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Peter Tyrrell

Peter Aloysius Tyrrell

Born April 8, 1896, Philadelphia
Died May 8, 1973, Philadelphia (age 77)


Peter J Tyrrell (1866-1908)
cigar maker


Agnes Anastasia Tyrrell (Brown) (1871-1920)


Winefried T (1897-?)
Mary J (1900-?)
Agnes (1903-?)
Joseph (1905-?)
Anna (1907-?)


Elsie Amelia Day (1906-2001)
married January 24, 1927


Peter Aloysius, Jr. (1928-2016)
Elsie Amelia (1931-1981)
Eleanore (1939-)

Pete Tyrrell, often referred to in the press as Peter A. Tyrrell, to avoid confusion with a Peter C. Tyrrell who was regularly in trouble for violating liquor laws at his various Philadelphia bars, worked his way up the sports promotion ladder to become the most important figure in Philadelphia indoor sports for a generation.

Born in the Manayunk neighborhood in Philadelphia to the Catholic family Peter J. and Agnes Tyrrell, both immigrants from the British Isles, he was the eldest of three children. Peter J. worked as a cigar maker while he and Agnes raised Pete, and his younger sisters Winifried and Mary. The younger Pete was just twelve when his father died and after high school he took a job in a bank as a bookkeeper.

Shortly after his mother died in 1920, he entered the boxing game as a promoter working as an assistant to manager Al Lippe, before eventually taking over his own stable of fighters. Described as “having the face of a poet and the cunning of a fox,” the quiet, but efficient Tyrrell made a good name for himself and by 1929 had earned the post of fight matchmaker for the Philadelphia Arena, a roughly 6,000-seat venue on the west side of town. Not only that, but he was now married, to the former Elsie Day, and had a son, Peter, Jr., who was born in 1928. A daughter, Elsie, would come along in 1931 and a second daughter, Eleanore, was born in 1939.

For the next several years, he excelled at his matchmaking post and by the middle of the 1930s he was managing the facility’s operations and was president of the Philadelphia Arrows of the Canadian-American Hockey League. In 1936, when the corporation that owned the Arena declared bankruptcy, Tyrrell was one of the three men named as receivers of the property. Two years later, when the arena emerged from bankruptcy, he was named general manager and a managing director.

In 1940 Tyrrell was in at the creation of a venerable American institution, the Ice Capades. Built by a network of arena owners hoping to generate new income, the touring troupe of skaters was a perennial draw in towns across the country for 50 years before finally losing steam and going out of business in the mid-1990s. Tyrrell was put in charge of organizing the show and managed its summer season during its formative years.

When World War II came to the United States, arenas everywhere struggled to stay afloat, and Tyrrell did his best to keep things going in Philadelphia, but one of the Arena’s prime draws, the Ramblers, successor to the Arrows, went out of business in 1941. Tyrrell formed a new club, the Rockets, but they lasted only one season before dropping out the league themselves and wouldn’t return to action until 1946. Much of the revenue generated by Arena events went to various funds in support of the war effort, rather than back into the Corporation.

Once the war ended, arena owners scrambled to find the profits denied to them over the past four years and one of the efforts was the creation of a new professional basketball league. There had been several significant pro leagues since the game’s invention in 1891, but they had mostly been regional organizations, often semi-pro and sponsored by big industrial concerns. The most famous professional teams had been barnstorming outfits, such as The Original Celtics, and were often ethnic in character, like the predominantly-Jewish Philadelphia Sphas, and the all-Black New York Renaissance.

Tyrrell, in conjunction with his counterparts in other big cities, hoping to create a more national league, formed the Basketball Association of America, with Philadelphia getting a team called the Warriors, a name the Sphas had used for a time in the 1920s. Tyrrell tabbed then-current Sphas coach Eddie Gottlieb to run the new outfit and they were off, winning the first BAA championship in 1947. Tyrrell continued as GM of the Warriors until 1952, when the Arena Corporation sold the team to a group headed by Gottlieb.

Tyrrell, as president and general manager, guided the Arena through the 1950s, and in 1958, when the facility once again changed hands, he was part of the group that bought it, becoming a part-owner and retaining his leadership role. In 1964, he was named acting president of the Arena Managers Association, but retired the next year, at the age of 68, when the Arena, facing declining revenues, was sold at auction for $300,000.

He had planned to spend his retirement shuttling between his home in Upper Darby, a Philadelphia suburb, and a winter residence in Ft Myers, Florida, but he couldn’t quit the game entirely and announced the formation of Pete Tyrrell Associates, a firm that promoted shows like the Royal Marines Tattoo drum and brass corps in the Philadelphia area. While the new company seemed to do well, he closed down operations at the end of 1966 and settled into retirement for good.

He spent the next several years moving between his two homes, taking part in the occasional golf tournament, but in the early spring of 1973 he returned to Upper Darby from his Florida home one last time, suffering from lung cancer. At the end of April, he entered the hospital, and died on May 8 at the age of 77, survived by his wife, three children, and seven grandchildren.

From the early days of the Depression to the mid-1960s, Tyrrell seemingly had a hand in every kind of sport and entertainment that needed a roof over its head. He managed, promoted, and organized everything from hockey and basketball, to boxing, rodeo, ice skating, indoor soccer, and various charitable events. Invariably described as quiet and undemonstrative, he appeared to do his job to the satisfaction of all involved and there seemed never to be a hard word against him. Before and after his death he was the subject of numerous anecdotes, almost all of which cast him as the dispenser of sage, cheerful wisdom, hard-won over the course of a lifetime getting temperamental people to work together without rancor. His son, Pete Jr., went on to a career in politics, serving for a time as a Supervisor of Newtown Township, north of Philadelphia near Trenton. Pete, Jr., died in 2016.

peter_tyrrell.txt · Last modified: 2023/10/29 02:53 by ehaight