White Center resident, writer and historian, Ron Richardson has just penned a history of the building, most commonly known as the Southgate Roller Rink. You may recall that Ron previously penned a detailed history of White Center. Both articles can be found at HistoryLink.org website which has a compendium of articles on Washington State history. The Roller Rink originally started as a boxing gym and, in fact, produced some nationally ranked boxers, including Harry “The Kid” Mathews who went on to fight Rocky Marciano at Yankee Stadium. To wit some excerpts from Ron Richardson’s excellent and well-researched piece.
The Southgate Roller Rink (now Southgate Event Center) is located in the center of White Center (at 9646 17th Ave SW), a neighborhood of South Seattle. It was originally built by Hiram Green (1863-1932) in 1920 as a boxing arena. From 1937 for the next 70 years it became a roller rink, most recently famous for hosting the Rat City Roller Girls.
Green and his arena established a connection between boxing and White Center. A regular fighter at the arena was young Al Hostak (1916-2006) from Georgetown. Over the years Hostak trained, boxed, and tended bar in White Center. In 1939 Hostak won the middleweight championship of the world against Tacoma’s Freddy Steele in front of 30,000 at Seattle’s Civic Field. White Center resident Harry “The Kid” Matthews (1922-2003) kept White Center on the boxing map into the 1950s. Harry turned pro at the age of 15, hence the nickname “The Kid.” He fought former middle weight champion Al Hostak in two memorable fights, winning one and drawing the second. Later in his career Matthews defeated Ezzard Charles (1921-1975), former world heavyweight champion After 20 years of boxing Matthews record was 87 wins, 7 draws and 7 losses out of 101 fights. His biggest fight was at Yankee stadium in 1952. Matthews was knocked out by Rocky Marciano (1923-1969), future heavyweight champion of the world. This was a big disappointment, but no disgrace as no one ever did beat Marciano.
Rocky Marciano knocking out "The Kid" Mathews at Yankee Stadium
Hiram Green died in 1932. The Depression took down many an enterprise and boxing in White Center ws no exception. The building passed in to the hands of Green’s daughter, Ethel Green (b. 1909). Ethel married William “Pop” Brown (d.1969). William Brown had come from England to the United States during World War I. By 1934 the couple brought in dance bands to replace boxers and the building became a dance hall.
In 1937 Ethel, and ‘Pop’ Brown made a crucial and profitable decision. They reopened the large hanger like building, calling it the Southgate Rollerdrome. The name reflected a local attitude in that they considered White Center as the south gate to Seattle. As it turned out, a large skating rink was the right idea at the right time and in the right place. Generations of people recall the good times, friendships, skating instructions, and competitions.
And the story goes on to the present. I invite readers to peruse the piece, as it is full of delightful anecdotes and trove of historical information. Thanks Ron!