State Fairgrounds at
(known earlier as the
Atlantic Rural Exposition Grounds)
arena building (lower left) at the Virginia State Fairgrounds at Strawberry
Hill in Richmond. Wrestling took place here almost every Friday
night for decades.
(Library of Virginia
Photo - No Copyright)
by David Chappell
For a generation of
Richmond, Virginia professional wrestling fans that stretched back
to the infancy of the television age, Friday nights at the State
Fairgrounds at Strawberry Hill were where the thrills and spills of
All-Star Wrestling, later called Mid-Atlantic Championship
Wrestling, would occur.
Jim Crockett Promotions
(and before him promoter Bill Lewis) promoted many memorable cards,
particularly in the late 1950s and 1960s, at the State Fairgrounds
in Richmond. In the early part of that time frame, the Fairgrounds
were often referred to as the Atlantic Rural Exposition Grounds.
During that time period, the Fairgrounds were the principal venue
for professional wrestling in Richmond, although the Fairgrounds are
actually located in neighboring Henrico County.
The Fairgrounds venue
was a classic “smoke filled room,” smallish and often cramped for
all the many fans that wanted to see their television wrestling
heroes and villains from Saturday afternoon’s WTVR-TV 6 wrestling
show. Richmond’s Fairgrounds had a well deserved reputation for
often being a rough and rowdy place when the wrestlers came to town
on Friday nights. Perhaps the most notorious incident occurred in
the mid 1960s when both Boris Malenko and Bob Orton, Sr. were
seriously hurt because of fan violence. However, numerous wrestlers
and managers were also hauled into Henrico County courts for
incidents with fans at the Fairgrounds. It could be in a word…wild!
In 1971 the cavernous
Richmond Coliseum opened, and some of the biggest cards of All-Star
Wrestling began being held there. Around that same time, more and
more cards were held at the Richmond Arena, and when weather
permitted at the Arena’s adjacent ball park, Parker Field.
The final professional
wrestling card promoted by Jim Crockett Promotions at the State
Fairgrounds was held on March 8, 1974. In the last match on that
card, Johnny Valentine defeated Jerry Brisco in a Mid-Atlantic Title
bout. In an interview with the Mid-Atlantic Gateway, the Super
Destroyer (Don Jardine) said he was instrumental around that time in
talking the Crockett wrestling office into moving the cards from the
cramped confines of the Fairgrounds to the spacious Richmond
Coliseum, where more money could be made.
The last professional
wrestling matches at the Fairgrounds were held in the summer of
1975, when the International Wrestling Association held several
cards in opposition to Jim Crockett Promotions. The IWA promoted
former Crockett Fairgrounds regulars like Rip Hawk and Nelson Royal
at the top of their short lived cards in Richmond.
During the time the
Fairgrounds housed wrestling, it also served as a parallel venue for
horseracing and stock car racing. In fact, the term “Strawberry
Hill” reportedly came from boundless strawberries growing on the
land involved, prior to the area being turned into race tracks.
Horseracing moved from the property in 2000. But to this day, car
racing still occurs on this location that is now called Richmond
International Raceway, where over 100,000 fans come to each of two
NASCAR events every year.
Through 2008, the State
Fair of Virginia continued to be held at the Strawberry Hill
location, normally in late September into early October annually,
until being moved north of Richmond into Caroline County in 2009.
- David Chappell
December 1, 2011
Newspaper Ads and Results for shows at the State
Fairgrounds at Strawberry Hill
May 6, 1955 (Promoter Bill Lewis)
Newspaper Ads from Feb. 23, 1968 and
April 26, 1968 (Promoter Jim Crockett, local promoter Joe Murnick)
July 12, 1968 (Promoter Jim Crockett,
local promoter Joe Murnick)
August 9, 1968 (Promoter Jim Crockett,
local promoter Joe Murnick)
IWA card from August 9, 1975
1950s Promotional Postcard - Richmond VA -
Promoter: Bill Lewis
Below is a vintage
postcard from the late 1950s: the front included a photo of Bobby
and George Becker, the back provided information on where to
purchase tickets and info on the weekly wrestling event at
"Classic Venues" is a
collection of features edited by Dick Bourne
Copyright c. 2011 Mid-Atlantic Gateway
Page originally published
11/4/2011. David Chappell article "Strawberry Hill" published
Page Updated 12/1/2011