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David Israel
July 12, 1982
Los Angeles' Olympic Auditorium has been a haven for fighters and their fans for going on 57 years
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July 12, 1982

A Dream House

Los Angeles' Olympic Auditorium has been a haven for fighters and their fans for going on 57 years

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"I shouldn't say this," she says, "but I think I made the Olympic survive. I just love boxing. I love the kids. I love to watch them from the time they're amateurs to when they win the title. I loved it even when business was bad."

When business was bad, she lived off the receipts from professional wrestling and the Roller Derby. When times were good she promoted her shows like crazy. As the population changed—as the fighters and fans changed from ethnic whites to blacks to Latin American immigrants—she changed with it. For the last 15 years they've been boxing to a decidedly Salsa beat at the Olympic.

This doesn't mean, however, that brotherhood has always been fostered. In 1964, for instance, Hiroyuki Ebihara, a Japanese flyweight, had the bad luck to win a 12-round decision over Alacran Torres, a local favorite by way of Guadalajara. Seats, jagged signboards and beer bottles rained down from the balcony. Eaton was at once distraught and filled with admiration. "We had wanted to get new seats, but we couldn't get them out of the cement," she says. "But, somehow, they got them out. After that, we borrowed $185,000 and fixed up the place."

Later that evening, a reporter from the Los Angeles Herald Examiner was interviewing casualties as they left the building. He saw a man with a heavily bandaged eye. "What did you get hit with? A bottle? A chair?" the reporter asked.

"A left hook in the third," said the man, who had fought on the undercard.

Eaton's proudest memories are of raw prospects maturing to become contenders and champions: Jerry Quarry and Joe Orbillo and Mando Ramos and Ruben Navarro and Raul Rojas and Art Aragon and Frankie Crawford and Hedgemon Lewis and Danny (Little Red) Lopez. And there were the legends who stopped by on the way up or the way down: Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali and Floyd Patterson and Sugar Ray Robinson.

But all of them pale in Eaton's heart when compared with Carlos Palomino, who grew up in the Olympic, defended his WBC welterweight title four times in the Olympic and now returns as a retiree to watch the Thursday night fights.

"I think my fondest memory was when Don sent Carlos to London to fight for the welterweight title," she says. "He told Carlos to win, come home and defend the title here. At three o'clock in the afternoon Carlos called from the dressing room in London to tell Don he'd won the title from John Stracey. He said he wanted us to hear it from him. It takes a nice kid to do something like that."

Eaton put on 49 boxing shows a year—taking off only Thanksgiving and two Thursdays around Christmas and New Year's—at her beloved Olympic. "I was," she says, "retired by force."

In 1980 the L.A.A.C. put the Olympic up for sale. Eaton wanted to buy it this time, and she tried to make a deal. The athletic club wanted $5 million. But the interest rate set by the banks—about 19%—was too high for Eaton's group to purchase the building at that price.

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