A Century of Players, Performers, and Pageants: Wharton Field House and Browning Field, Moline, Illinois
For a good part of the twentieth century, and into the twenty-first, two adjacent sports and entertainment venues have played central roles in the lives of people living in Moline, Illinois, in the adjacent Quad Cities of Illinois and Iowa, and well beyond. Browning Field is more than a century old, having been willed to the City of Moline in 1910 and first used in 1912. In addition to high school football, baseball, track, and soccer, it has hosted numerous special events along with professional football and professional baseball. Among the many highlights at Browning were visits by the Chicago White Sox, Chicago Bears, Chicago Cubs, Red Grange, and Babe Ruth.
In the mid-1920s, the Maroon and White Association, an independent group headed by Theodore Finley Wharton, was created to build a field house. In the spring of 1928, the association raised a total of $175,000 through the sale of bonds.
Designed by prolific local architect William Schulzke, the Moline Field House was sited adjacent to Browning Field, dedicated in December 1928, and named after T. F. Wharton in 1941. Wharton Field House is well-known for its rich history as a basketball venue—it is the second largest high school arena in the country that dates back to the 1920s. It hosted major league professional basketball when the Tri-Cities Blackhawks, original members of the National Basketball Association, played there for five seasons.
The historical importance of Wharton Field House, however, goes well beyond basketball. Over the years it has hosted thousands of events—just about everything one can imagine. Scores of famous entertainers performed there, including Gene Autry, Jack Benny, Victor Borge, Johnny Cash, Bill Haley and the Comets, The Kingston Trio, Martin and Lewis, and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. Political rallies included one in 1964 for Barry Goldwater that attracted 7000 people, and one in 1968 for George Wallace that attracted protesters. Trade shows and exhibitions included a state poultry show, boat shows, science fairs, and the 1959 Miss Illinois Pageant. Numerous musical and religious events were common, including Easter sunrise services for three decades. Professional wrestling was very popular at Wharton from the late 1940s to the early 1990s. A 1950 performance by Gorgeous George was one of the highlights. Among the major sports figures to appear were three famous boxers who put on exhibition matches: Max Schmeling and Jack Dempsey in 1931 and Joe Louis in 1950.
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