The First U.S. Frontons

Shown on this page are historical photos of early U.S. Jai-alai frontons along with rare Jai-alai program covers, program pages and admission tickets, including some inaugural Jai-alai programs. The photos and historical content are compliments of famous memorabilia collector, Mark Kaminsky, and world-renowned Jai-alai historian and artist, Alec Smith.

Here is a photo of the first Florida fronton called the Hialeah fronton which was part of the Hialeah complex. Construction started in 1924 and it operated from 1924 to 1926. We are trying to find the exact date this fronton first opened and will publish that info if it can be established. This fronton was destroyed by the Great Miami Hurricane on September 18, 1926 (a cat 4 storm). The same hurricane also damaged the Biscayne fronton (now Miami Jai-alai). The Biscayne fronton opened in January of 1926. The Biscayne fronton lost the roof from hurricane damage but the roof was repaired and the fronton opened in time for the 1927 season with a lot of “band-aids” on the building. Legalized wagering, called Pari-Mutuel wagering, began at the Biscayne fronton on January 4, 1936.

Many people are not aware that both the Hialeah and the Biscayne frontons co-existed for about 9-months before the Great Miami Hurricane and operated with two separate rosters at the same time. A 1924 photo of the Hialeah fronton is shown below:

Below is a 1926 Biscayne fronton program cover photo and an interior program page.

The New Orleans fronton opened for Jai-Alai on November 25, 1926 to a crowd of 2,500 fans. It was located in Arabi in St. Bernard Parish. The fronton was one of about five gambling halls in that area; this one was called “The Jai-Alai Club.” In its day The Jai-Alai Club originally looked like a Moorish castle adorned with pennants flying from turrets and could accommodate at least 3,000 patrons to eat, drink, dance and gamble (including illegal slot machines). This location was especially popular as customers could hear big name bands such as Harry James and Tommy Dorsey. The club was frequently raided, however continued to operate as corruption was rampant. Below is a 1960’s photo of the New Orleans fronton building where Jai-Alai games were played.

Jai-Alai was introduced in Chicago at the Rainbo Fronton (aka Rainbo Gardens) on December 21, 1927. Fred Mann’s Rainbo Gardens was one of Chicago’s premier entertainment venues and had seating for 1,726 Jai-Alai fans. The fronton was troubled with Prohibition issues in 1928. Below is a photo of the Rainbo fronton along with a program cover and interior page from a Rainbo fronton Jai-Alai program.

Jai-Alai was introduced at the Hippodrome in New York, NY on September 8, 1938. Play only lasted for one short season and ended in 1939, exact date unknown. The fronton building was demolished in 1939. A parking garage sits in its place today and is ironically called “The Hippodrome Parking Garage.” A postcard image of the beautiful Hippodrome fronton with it’s fascinating architecture is shown below. It’s a shame a building like this was demolished to be replaced by a parking garage!

Copyright 2020