Thursday, March 24, 2016

What do JFK, Jerry West, Elmer Bernstein, and Canned Heat have in common?

Answer:  the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena.

I mentioned this in passing on Monday – "the Dump that Jumps" (as Springsteen calls it)  is being demolished very soon. As someone who grew up in LA, I’m sorry to see it go. Lots of personal memories.

The 1960 Democratic National Convention was held there. That’s the one where Kennedy got the nomination after some wild back room caucuses. No, I did not attend. I was just a little kid. But I got to stay up late and watch.

I did go to Laker games though. Thanks to the Sports Arena, LA finally got an NBA team. I never understood why they didn’t change their name. The franchise was originally in Minnesota where it made more sense. The only lakes I had ever seen in Los Angeles were trout farms.

Those were the Elgin Baylor/Jerry West years, and when they got good enough to get into the playoffs a radio station decided there might be enough interest to broadcast their games. Chick Hearn got the assignment and a national treasure (even though he was local) was born.

I could never go to games on school nights, but fortunately, they would play on Sunday afternoons back then (to paltry crowds). My dad would take me to see Oscar Robertson, Bob Petit (from the St. Louis Hawks), Wilt Chamberlain, and my favorite opposing player, Dolph Schayes (he was Jewish).

UCLA and USC also shared the arena for their basketball programs. John Wooden’s first NCAA championship team was under that roof.

My father worked for a radio station (not the one that carried the Lakers) so got free tickets to other events. Sports Arena family outings were common. We saw indoor track meets, the Ice Capades (even as a kid I thought: “What the fuck is the point of this?”), indoor rodeos (“how did they get all that dirt?” I wondered), circuses, LA Blades minor league hockey, and the Harlem Globetrotters.

One weekend there was a boat show and Dad's station, KRKD, was doing a live remote. So we went. The station played middle-of-road music and had as their guest Elmer Bernstein. I spent a little time talking to him. Seemed like a nice man. No big deal. It was only later when I grew up that I realized, “Holy fuck! That was Elmer Bernstein! He composed some of the greatest scores in film history!” We talked about boats.

Once I got old enough to drive I would go to rock concerts there. I saw Three Dog Night and once went to a Canned Heat concert. Why would I possibly drive all the way downtown to see Canned Heat? I have no idea. Canned Heat? That’s like driving thirty miles in traffic to go to Taco Bell.

In the ‘80s the Clippers arrived and called the Sports Arena their home (the Lakers, Kings, and Elvis had left the building for the newer snazzier Inglewood Forum). I got season tickets and saw many horrible losses.

Come to think of it, the Sports Arena was rarely crowded when I went. The Clippers, Canned Heat, and indoor rodeos were not hot tickets.

Side note:  The only good thing about the Ice Capades for me was that on CHEERS when we were looking for something for Eddie Lebec to do after his NHL career was over, I remembered that ice shows employed lots of former hockey players.  So we put him in the ice show dressed as a penguin.  

UCLA vacated in the mid ‘60s for Pauley Pavilion on campus, but USC remained there into this century before the Galen Center was erected.

In the mid ‘80s I began trying to launch my sportscasting career so would go to Clipper games to practice announcing basketball. It was great. I had entire sections to myself. No one around for sixty rows. I sat high above the action at center court calling games into my tape recorder. I wonder if the players heard me. Eventually the Clippers were nice enough to give my a press credential so I could enter early and get stat sheets, etc. Walking through the arena when it was empty, I was struck by how neglected it was. Nothing’s changed, and that was thirty years ago.

One year the Clippers needed a new public address announcer and as a lark I applied. I became a finalist. For the final audition, five or six of us were asked to show up one afternoon at the arena. The floor was completely bare. Just white concrete from end to end. And one little card table with a microphone. One-by-one we were asked to sit down, read line-ups, promotional material, etc. Clipper officials and their announcer Ralph Lawler then sat way up in the rafters and listened.

When it was my turn, I said, “Testing one two three.” It was weird hearing my voice swirl around this cavernous space. I decided to have some fun. I said, “This is God Almighty, and you people are starting to piss me off!” Then I did the line-ups, etc.

