Monday, April 6, 2015

Wrestling in Lake Charles - Part 1

(The following series is adapted from a Facebook discussion that took place last week. The information presented here is definitely incomplete, and I am certain there are mistakes. However, I wanted to put this out there for the public to inspire further research by people who are more interested in the mat game than yours truly and more resourceful in digging up its history. To see the entire series, follow the tag "lake charles wrestling.")

One of my passing interests is the history of pro wrestling in Lake Charles, Louisiana. I actually thought this would be pretty straightforward - from Gulf Coast Wrestling to Leroy McGuirk's Championship Wrestling outfit to Mid-South Wrestling/Universal Wrestling Federation when Bill Watts split away the LA/MS end of McGuirk's territory. There have been the occasional WWF/WCW/WWE cards since then, but I was mostly thinking about the so-called "kayfabe era."

It's anything but straightforward. I realize now there were multiple separate offices running towns in this state at one time in the 1960s, and not one of them was an outlaw group. There is also the madness of two towns less than 100 miles apart - and each able to see the other's TV from the outset - running two completely different promotions. The history of Lake Charles wrestling is stranger than I could have imagined.

Growing up with Mid-South Wrestling, I am accustomed to thinking of Louisiana as one territory. TV was taped in Shreveport, first at the KTBS studios and later at the Irish McNeil Boys Club. However, the wrestlers and the angles were the same in Monroe, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Lake Charles, and Alexandria (in addition to the rest of the territory). That was the way it was when I got into wrestling in 1981, and the way it was in the years prior - even when it was Leroy McGuirk's Championship Wrestling.

But it wasn't always this way. I am not qualified to speak about the overall history of pro wrestling in this state, but it's pretty clear now it did not fall under one office (McGuirk's) until at least the late 60s/early 70s. I'm not even going to try to sort out the big picture prior to that era, as it is still too confusing for me. Suffice to say, it includes such things as Jim Barnett getting Indianapolis' BIG TIME WRESTLING on New Orleans' WDSU and Jack Pfefer booking New Orleans for awhile.

What of Lake Charles during the 1960s? I had always assumed Lake Charles was part of the same circuit as Lafayette, Baton Rogue and Alexandria, and for a time at least, it appears that it was. But both before and after its affiliation with the Gulf Coast Wrestling office, Lake Charles booked wrestlers out of the HOUSTON office. This went on until April 1965, and resumed no later than January 1966. In fact, no less an authority than "Cowboy" Bill Watts once wrote "I wrestled one time in Lake Charles for the Houston office... "

(Of course, the Cowboy had less than flattering things to say about the promoter and the venue, but that's not relevant to the issue at hand.)

So it seems Lake Charles was doing its own thing, separate from the rest of the state, for quite some time. It would be interesting to see when it finally became part of the statewide circuit. But information has proven scarce post-1967 and pre-1974.

The first wrestling card for Lake Charles I have found is from March 16, 1960 (Wednesday). It was staged (incredibly) at the Rebex Theater - a movie house on Sixth Avenue that would catch fire and shut down the next year (I suspect a Family Dollar store is in this location now). But after that, the matches took place in a building called the McDonald Sportatorium at 715 East McNeese Street/709 East McNeese Street (address varies according to the source, but it was the same general location). Well, there is a period in 1963 when they set up shop in a venue called the Downtown Arena that I cannot even locate an address for, but this appears to be a temporary measure. The McDonald Sportatorium was the home for pro wrestling in Lake Charles for the majority of the 1960s. It is long gone today, and I have no memory of it existing in my lifetime. Its approximate location is currently occupied by a dentist's office.

I always assumed Lake Charles wrestling ran parallel with wrestling in Lafayette, and a big reason for that was television. Each city has always received TV from the other, and KPLC (Lake Charles) is considered the Lafayette NBC affiliate while both Lafayette's KLFY (CBS) and KATC (ABC) fill those affiliate roles for Lake Charles. Since Lake Charles viewers could see the live wrestling show on KLFY Saturday afternoons during the 1950s and 60s, it only made sense that the same office would be booking both towns.

This was wrong. What I failed to consider was the availability of wrestling on the other channels. To wit, KPLC was showing *a* wrestling show in 1962 opposite the one on KLFY - but it started at 5:15 instead of 5:00. Alexandria's Channel 5 KALB and Port Arthur (TX)'s Channel 4 KPAC were also showing wrestling at 5:00 pm Satuday. Channel 5 may have also been airing the Lafayette show live, and Channel 4 was likely showing something out of Houston or at least somewhere in Texas.

In listings for both 1965 and 1967, only Channel 10 and Channel 4 (now KJAC) are still showing wrestling on Saturdays. Whether the other stations dropped it or carried it on different days, I do not know. What I can say for certain is this - wrestling from both Texas and Louisiana was available on TV to the Lake Charles market as late as 1967.

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