The New Alhambra has been a Philadelphia boxing hot spot for the last three years, but many still don't know it exists.
For those who don't know what that building at Swanson and Ritner streets near the Forman Mills is, it's not a warehouse.
It's not abandoned either.
Some residents are surprised there is activity -- specifically boxing -- going on at this place, known as the New Alhambra Sport and Entertainment Center, in honor of South Philadelphia's last regularly running small fight club, the Alhambra, 12th and Morris streets. When they find out bouts have been happening there since 2004, the question usually is, "How can I get tickets?"
The funny thing is, this small venue that holds 1,400 is gaining national recognition. Hall-of-Fame boxing promoter J. Russell Peltz has hosted 12 shows at the site since '04, 11 of which were televised, including two on ESPN2. In an August column posted on the ESPN.com/boxing Web site, ESPN play-by-play announcer Joe Tessitore named New Alhambra the "boxing venue of the year."
"I struggled with this, but I find it tough to pick a better venue than the New Alhambra in South Philly," Tessitore said in a press release. "It's packed with fans -- real fight fans. They seem to have a rooting interest in each fight, even the four-round swingbouts.
"The New Alhambra has taken the place of the Blue Horizon as the home of Philly boxing. It's a must-visit for every fight fan."
For fight nights, the venue has boxes available for $1,500 to $4,000 that can hold between 15 and 55 people. It even comes with waitress service, as well as an ad in the program.
Peltz previously held shows at the Blue Horizon, 1314 N. Broad St., including his first in 1969. He left the venue in '01. He held another event there in '04, but hasn't been back.
The New Alhambra, where Peltz has helmed five shows this year, is his new home. He'll hold his sixth and this year's final event Nov. 17.
"It's cozy and right in the neighborhood," Peltz said. "It's an up-and-coming place in the city."
Philadelphia has long been considered a hot spot for boxing -- way before Rocky Balboa went up against Apollo Creed.
The original Alhambra was one of South Philly's popular places for boxing cards. Jimmy Toppi Jr. of 20th and Shunk streets purchased the Alhambra Movie Theater in '52, and spent $10,000 turning it into a roller-skating rink. The facility also was used for weddings and banquets in the '50s. In '59, South Philly promoter Jimmy Riggio, who owned the old Passyunk Gym, started running weekly boxing shows at the Alhambra, which had a standing-room capacity of 1,630. From the fall of that year to spring 1962, boxing was a constant at this small venue.
Before Toppi sold the building to the city due to the need for parking along Passyunk Avenue in '63, it was the place to be for Thursday-night fights. Sept. 25, 1959, featured future junior welterweight champ Eddie Perkins of Chicago against local prospect Carl Hubbard, who won in a 10-round decision. The night also included Stanley "Kitten" Hayward scoring a first-round knockout over Jim Johnson in his second pro bout.
The biggest night in the venue's history came May 15, 1961, when South Philly's own Joey Giardello scored a ninth-round knockout over Canadian Wilfie Greaves. The full house was the largest to catch boxing at the Alhambra.
Municipal Stadium at Broad Street and Pattison; The Plaza at Broad and Porter streets; Toppi Stadium at Broad and Packer Avenue; and the Olympia at Broad and Bainbridge streets are other area venues where boxing was once a staple.
Now, the New Alhambra is back on top. The next step is making more people aware it exists and that South Philadelphia has been reborn as the place for regular shows.
Joe Hand Boxing Gym moved from Northern Liberties to 7 Ritner St. so pugilists could train in South Philly once again.
"We haven't really gotten people from South Philly to come out like I thought," Peltz said. "There are too many people in Philly who don't know about it. We need to get people in South Philly to consider it an entertainment alternative."
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