Cambria Athletic Club
2770 Ruth Street
A red brick building near the intersection of Kensington Avenue and Somerset Street stands as a reminder of the bygone glory days of professional boxing in the Kensington neighborhood. This building was known as the Cambria Athletic Club (A.C.) from 1917 to 1963 and during its years of operation hosted popular weekly boxing matches. The building is now used as a warehouse, and is located in the heart of the Philadelphia “Badlands,” a hot spot for heroin and cocaine users. Police officers regularly patrol the nearby intersection in an effort to deter open air drug sales and other criminal activity.
Johnny Burns opened the Cambria A.C. in 1917, and ran the venue until his sudden death in 1940. Following his death, his wife Rosie became the first woman be granted a fight promoter’s license in the United States and ran the venue. The converted movie theater shared the name Cambria with an outdoor stadium that Burns also opened in 1914. Cambria Stadium was located near Frankford Avenue and Cambria Street, and was open for the “outdoor season” for more than 40 years.
The Cambria A.C. held approximately 2,000 spectators, and its initial boxing match was on February 2, 1917. The Cambria A.C. quickly gained a reputation for holding boxing cards loaded with brutal and bloody fights. For this reason, the venue was often known by the nicknames, “The Bucket of Blood”, “Blood Pit”, and “College of Hard Knocks”. Tragedy struck on January 29, 1956, when Middleweight Robert Perry of Philadelphia was knocked out by Baltimore’s Rudy Watkins in the sixth round of their bout. Perry was rushed to Episcopal Hospital in Philadelphia where he was later pronounced dead from injuries sustained in the fight.
The Cambria A.C. was one of a number of popular boxing arenas in the city. Other venues included Olympia A.C. at Broad and Bainbridge Streets and the Nonpariel A.C. at Kensington Avenue and Ontario Street. Throughout the early 1900s, boxing arenas were extremely popular amongst Philadelphians and drew capacity crowds. Large attendance numbers were common at the Cambria A.C.’s weekly Friday night fights prior to the availability of television sets in residential homes. From the 1950s to 1963, the venue struggled to compete with televised boxing. The Cambria A.C. went on to serve as a club show venue that featured a number of local and prospect fighters until its closure.
Numerous Philadelphia fighters fought on cards at the Cambria A.C., including some of the city’s most popular fighters and world champions. Benny Bass fought professionally from 1919 to 1940, and held world titles in both the featherweight and junior welterweight divisions. Over the span of his career, Bass fought at the Cambria A.C. over 20 times, including one of his final professional bouts on February 2, 1940. Tommy Loughran, a South Philadelphia native, held the World Light Heavyweight Title from 1927 to 1929. Loughran fought four professional bouts at the Cambria A.C. between 1920 and 1921. Johnny Jadick, a Ukrainian immigrant to Philadelphia, fought professionally from 1923 to 1937. Jadick was the World Junior Welterweight Champion in 1932. Jadick fought 49 times at the Cambria A.C. between 1923 and 1936. Midget Wolgast was flyweight boxer who held the N.Y. World Flyweight Champion from 1930 to 1935. Wolgast fought eight times at the Cambria A.C. over the span of his Hall of Fame boxing career.
Bob Montgomery fought professionally from 1938 to 1950. He held the N.Y. World Lightweight Title in 1943, and again from 1944 to 1947. Amongst his early professional bouts in the late 1930s, he was defeated by Tommy Speigal for the USA Pennsylvania State Lightweight Title at the Cambria A.C. on November 10, 1939. Harold Johnson of Manayunk held two world titles in the light heavyweight division in the early 1960s. Johnson fought at the Cambria A.C. three times during his career. Joey Giardello was the World Middleweight Champion from 1963 to 1965. The East Passyunk Crossing neighborhood native fought twice at the Cambria A.C. in 1951. Middleweight George Benton, known to admirers as the “Mayor of North Philadelphia”, fought back to back bouts against Clarence Hinnant at the Cambria A.C. in 1955. “Bad” Bennie Briscoe fought professionally from 1962 to 1982. Three of his first four professional fights were held at the Cambria A.C. Briscoe was so popular amongst Philadelphia boxing fans that boxing historian, John DiSanto, chose to name his annual Philadelphia boxing award ceremony after him.
The Cambria A.C. closed in 1963. At the time of its closing, the Cambria A.C. was recognized as the oldest active boxing venue in the United States. The weekly Friday night fights held at the Cambria A.C. inspired other promoters and venues in Philadelphia to host similar events. From 1961 to 2010, the Legendary Blue Horizon on North Broad Street carried on the legacy of the Cambria A.C. by putting on professional boxing matches in a similar fashion.