This is a story without an end. The hope is that someone in Laurel can provide it.
Boxing was the second-most popular spectator sport during the Great Depression, behind baseball, mostly because boxing matches were usually cheap to attend. Matches were held indoors across the country in just about any venue that could accommodate a ring and some seats. In Laurel, however, promoter Angy Gerrin built a huge outdoor, wooden arena with a capacity of around 7,000.
Gerrin, a flamboyant Frenchman who entertained the boxing writers with his mangled English, operated a boxing club in Washington, D.C. With the backing of some "silent partners" Gerrin formed a new company, the Mid City Boxing Club Inc., to build and operate the Laurel arena, according to the Washington Post in May 1931.
According to the Post, "The site of the club, consisting of five acres of wooded land, with a natural amphitheater, is located 200 feet off the Washington-Baltimore Boulevard, about one mile on the Baltimore side of Laurel. … Plans call for the construction of at least 10,000 seats for the opening show." Parking for 3,000 cars was also promised.
Two weeks later, in June 1931, Gerrin told the Post that "work on the arena … is progressing satisfactorily. … Of the total number of seats, about 3,000 will be built on the natural slope of the amphitheater."
So where was this arena? Using the description from the Post and examining 1943 aerial photos available on the Howard County government's web site, it appears to have been on what is now Wilbert Lane, just north of the point where Route 1 northbound and southbound converge in North Laurel. A NAPA distribution plant now sits on the site. A horse training track was next door, on the site now occupied by a Verizon training center.
The Washington Wilbert Vault Works Inc., makers of burial vaults and other concrete products, moved to its present site next door to the NAPA plant in 1960. Owner Roy Wood remembers seeing some stone foundations on the NAPA site before the plant was built around 1980 and wondering what they were. No one at the NAPA plant had ever heard of the arena.
To much fanfare, Gerrin announced the opening night 10-round feature bout between heavyweights Babe Hunt and Pietro Corri. Hunt, called "the Giant Oklahoman" in all the boxing columns, was 6 feet 4 inches and weighed 195 pounds. The much shorter Corri outweighed Hunt by five pounds but gave up a substantial difference in reach.
Hunt was the big favorite. Of the two, he had a much more distinguished career. The web site sports-ratings.com listed Hunt at No. 116 in their list of the top 500 heavyweights of all time. (Muhammad Ali is No. 1.) His most famous fight was in 1930 when he beat future heavyweight champion James J. Braddock, the subject of Ron Howard's 2005 movie, "Cinderella Man." Hunt's career record was 89 wins, 32 losses and 10 draws.
Corri, on the other hand, was a palooka. With a career record of 13 wins, 65 losses and 6 draws, he wasn't expected to put up much of a fight. His career "highlight" was his bout against heavyweight champion Max Schmeling in 1929, when Corri's glass chin kissed the canvas in 59 seconds. It was the fastest knockout of Schmeling's career.
Shirley Povich, the legendary Post sports writer, put it best: "If Corri remains vertical tonight the fight may be worth watching."
Opening night for the Mid City Arena on July 1, 1931 was rained out and rescheduled for July 3. Gerrin must have been disappointed when opening night only drew 2,000 fans. After waiting through five preliminary fights, Hunt and Corri entered the ring for the main bout.
Corri did indeed remain vertical for 10 rounds, but Hunt won the decision. As described in The Baltimore Sun, "Corri showed courage in resisting the attempts of Hunt to knock him out in the last two rounds after administering a beating throughout the major portion of the fight."
From the start, the Mid City Arena's attendance was dismal. Rumors quickly spread that the venue was in danger of closing. On Aug. 12, 1931 the Post reported, "Despite poor attendance, influenced by poor weather on two of the three occasions the club has presented its offerings, and though the receipts of the last show on July 30 were clawed by the law, Mid City will come back 'in about 15 days' it was stated by Gerrin."
But there were no more bouts in 1931, and Gerrin sold out to C.E. Cornell, "a lunchroom proprietor who will serve in the dual capacity of promoter and matchmaker," according to the Post. Cornell renamed the venue the Twin City Arena.
Cornell needed a draw to promote attendance for the second season in 1932, and he got one. He signed light heavyweight champion Maxie Rosenbloom to headline the opening night lineup. Povich, in his own style, approved: "He's no cheese champion." Rosenbloom was named No. 30 on the all-time top 500 heavyweights. But once again, only 2,000 fans were in attendance for opening night.
The Twin City Arena became a favorite for many Baltimore and Washington boxers. Sammy Romano, from Alexandria, fought there nine times; Sailor Leonard, of Washington, eight times; and Roma Labona and Johnny Larkin, both from Washington, each fought there five times.
So what happened to the Twin Cities Arena? Fight records show no activity after 1933 but, mysteriously, there are no newspaper articles describing its demise. Was it abandoned and left to rot? Was the enormous amount of wood used in its construction repurposed for the war effort?
Do you know what happened to it?
Ken Short contributed to this article. History Matters is a monthly column rediscovering Laurel's past. Information for this story was found at the Laurel Historical Society. Contact Kevin Leonard at firstname.lastname@example.org.