Every night as I make my way home from my office in Montebello back to Koretown, I see the Glory Church of Jesus Christ as I drive on the 10. This building is now a Korean church. Long ago, it was a different type of house of worship.
It was the epicenter for boxing on the west coast. What Madison Square Garden was to the sport on the other side of the country, the Olympic was for Los Angeles and boxers in this region. Beyond that, it was also hub for roller derby, and professional wrestling.
Long before the Staples Center, even the Forum, and the LA Sports Arena, there was this venue.
'18th and Grand' captures the vast history and importance of this building to the city of Los Angeles with great clarity and color. Headed by producer/director, Steve DeBro, this project began in 2015, and was actually completed a couple of years ago and was set to have grand premiere in March of 2020, before the world-wide pandemic hit. Last year, a screening was staged at the Vineland Drive-in theater.
This past week they held screenings for the first time inside a theater. On Tuesday night they aired it at the Laemmle Royal theater in Santa Monica specifically for those involved in the boxing industry. Other viewings were held for those involved with wrestling and roller derby.
Robert Benavides, one of the lead producers for '18th' calls this a ''passion project'' told SNAC.com, "I learned a lot, I moved to LA in '96 -- I'm from Chicago -- I went to the Olympic in the late 90's, early 2000's. There's still a lot more to learn, and I learned a lot about the legacy."
The roots of this project were humble, it began with a Kickstarter campaign. What they ended up with is a high quality production, one that has a compelling, and oftentimes poignant story line.
Upon seeing it for the first time, Benavides recalled, "I was ecstatic, I was super happy. You can't fit everything in -- that's why it's a starter project. It's going to spawn into other projects, more chapters."
(As of now, they are still looking for a distribution deal for '18th'.)
'18th' actually features the last filmed interview of 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper, who plied his trade at the Olympic many times. As for who was the most difficult name to nab, the answer was simple.
"I say it with honor -- it was Julio Cesar Chavez," stated Benavides, of 'the Lion of Culiacan' who won his first world title by stopping Mario 'Azabache' Martinez in eights rounds in 1984 at this building to capture his first major world title. "When we got him, it was a miracle. We couldn't believe that we got him. He's an enigma.
"I remember we spent time and time and time trying to get him and finally we reserved a suite at the Ritz Carlton by the Staples Center and he came. It was like 'Oh, my God, he's here, he's here.' It was the fastest 20 minutes I ever did in my life."
Chavez didn't put a time limit on this interview, but Benavides explained, "it's Julio Cesar Chavez, his time is valuable. I can't wait for him to see the film."
But while notables from the world of boxing, wrestling and the LA Thunderbirds (18-time roller derby world champions) are spotlighted, really the central focus was on first and foremost, Aileen Eaton, who in a male dominated industry, became a powerful promoter for decades, and then matchmaker, Don 'War-a-Week' Chargin.
They were the heart-and-soul of this operation.
During their heydays in the 70's, they would do 50 weekly fight cards a year, where a host of world champions made their way through this no-frills hunk of concrete. Come hell, high water -- or the occasional riot -- would stop their busy schedule.
"They took two weeks off during the Christmas and New Years holidays," remember's veteran publicist, Bill Caplin, who after a short stint working for George Parnassus at the Forum, went over to the Olympic in 1971. "What they usually did was they all went to Hawaii together."
During this era, the building would host up to two wrestling events, a boxing show and the Thunderbirds every week, in addition to being rented out for movies.
Eaton, who was the first woman inducted into the International Boxing Hall-of-Fame in 2002, retired in 1980. And while the Olympic remained open, it was never really quite the same without her leadership. During the 90's, Top Rank ran a series of fight cards, one of which featured a double-header with James Toney and Oscar De La Hoya (who won his first world title by stopping Jimmi Bredahl for the WBO 130 belt) in 1994.
Later at the turn of the century, Golden Boy Promotions ran their own program for a few years. There have been attempts in recent years to reopen the doors for boxing, but they haven't had much of a prayer with the church leadership being reticent to stage prizefighting.
The Olympic Auditorium isn't necessarily gone, and it's certainly not forgotten.
"It was quite a place," said Caplin, who appears in '18th'. "It really was."
By the time I got on the boxing beat, the Olympic was really in it's last days. But I do have some memories of it...
- In November of 1997, Top Rank did a small pay-per-view card featuring WBC junior lightweight champion, Genaro Hernandez, against Carlos 'Famous' Hernandez. Bob Arum quipped, ''Hernandez versus Hernandez... it's not a divorce!!"
'Chicanito' won a 12 round decision. On that undercard was a young boxer by the name of Floyd Mayweather, who a year later would take that belt from Hernandez.
- The Olympic had no central air, meaning it could get really chilly in the winter, and scorching hot in the summer. Which is precisely what happened in July of 2003, when Fernando Vargas played to what I think is the last real sell-out here against Fitz Vanderpool(who he halted in six). It was around 95 degrees that day -- and at least 10 degrees warmer inside. It felt like you could see sweating coming out of the walls.
The co-feature on his HBO card was Manny Pacquiao, who drilled Emmanuel Lucero in three rounds.
Robert is a long-time friend of mine and an avid boxing fan. He has an impressive resume' that is outlined here at his website: https://www.robertbenavides.com/
He said of '18th', "I did the 'Tribe Called Quest' documentary, I've done a lot of different projects in the boxing world, I've worked with Canelo (Alvarez), Vergil Ortiz, and this is a labor of love. I don't produce that much, I'm mostly a cinematographer. This means more to me because I'm into history, and when people drive by that place they don't know it.
"Now when you drive on the 10 and you see the Olympic Auditorium -- you'll know what it is."
For more info on '18th and Grand', log onto:
This week's edition of 'the 3 Knockdown Rule' on Triller with Mario Lopez, we are joined by former WBO junior lightweight champion, Jamel Herring..
-- Robert Benavides ( link his website)
- Latino Boxing in So Cal book
- News and notes (Tszyu on Showtime, Valdez-Stevenson tix on sale)