Astoundingly, I was offered the job. I was unable to take it because there were a number of Thursday night games and that was my CHEERS rewrite night so there were too many conflicts. Dave Williams got the job, who was a better choice than me anyway.

I attended a few more concerts over the years.  I saw Springsteen for the first time there. The commute got longer. I was broadcasting baseball for the Syracuse Chiefs and flew home for a day just to see him.

Once the Staples Center opened the Sports Arena was effectively put out to pasture. The Boss always liked the venue so played there frequently. But for the most part it lay dormant. Now it’s being razed for a new soccer stadium.

I will miss the crumbling old gal. What if Canned Heat decides to have a reunion?

20 comments:

David G. Whitham said...

I feel your pain. You have the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, I had Shea Stadium.

She was a dump, but she was our dump.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

I've been watching Cheers during lunch here in the forest for the past couple of weeks (thank you Netflix) and coincidentally just yesterday saw "Death Takes a Holiday on Ice" where Eddie LeBec, the ice show penguin, suffers death by Zamboni. I didn't realize it before but I think that was the network debut of Thomas Hayden Church who you used later in Wings (when you nearly strangled him). Funny episode!

Hollywoodaholic said...

In 1980 Pink Floyd put on the concert for their album "The Wall," which was such an elaborate $8 million show that they only staged it in two locations: L.A. Sports Arena and Nassau Coliseum in New York. I was lucky enough to see the show at the Sports Arena, which was spectacular, featuring 30 foot high puppets, floating pig, crashing airplane, and a 200 foot by 60 foot high wall. And Donald Trump had nothing to do with it.

Ralph C. said...

Who are people who've never been in my kitchen??

Howard Hoffman said...

I was in L.A. for the 1984 Olympics, and the creaky wooden Sports Arena was home base for volleyball and sundry other events. It really is/was a testament to old school gymnasiums. Even the "luxury boxes" had wooden benches.

MikeN said...

Ken, are you going to try to cash in on the 1.5 million that the State Department is offering for a TV series to combat terrorism?

Andy Rose said...

Several years ago, the SciFi Channel aired old episodes of V from the 1980s, which I would watch for kitsch value. There were some scenes where characters were hiding out in a basketball stadium with a really run-down look and odd lower seating area. I remember thinking it looked like the kind of decrepit, out-of-date place where film companies are allowed to shoot just before it's torn down. Now after seeing the photos in the farewell stories over the past few days, I realize those scenes where filmed at the Sports Arena.

Todd Everett said...

Canned Heat still exists, with their original rhythm section.

J Lee said...

I never understood why they didn’t change their name. The franchise was originally in Minnesota where it made more sense. The only lakes I had ever seen in Los Angeles were trout farms.

Still beats the Utah (nee New Orleans) Jazz. When you think about it from a demographic standpoint, that's even funnier than the Albuquerque Isotopes.

Still not so Young said...

The most memorable birthday I had was the weekend when I turned twenty and through two different sources I saw Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at the L.A. Sports Arena twice within 48 hours. And on a side note, as far as I'm concerned, as far as I can see, no-one can touch the irreplaceable Chick Hearn for his exciting, exacting play-by-play, his honesty and his playfulness.

Mark L said...

Hi Mr Levine, I'm a long time reader but a first time commenter.
I was wondering if you have seen 11.22.63 (the James Franco TV adaptation of the Stephen King novel) as there is a nice M*A*S*H reference in episode 2.

emily said...

Comedian Garry Shandling died at an L.A. area hospital on Thursday ... TMZ has learned.
The 66-year-old star was not suffering from any illness ... as far as we know ... so, it appears this was sudden. A source connected to Shandling says he was healthy and speaking to people on Thursday morning.
Our source says there was a 911 call from "The Larry Sanders Show" star's home, and he was transported to the hospital. We're told Shandling was alive when he arrived at the hospital.


Read more: http://www.tmz.com/2016/03/24/garry-shandling-dead/#ixzz43rOCYbhR

Peter said...

Just heard the shocking news about Garry Shandling's death. That's so incredibly sad.

