A piece of Tampa wrestling history faces demolition for planned apartments

A staple of Tampa history could soon be razed to make way for new apartments.

The Tampa Sportatorium just north of Kennedy Blvd. on Albany Ave. is almost a century old and first opened to wrestling in 1961.

"Being young and having those hundred fans," said former WWE Wrestler Brian Blair. "It seemed like 500 fans, they were just so loud."

Brian Blair is one of hundreds of professional wrestlers who grappled at the Tampa Sportatorium at 106 N. Albany.

Clips from The Tampa Tribune show it started hosting wrestling TV shows in 1961.

Today, the crowds, cameras and fans are long gone, though it probably feels much the same after 65 years without air conditioning.

Tampa Tribune clippings from the early days of pro wrestling at the Sportatorium in the early 1960s.

"The energy inside the building was amazing because it was so hot in this building," said Blair.

The Tribune shows the "Championship Wrestling from Florida" promotion ended in 1987, and began hosting boxing as well. 

Soon, the piledrivers could be used on the building itself.

Tampa Tribune clipping from 1992 advertising a pro wrestling event at the Sportatorium.

A St. Louis-based company called Subtext Living is planning a 235-unit, eight-story building called "Local Tampa."

Hillsborough County Property Appraiser records show the company spent millions to acquire the entire block.

"At the end of the day, (to raze it) for apartment buildings," said Barry Rose, the archivist for Championship Wrestling of Florida. "You're losing a monument, a legitimate monument to the past of Tampa, to the history of this city."

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The City of Tampa says anytime a building is knocked down that's older than 50 years, it is reviewed by city administration before being placed in front of the Historic Preservation Commission.

"Is a plaque going to be worthy enough for what actually took place within those four walls?" said Rose.

Randy Fuller still has the cards he appeared on for fight nights at the Sportatorium.

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"The small amount of people (inside)," he said. "The pop you would get from the crowd. Like no other."

He will miss it, especially because it represents a time before Tampa Bay had multi-billion dollar sports franchises.

With wrestling also happening at the Fort Hesterly Armory, the city considered its wrestlers their pride and joy.

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"We wanted to see this become a museum and be brought back to life," said Fuller. "But obviously, walking through the building, you can see that there's no restoring this building."

Subtext Living did not immediately respond to a request for comment about its plans for the property.

The city says no permits for construction have been filed.

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