Larry Barnhizer – an early member of the LOF Glass Plant staff – began his independent coverage of regional wrestling matches at the Uptown Arena in Modesto over 40 years ago and has had many of his thousands of photographs published in wrestling magazines.
The Manteca resident, who grew up in Riverbank and Modesto, began his career at ringside as a young amateur photographer becoming an integral part of Northern California’s 100-year history of the entertaining sport.
He had his first article published as a correspondent’s report for Northern California including the details of a Pat Patterson vs. Ray Stevens “Death Match” at the Cow Palace printed in the 1970 issue of “Inside Wrestling” leading to the purchase of his first new 35mm camera to begin photographing the matches at Modesto’s Uptown Arena.
Barnhizer said it took some six months of shooting to create his style of capturing the ringside action that appealed to many magazine publishers. They liked his work including his shots of the choke hold, body slams and Flying Ariel attacks. He said he assessed his pictures, constantly studying how he could improve at the next match to make them even better.
“It was very, very hard,” he said remembering his beginning.
When Wrestler Don Muraco was putting the hurt on Pat Patterson – Barnhizer was there — at the converted upstairs warehouse that housed the Uptown Arena in 1974. The building’s ceiling beams were a constant threat to wrestlers jumping up to make a pin of their opponent already on the mat – hitting their heads on the beams for the count.
Barnhizer steadily improved with a quick eye and a fast finger with Northern California wrestling fans watching for his action shots in popular wrestling magazines like Wrestling Revue, Inside Wrestling, The Wrestler and The Big Book of Wrestling, along with the 1974 issue of Wrestling Roundup that had a feature presentation of about a dozen of his pictures in what was dubbed “Larry Barnhizer’s Scrapbook.”
Today he is proud of the part he played in the newly published “When It Was Big Time” in wrestling by promoter Rock Rims detailing stories and photographs of the wrestling history in Northern California in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. Barnhizer said he spent some 30 years photographing matches in Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco and Modesto.
“I was around all the greats,” he said of his career.
He noted that the late Johnny Miller, Uptown Arena Promoter made it all happen for him with many of his action photos included in the book.
It was a chance meeting with Miller in the late ‘60s which led to him becoming involved with the wrestling scene and becoming wrestling photographer. Johnny Miller was a Modesto police officer and he was in an alley talking with friends who lived in the same apartment complex when Barnhizer first met him by chance and talked to him about wrestling.
Barnhizer remembers when Andre the Giant was wrestling in Modesto in a handicap match and at one point took off one of his opponent’s boots.
“He was so tall and the roof beam was so low that he took the boot and put it on top of the beam. The whole crowd was laughing as the wrestler was frantically jumping up to get the boot but it was too high. It was hilarious as Andre just stood there with a big smile on his face.”
Then there was another time when Larry got a little too close to the action on the mat and a foot caught his camera below the ropes and smashed it against his face.
“It hurt and cut me up pretty good,” he remembers.
“We got to talking,” he said of Miller, “and he invited me to see the matches he was promoting at the Uptown Arena. Johnny and I became friends after a few years and he told me I should come more often to his events. And it was in 1970 that I started going on a more regular basis and I also began sending in match results and articles to some of the wrestling magazines back East.”
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