Ken, did you know him?

This is turning into a really awful year for celebrity deaths.

D. McEwan said...

"The only good thing about the Ice Capades for me was that on CHEERS when we were looking for something for Eddie Lebec to do after his NHL career was over, I remembered that ice shows employed lots of former hockey players."

Well, here's another good thing about the Ice Capades. They gave my my grandfather employment. When he left MGM, he worked for a while for the Ice Capades, building sets. (And as a kid, I did enjoy seeing the Ice Capades on Grandpa's free tickets.)

The first time I ever saw a real circus in person was the Ringling Brothers Circus at the Sports Arena. So while I never saw a basketball game, or any other sports event there (Except for one fake sports event I'll explain in a moment), that is where I saw Emmett Kelly work live.

I'm in the crowd watching the climactic fight in Rocky II, and that sequence was shot in the LA Memorial Sports Arena. So for me, it was the soundstage where I worked on the largest movie I've ever worked on. I met Burgess Meredith there. But I've never been back there since that shoot, 37 years ago.

MikeK.Pa. said...

"I saw Three Dog Night and once went to a Canned Heat concert."

Too bad TDN was never selected to the R&R HOF. Cory Wells and Jimmy Greenspoon are both gone. They deserve to be in it.

"In the ‘80s the Clippers arrived and called the Sports Arena their home.I got season tickets and saw many horrible losses."

You ever sit through a 9-73 season like I did with the 1972-73 Sixers? I wasn't in the stands, but watched enough uninspired ball on TV to suffer as much as the people paying to watch it. Amazingly, more than 40 years later, the Sixers are trying not to repeat that feat. Sitting at 9 wins with 10 games to go in the season.

"I began trying to launch my sportscasting career so would go to Clipper games to practice announcing basketball. It was great. I had entire sections to myself. No one around for sixty rows."

A guy I went to high school with did that at Flyers games. He talked me into doing "color" a couple times. I was horrible. There wasn't a cliche I didn't use. Unfortunately, the stands were packed and everybody heard my bad commentary - and let me know it was bad. Fortunately for my school chum, he only got better - he's now the Sixers play-by-play announcer.



Robert Forman said...

Like Hollywoodaholic, I too saw Pink Floyd perform The Wall at the Sports Arena in 1980. It was actually the last time I was there because shortly after that I moved to San Francisco. I was at the first show. After the first song they shot off fireworks. One of the embers landed in the curtain that was rolled up above the stage. As the show went on the curtain started to smolder and fiery bits of it floated down and the musicians had to dodge them. The giant schoolmaster puppet had fiery eyes and was "looking" in the direction of the curtain so a lot of the audience thought it was part of the show. During the part with the sexual flower they finally stopped the show. The fire department brought down the curtain and put out the fire. It took about 20 minutes to clear the smoke out of the arena, wind back the animation, and restart the show.
So sorry to hear they are tearing the old place down.

benson said...

Ken,

I got home late last night, and just caught a really cool feature piece on CSN Chicago on how the whole Chicago Bulls' player intro with Alan Parsons' Sirius developed. WLS's Tommy Edwards came up with it, and then Ray Clay did it during the Michael and the Jordanaires run in the 90's.

Dale Hewlett said...

I was at the first Wall show. Had 9th row center seats. They were far better than my friends who were 2nd row center. The stage was so deep they could not see it all. We ALL thought the fire was part of the show. I remember Gilmore and Waters dodging the falling flames of curtain. I also saw U2 4 times there, 2 81 Springsteen shows, last weeks St. Patricks show, Neil and Crazy Horse, and the Who a few times. Greatest "arena" venue for music. Like a mini Forum, which is way too big. Staples is ridiculous. Saw Bruce open it in 99. Worst music venue ever.

Greg Ehrbar said...

Canned Heat recorded a single with the original Chipmunks in 1968:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g45i9RFvHss

Of course, Ken, I've been waiting for years for you to provide just such an opportunity as this post to share this on your blog.

mike said...

Geez, what's with the Canned Heat Hate? A nice rockin' group.