Heavyweight champion lived in Glendale

June 02, 2011|By Katherine Yamada
  • The Willard family in front of their Blanchard Drive house. From left, daughter Frances Reding, daughter Enid Mace, Hattie and Jess Willard (he is holding Mary Ann Mace). To the right, James Mace, Sr. Photo circa 1940. (Photo courtesy Jim Mace)
The Willard family in front of their Blanchard Drive house.…

Jess Willard, who reigned as the World Heavyweight Boxing Champion from 1915 to 1919, lived on Blanchard Drive in Glendale for many years.

Recently, Willard’s grandson, Jim Mace, of Carmichael, Calif., saw a photo of his grandfather’s house posted on the Glendale Historical Society’s website. The house was described as a “Jewel of Glendale.” After viewing the website, Mace sent an email to the society.

“That house on Blanchard used to be my grandparent’s home, from 1936 to about 1946,” his email said.

Mace sent along a photo of the Willard family in front of the house.

In subsequent emails, Mace told me more about his grandfather, who was born in 1881 and grew up on a small Kansas farm. As a young man, Willard trained horses. “He was too big to ride horses as a cowboy,” Mace wrote.

Willard married Hattie Evans in 1908 and, after the newlyweds moved to Texas, he traveled around trying to find work. One day, Willard wandered into a gym, thinking he could make some money in the boxing ring, Mace said.


Willard’s boxing career is well documented online. Known as the Pottawatomie Giant, he was one of the tallest heavyweights in boxing history, according to the International Boxing Hall of Fame website.

Willard, more than 6 feet 6 inches tall, began boxing professionally in Oklahoma and his astonishing 83-inch reach and effective left jab, plus his size and speed, made him a formidable foe.

His growing fame as a boxer also brought him a measure of fame in movies.

In 1915, just before the championship bout, Willard starred in “Heart Punch,” a one-reel movie filmed in New York about a family man struggling to leave his ranch, Mace said.

Willard met the reigning champion, Jack Johnson, in front of a huge crowd in Havana, Cuba. After 26 grueling rounds on a very hot day, he knocked out Johnson, according to Wikipedia.

“After he became champion, my grandfather joined the 101 Ranch Wild West Show,” Mace said. “He traveled with it from 1915 to 1918.” In 1919, nearing 40, Willard prepared to defend his title against Jack Dempsey and again appeared in a film released shortly before the fight. This time it was a feature film titled, “The Challenge of Chance,” filmed in Los Angeles, Mace said.

On July 4, in Toledo, Ohio, Dempsey knocked Willard down seven times in the first round and Willard was unable to continue after the third round.

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