Monday, June 22, 2015

My Secret Charlotte

by Kyra Quinn
from the Mid-Atlantic Gateway Archives

I live in Charlotte now. I just moved here after having spent most of my life in Pennsylvania. During repeated visits over recent years I slowly fell in love with Charlotte's tree-lined streets, distinctive neighborhoods and New South charm. But what drew me here initially and continues to captivate me is wrestling - the gritty, compelling wrestling of Jim Crockett Promotions from the mid-1980s.

I discovered Crockett wrestling one Saturday morning in Pittsburgh in the summer of 1985 when I was 8 years old. Immediately I became hooked, captivated by what I now understand to have been the perfect mix of athleticism, drama, and charismatic personalities working together to near perfection. The result was wrestling so gripping and so real that people truly believed. I certainly did. I believed in the hatred between Tully Blanchard and Magnum T.A. I believed that the Four Horsemen were trying to permanently maim Dusty Rhodes. And I believed without question that Ric Flair was the best wrestler alive in what he always referred to as the "greatest sport in the world".

I quickly became an avid fan and was even able to see wrestling in person when the NWA came to the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh. But they didn't come to Pittsburgh very often, and it didn't take me long to realize that the wrestling I loved was centered in the faraway and, to my young mind, exotic states of the Carolinas and Virginia. As a 4th grader in 1985 my knowledge of United States geography was undoubtedly broader than that of my classmates because each week I watched as Tony Schiavone promoted upcoming shows in places like Greensboro, Raleigh, Richmond, Norfolk and, of course, Charlotte. The names of these cities - and their venues - took on an almost mythical status for me. But Charlotte - home of Charlotte Coliseum, Memorial Stadium, Jim Crockett Promotions and the "Nature Boy" himself - was clearly the center of it all.

That, though, was all decades ago. The Charlotte of 1985 could scarcely have imagined its present-day self. The Queen City has grown exponentially in the years since Jim Crockett Promotions grossed millions of dollars working out of a tiny office on Briarbend Drive. Charlotte is now the country's 17th largest city. It is home to professional sports teams, a vibrant cultural scene and a continually growing and diversifying population. Charlotte is a modern boomtown that continues to carefully craft and cultivate its burgeoning identity as a cosmopolitan New South city. But professional wrestling is no longer part of Charlotte's reality or self-image. Although it was a mainstay of the city for decades, wrestling simply slipped away. Jim Crockett Promotions was sold off, the wrestlers left town, and Charlotte didn't look back. These days, the only official recognition of the importance of Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling/Jim Crockett Promotions is located at the exceptional Levine Museum of the New South in uptown Charlotte. There, as part of the main exhibit, a small display educates visitors about the storied history of Mid-Atlantic wrestling and its cultural significance to the city and the region. Beyond that, there are sporadic references in the local media to the glory days of Charlotte wrestling. And the city still has a healthy independent wrestling scene. But that grand tradition - the sold-out arenas, the white-hot feuds, the rabid fan base - seems to have been relegated to a footnote in the story of Charlotte.

The Grady Cole Center, once known as the Charlotte Park Center, home to weekly Monday night Mid-Atlantic Wrestling cards from the late 1950s through early 1980s
And so there are no physical markers here, virtually nothing to indicate the hold wrestling once had on this place. But if you know where to look, reminders of Charlotte's rich wrestling heritage are all around. In a city that often seems to demolish rather than retain its history, the key venues are, incredibly, still standing. Memorial Stadium and the adjacent Park Center (now Grady Cole Center) are both still in use and appear largely as they did during their wrestling heydays. I am not old enough to remember the days when Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling filled the Park Center every Monday night. But I do recall the sight of Memorial Stadium in 1985 and 1986 when it hosted the Great American Bash. I only got to see clips of the Bashes on television, but that was enough for me to sense the magic: stadium lights blazing against a velvet Charlotte sky... tens of thousands packed into the bleachers... and at the center of it all, the ring, bathed in light, with the wrestlers giving it all they had on those hot July nights. Even through TV the excitement was palpable. As for the other primary Crockett venue, the old Charlotte Coliseum (now Bojangles Coliseum) still proudly stands on Independence Boulevard. Instantly recognizable by its silver roof and glass fa├žade, the Coliseum somehow remains in operation, though long gone are the days when it hosted all of the city's major events. Because of their historic and cultural importance to the city, both Charlotte Coliseum and Memorial Stadium have been designated as historic landmarks by the City Council of Charlotte. In all of the documentation that accompanied those designations I found only one reference to wrestling. But it made me smile. Buried deep in the lengthy historical essay which was prepared for Charlotte Coliseum as part of the designation process was the following elegantly understated sentence: "Professional wrestling also flourished." And so it did.

