack.

    Rocky Graziano often came to my building because he was good friends with one of my neighbors…Henny Youngman!  The comedian was a very nice guy, very friendly, and always amusing.

    “It’s good to see you, Mr. Youngman!”
    “It is.”

  14. beaujack 08:40pm, 03/29/2013

    Ah, what fond memories St. Nick’s Arena comes to mind for me. As a young boy I saw my very first pro card at St. Nicholas Arena when my dad and I saw the young lightweight sensation from Augusta Georgia, Beau Jack defeat the VERY tough Terry Young in the main event… Oct 12, 1942 was the date…Tough Terry Young was a friend of Rocky Graziano, who first brought Graziano to Stillman’s gym and introduced Rocky to Whitey Bimstein, and the rest is history…I first saw Graziano in civvy clothes in 1942 when he was AWOL from the Army, acting like a tough guy [he was], and a week or so later saw young Thomas Barbella fighting at St Nick’s in a prelim bout under his new fighting name Rocky Graziano.
    In 1942 my dad asked me to come with him to St Nick’s Arena, to see a prelim boy he was interested in. I couldn’t go with him, and i missed the opportunity to see the great Charley Burley ko a guy in the first round.
    My dad raved about this guy named Charley Burley who never fought in New York again, so good was he…Those good old days in the 1940s, there was a fight in a boxing arena every night of the week sans Sunday…
    Great times for me growing up. Yessir !

  15. Clarence George 09:11am, 03/26/2013

    Thanks for the info., Pugknows.  It rings a bell.  In fact, I seem to recall that when it was torn down they found skeletal remains…and several pairs of sneakers!  Unexplained to this day.

  16. pugknows 08:49am, 03/26/2013

    Rainbow Arena in Chicago was another cousin to St Nick’s in New York City.

  17. Clarence George 02:25pm, 03/25/2013

    Your opinion of TV-fight clubs, Nicolas, is in accord with that of A.J. Liebling, so you’re in good company.

    It’s not that I’m a stooge of the tobacco industry.  But Lucky Strikes, Zippos, smoky arenas…they’re symbols of an era in boxing that was both gritty and romantic.  Everything was black and white—in more ways than one.  Better times than these…much better.

  18. nicolas 01:41pm, 03/25/2013

    Boxing on TV was one of the factors that destroyed the fight clubs, though it is also possible to attribute it to the white flight to the suburbs which started in the 50’s, and also the shrinking pool of Irish and Italian American fighters,(the decline in Jewish fighters is usually attributed from the late 30’s on). If boxing promoters had only had the thought to have the fight clubs exist with closed circuit shows of fight of the weeks with local club fights on the same cards, maybe not so many of these fight clubs would have closed. As regards to the last sentence about smoking, I have known people who never smoked in there lives but died of lung cancer possibly from second hand smoking. So I have no problem with people not allowed to smoke in arenas. Though as a child, I used to enjoy the smell of it, but that stopped when I became a teenager.

  19. Clarence George 03:17am, 03/25/2013

    I’m sure New York-London is very much tomato-tomahto in terms of governmental interference and prissiness.

  20. Mike Casey 03:03am, 03/25/2013

    Yeah, pretty much the same in London, pal!

  21. Clarence George 02:56am, 03/25/2013

    Delighted you like it, Mike.  And the situation is particularly egregious in New York, what with purse-lipped finger-wagging Mayor Michael “Mary Poppins” Bloomberg telling restaurants how much salt to use and adults what size sodas they can drink.  He’ll be gone soon, but what if the unspeakable Christine Quinn and her monomaniacal and narcissistic obsession with her own lesbianism takes his place?  Bring back Mayor Jimmy Walker!

  22. Mike Casey 02:43am, 03/25/2013

    Lovely article on one of the classic fight venues. And yes, Clarence, I too miss the days when this ‘democratic’ society of our wasn’t constantly telling us what to do or how to enjoy ourselves.

  23. Clarence George 02:16am, 03/25/2013

    Kudos, Glenn, to you and the lads for fighting the good fight.  And don’t feel bad—matches as they were meant to be are now few and far between pretty much everywhere.

  24. Clarence George 02:06am, 03/25/2013

    Thanks very much, Pugknows, for the info. on Marigold Gardens, of which I hadn’t heard.  I did some research, and see that it, too, closed in 1962.  And you’re absolutely right—St. Nick’s fights aired live in Chicago and other major cities, as well as New York.

  25. Clarence George 01:53am, 03/25/2013

    Thanks very much, NYI.  I was hoping you’d get a kick out of it.

  26. GlennR 01:43am, 03/25/2013

    Well if it helps Clarence, my mates and i (im 47) still throw on a suit on, on the rare occasion that we get to a fight…. maybe 2-3 times a year.

    We’d go more, but down here in Sydney a good fight night is now few and far between

  27. pugknows 10:55pm, 03/24/2013

    St. Nicks was like The Marigold Gardens in Chicago. Each week, there would be televised fights from one or the other.

  28. NYIrish 08:07pm, 03/24/2013

    Great follow up and a Lucky Strike. You get the decision.

  29. Clarence George 06:38pm, 03/24/2013

    Margaret Dumont?!  Oh, Irish, you slay me.  By the way, notice the blonde in the photo?  A rhetorical question.  Robert tells me that that’s Sabrina, “Britain’s answer to Jayne Mansfield.”  I’d have nominated Diana Dors to be that particular “answer.”  Anyway, I looked up Sabrina in Steve Sullivan’s “Bombshells,” which I have for research purposes.  She’s still with us, and you’ll be thrilled to know in her 70s.

    Anyway, I’m glad you liked the article, and thanks for the kind words.

  30. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 05:59pm, 03/24/2013

    Clarence George-You’re the Eiffel Tower…your last paragraph sum up blew me away….back in time that is….at least a half century or more! Which reminds me… Margaret Dumont had quite a rack….and please don’t say you never noticed!

Leave a comment