The Blue Horizon building started out as 3 four-story row homes built in 1865 for the newly rich, who wanted to be close to their industries but were snubbed by the old money at Rittenhouse Square. In 1914 the parcel was purchased by the fraternal Lodge for Loyal Order of Moose #54, and architect Carl Berger added the iconic auditorium, a bar, and a ballroom, among other amenities.
The building was spectacular and home to many of the organization’s events, including an anniversary celebration in 1939 attended by actress Betty Grable and 25,000 Lodge members from across the nation. This was likely the high water mark for the Lodge – after World War II new members weren’t joining and old ones were dying off. The grand banquets of its heyday appear to have been replaced with illegal slot machine gambling.
In 1961 the 600 remaining chartered members decided to leave the building for a new lodge in northeast Philadelphia, and the building was sold to event coordinator James Toppi for $91,000 who renamed it the Blue Horizon after a popular song. On November 3, 1961 the first fight was held there was to be between Hall of Famer George Benton and Taylor Hill, but Hill didn’t show up and Benton wound up fighting Chico Dorsey instead and winning by a technical knock out.
According to Philly Boxing History, “the Blue Horizon became the place where young fighters stared careers and older boxers ended theirs. The Blue Horizon hung on for years, many of which were lean times, compiled a dizzying list of events and participants, and in doing so became a long-standing constant in Philadelphia Boxing. In the mid-1980s, when it stood alone as an example of an old fashioned fight club, thanks to the urging of then house promoter J. Russell Peltz, the Blue Horizon was discovered by the USA cable network, which featured it many times in their “Tuesday Night Fights” series.” It was also featured in scenes in the films Rocky V and Annapolis.
Still, the Blue Horizon was struggling, as boxing failed to draw the crowds it once did. ESPN2 filmed Friday Night Fights there but eventually pulled out. There were hopes that it could become a museum and event space but the citations brought the attention of city’s Department of Revenue in 2009, which determined that the Blue Horizon was years behind on taxes. The doors to the Blue Horizon were swiftly locked and the number was disconnected.
At long last, the Blue Horizon was finished. Though the interior was in remarkably good condition, it sat abandoned for years. I hoped as I that somehow the building would be saved. The Blue Horizon arena was certainly significant as a boxing venue, but also as the foremost Moose Lodge in the world.
Mosaic Development Partners received a $6 million grant to create a hotel/restaurant complex onsite, originally stating “the structure of 1314-16 North Broad would be preserved in the plan”. The arena would be refurbished and repurposed and the plans kept the existing structure intact.” (Hidden City Philadelphia)
Somehow, though, the job they agreed to do changed into a full erasure of the complex, while leaving the (in my opinion) unexceptional façade mostly unmarred. In the Blue Horizon’s place will be a 140-room Marriott Moxy Hotel designed to appeal to a younger crowd with selfie booths and board games. Mosaic also leveled the beautiful and historic Edison High School in northeast Philadelphia for a shabby strip mall, so perhaps it should come as no surprise, and yet it’s difficult not to feel fresh indignation at every blow the city’s preservation community suffers.