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By Mike Johnson on 2021-02-19 15:40:00

The War Memorial Auditorium in Fort Lauderdale, which has housed tons of professional wrestling history dating back to its days as a regular haunt for Championship Wrestling from Florida was demolished this week to make way for a new venue on the same property.

The Florida Panthers announced plans last year to demolish the venue in order to build a new structure that would include two skating rinks (one that would be a practice rink for the team) as well as a new indoor facility that would feature a 3,000-seat concert, convention and event venue.  The "The art deco character of the auditorium will be preserved and enhanced with more upgrades" according to local media reports last year announcing the plans, which were to have begun last month but were pushed back to this week.

The building was first opened in 1950 and held, officially, 2,500 fans for events, although they could get additional fans in there for professional wrestling.  It hosted professional wrestling as far back as 1951 and beyond CWF, was also a home for Herb Abrams' UWF and for a number of Howard Brody-headed promotions over the years.  It was absolutely awesome for sight lines and atmosphere and personally, is in my top ten favorite venues of all time. 

Lou Thesz defended the NWA World title in the venue in 1952 against Ray Vilmer, the earliest result I could find with the NWA title on the line in the War Memorial Auditorium.  On 10/26/80, Dusty Rhodes won the Florida Heavyweight Championship from Bobby Jaggers in the venue.  Barry Windham defeated Ron Bass for the same title in Lauderdale on 9/24/86.

The venue hosted Extreme Championship Wrestling's second PPV Hardcore Heaven '97, a show that was great live in the building but came off abysmal on PPV due as many technical issues as you could count, headlined by Shane Douglas defeating Terry Funk and Sabu for the ECW World Heavyweight Championship.  ECW ran the venue dating back to May 1995 (headlined by The Public Enemy vs. The Pitbulls and Shane Douglas vs. Ron Simmons), including hosting a Sandman vs. Cactus Jack No Ropes Barbed Wire match in July 1995.  The venue was also where Taz broke his neck during a tag bout where he teamed with Eddy Guerrero against 2 Cold Scorpio and Dean Malenko, forever changing the trajectory of his career.  ECW last ran the venue in January 2000.

WCW would occasionally host house shows at the venue in the early-mid 1990s, including a May 1994 event headlined by Sting & Ricky Steamboat defeating Steve Austin & Paul Orndorff.

The building was also a regular stop for the different incarnations of Major League Wrestling, including several different multi-ring Wargames matches and MLW title wins for Steve Corino and Mike Awesome, among others.  The Extreme Horsemen vs. Terry Funk's Army Wargames bout featured one of only two times that Funk teamed with Sabu.

Ring of Honor held their Showdown in the Sun events in the venue, featuring Davey Richards retaining the ROH title each night.

The official April 2019 announcement from the Florida Panthers on the plans for the building read as follows:

Panthers to restore historic War Memorial Auditorium in Fort Lauderdale

Panthers will privately finance development of community-focused sports & entertainment facility

SUNRISE, Fla. - Florida Panthers Owner & Governor Vincent J. Viola announced today that the Florida Panthers organization has committed to privately financing the restoration and revitalization of the historic War Memorial Auditorium in Fort Lauderdale.

"We are humbled to have earned the trust and partnership of our community and of the city of Fort Lauderdale," said Viola. "The War Memorial Auditorium stands as a tribute to the individuals who have served our great country, including Medal of Honor recipient and Fort Lauderdale's own Alexander "Sandy" Nininger, a graduate of West Point class of 1941 and is a landmark central to the identity and history of our community. We're thrilled to be able to assume stewardship of the War Memorial Auditorium and are prepared to invest significantly to create a world class sports and entertainment venue for the benefit of families and the great people of Fort Lauderdale."

The War Memorial Auditorium restoration project will include two indoor ice rinks and a concert venue capable of accommodating approximately 3,000 people for concerts, conventions and other live events. The classic, art-deco character of the War Memorial Auditorium will be preserved and enhanced by additional upgrades. The restored War Memorial Auditorium will house National Hockey League-level training facilities and will serve the community by offering youth hockey programs, public skating and figure skating opportunities to people of all ages.

"The War Memorial Auditorium revitalization project represents another significant step forward for Fort Lauderdale and I want to thank Vinnie Viola and the Florida Panthers organization for their commitment to helping better our community," said Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis. "We're very excited about partnering with the Panthers on the War Memorial Auditorium and are confident that this facility will enable Fort Lauderdale to offer unique events and activities for families and tourists, while bolstering athletic opportunities for Fort Lauderdale's youth. I look forward to working with them on developing specific details of the renovation."


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