Main Street Gym (Los Angeles)

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Front door

Carlo Curtis--an unsung friend of boxing and particularly of the omnipresent newsboys who were on every Los Angeles street corner, or safety zone by the street car lines, in the 1920s, '30s and '40s--opened the Main Street Gym training facility at Third and Figueroa, circa 1924, and soon began to put on pro boxing shows on Saturday nights.

The place had two floors, with the upper story used only on fight nights to accommodate the "gallery gods," cheaply, and yet with an excellent vantage point to take in all the action. There was usually one ring used for sparring, located at a point farthest from the main entrance. That ring abutted against the stage, also at the back, which never saw much practical use. The main floor of the gym itself was on the second story of the entire building, which housed a bar and grill downstairs. Fight films were shown constantly at the bar during regular business hours.

On every Thanksgiving Day, Curtis would shut down for business in order to host a couple hundred appreciative newsboys to turkey dinner with all the trimmings. Thus, the Main St. Athletic Club, which promoted the Saturday bouts, became known as the Newsboys' Club. Many years later, Gig Rooney, who managed Jackie Fields, opened a similar gym with that name on Mission Road, near the old Eastside Brewery.

Interior view of training area, circa ?

The old Main St. Gym had an undeniable scent of arnica and wintergreen that permeated the scene, day-in and day-out, with dozens of boxers going through the various paces of their workouts. Speed bag, heavy bag, skipping rope, shadow boxing, and every once in a while, a minor rumble in the locker room area, when two boys would have at each other for whatever reason that had been festering.

Several "characters" could be found in this gym, such as the cherubic Fabela Chavez--too young to box pro and too good for the amateurs, sparring with some of the top pros several times a week, biding his time until he could obtain a license to box professionally. Chavez would hold his own and more, for a couple of rounds, but then the pro boxer would kick the workout into high gear and squash the kid's zealous attitude, forcing his handler, Johnny Villaflor, to call "time."

Another standout character was "Tiger" Napoleon--a former boxer from the Philippines, who was the unofficial "barker" at the gym, using a huge megaphone to call out the names of the boxers taking the ring for sparring sessions. "Tiger" was said to be a graduate of Stanford University. He spoke with a thick accent.

Interior view of rings from the 'Gallery God' seats

In the 1940s, Joe Kelly was the barker at the head of the stairs leading to the gymnasium. It was he who collected the fifty-cent admission, or waved you in if you were one of the working fraternity, press, club employee, manager, trainer, etc. It was he who also sold you the current Knockout or The Referee magazine. He was later the door man at the Teamsters Gym.

The Main Street Gym burned down in 1951 and was replaced almost immediately by the Moose Gym at the top of the old Angels' Flight, which itself was replaced by the new Main St. Gym--across the street from the original one.