The Charlotte Coliseum in the early 1960s. The facility was known as Independence Arena during the 1980s heyday for Jim Crockett Promotions. It is now known as the Bojangle's Coliseum.
It is not, however, only the venues which serve as connections to Crockett Era Charlotte. There is Price's Chicken Coop, where George South was once a regular customer, buying up boxes of the legendary fried chicken; he bought it not for himself but for the Four Horsemen, among others, who were stuck at the Crockett office on Tuesdays during marathon taping sessions for local promos. And there is the classic South 21 Drive-In on Independence Boulevard, just down the road from the Coliseum and a long-time wrestling program sponsor. Obscure as they are, these connections evoke a time when wrestling was a fixture here, part of the fabric of Charlotte. And there is one other location of note, the aforementioned Crockett office. Although the building has long since been demolished, its place in wrestling history is secure for what happened there on an overcast fall day in 1986. It was there, of course, in the parking lot, that the Horsemen cornered and attacked an unsuspecting "American Dream". It was shocking, and it was perfect, and it is now the stuff of legend.

Ric Flair and Nikita Koloff square off at the Great American Bash at Memorial Stadium
I encounter at least one of these history-laden sites on an almost daily basis, and each time it is a thrill. Charlotte is a magical place for me. When I drive through the city, I feel like Charlotte and I share a secret. I live in and enjoy the Charlotte of the present, but I also see a Charlotte most people don't. When I drive the same stretch of road that the Horsemen did as they followed Dusty that day, I imagine his little red sports car up ahead, delivering him to that masterful ambush. When I pass Memorial Stadium at night, I see it with the lights still blazing and the World Champion making his triumphant helicopter entrance. And when I ride by Charlotte Coliseum, I hear the echoes. The echoes of a wild "Rock-and-Roll!" chant; of the majestic 2001 theme; of the gasps as Baby Doll turned on Dusty.

When I come across native Charlotteans - which is not the common occurrence one might think here in Charlotte - I always try to work wrestling into the conversation, just to see if they remember. They usually do. They remember and they smile and then casually toss out a memory of the Bash they saw at Memorial Stadium, or nonchalantly recall how they used to live on the same street as Ricky Morton. I listen, and I wonder all over again what it must have been like to live here then, when wrestling was so much a part of this city.

Much has changed, but wrestling will always be part of the story of Charlotte. And for those of us who listen - for all who remember and all who believed - the whispers of magic will never cease.

Charlotte's Memorial Stadium in the distance, much as it might have looked on a hot July night in 1985 at the Great American Bash.    (Photo credit - Flickr: Compulsive Collector)

Originally published December 14, 2013 in the Smoke Filled Rooms section of the Mid-Atlantic Gateway.
The original article, with additional supporting links and material, can be found on the Mid-Atlantic Gateway Archives.


This article was written during my brief but meaningful stay in Charlotte in 2013. Since that time I moved back to my home state of Pennsylvania. I love Pennsylvania, but I miss Charlotte; most of all, I miss my near-daily encounters with the city's magical wrestling relics. But I know that wherever I am, the whispers will continue.
 - Kyra Quinn, June 2015

Feedback From a Friend
by Dick Bourne

A good friend of ours, Linda Ostrow, gave Kyra Quinn (the author of the above article) some positive feedback on "My Secret Charlotte" that I thought I would include here. While Linda is admittedly not a wrestling fan, she has a strong connection to wrestling, Charlotte, and to the Mid-Atlantic Gateway as well.

Linda wrote Kyra:
"So moving and touching. Your writing brought tears to my eyes. I was taken back to what I thought was a great movie about second chances...Field of Dreams. If only to go back to that time, even for just a day. But dust is slowly covering memories and nothing seems  as glorious. Even though I never got hooked, wrestling touched everyone [in Charlotte] and I think it had a lot to do with putting Charlotte on the map. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.  - Linda"

Linda has been a good friend of Ric Flair's ever since the "Nature Boy" moved to Charlotte in 1974. She is the person to whom he entrusted the original 1973-1986 NWA world title belt that Ric maintained possession of, after it was retired, from 1986 until it went to the WWE Hall of Fame in 2011. (It current hangs in the office of WWE executive Paul Levesque, a.k.a. "Triple H.") She designed a custom frame for it, and had always been the person responsible for removing and replacing it in the intricately designed custom case when Ric would need to have it with him on WCW or WWE television. The belt today is still in the frame she made as it hangs on the wall at WWE headquarters.

Her story, as it regards that wrestling connection, is documented fully in "Ten Pounds of Gold", the book written about the history and construction of that belt.

When I first took Kyra by to meet Linda years ago at her Queen's Gallery studio in Charlotte, we learned Linda is originally from Pittsburgh as is Kyra. The two immediately struck up a friendship and have enjoyed occasional visits now that Kyra has moved to the Queen City.

Linda Ostrow's art gallery and frame shop are located at 1212 The Plaza, Charlotte, NC. For more information, visit

- Dick Bourne, Jan 2014, Mid-Atlantic Gateway
Photograph by Dick Bourne from the book "Ten Pounds of Gold"