Photo Courtesy of Roy Sordi Jr.
Babe Sordi’s grandson, Kurt Gleason, is seen here wearing his grandfather’s boxing robe, which he wore when he was boxing at the Bucket of Blood from 1931 to 1935.
Dominic Sordi Jr. was a gentleman; I was always impressed by his quiet demeanor. Of course, I didn’t know him in the old days when he was a star at the “Bucket of Blood” near the southwest corner of Avenue 13 1/2 and Road 23 1/2.
The “Bucket of Blood” is now a house, but it was once a dance hall and moonshine distillery. Its history is as captivating as that of any structure in Madera.
It was built by the Sordi brothers, Dominic and Abramo, as a place for folks to have a little fun during prohibition. The Sordi brothers had immigrated to Madera from Italy at the turn of the 20th century and began building houses in Southeast Madera. Sometime during Prohibition, they were hit with the brainstorm of building a dance hall with a moonshine still on Avenue 13 1/2. The Sordi Dance Hall was a success right from the start. It was always filled on Saturday nights as revelers enjoyed dancing, booze, and some entertainment provided by Abramo. The dexterous Italian more than once got up on a table, balancing a full glass of wine on his head and danced without spilling a drop. Then, as the story goes, some young Portuguese fellows from Chowchilla started attending the dances looking for female dancing partners. The Italian men took umbrage at this invasion, and fists began to fly. Soon the place was no longer called Sordi’s Dance Hall; it became known as “the Bucket of Blood.”
By the 1930s, somebody decided to allow the Bucket of Blood to live up to its name. They installed a boxing ring, and that is how Dominic Jr. came into the picture. He became a champion fighter in the local ring, complete with a boxing robe he made himself. His mother refused to make it for him because she opposed his forays in fisticuffs. Nobody knew him as Dominic in those days; he was “Babe” Sordi inside and outside the ring.
The stories about Babe Sordi’s boxing career at the Bucket of Blood abound to this day, and his boxing robe now hangs in the home of his daughter, Barbara Thornton and her husband, Ross.
All good things must come to an end, of course, and Babe Sordi’s boxing career was no exception. By the time he and Irene Schiavoni were married in 1937, the Bucket of Blood had been turned into a home for Roy Sordi, Abramo’s son. Meanwhile, Babe turned his attention to providing for his family.
Sordi had many talents beyond boxing; he could build or fix just about anything. One time he decided that he needed a barn, so he just began to build one. About the time he got a good start, the county building inspector came by. The official agreed that the barn was solid and well-constructed but insisted that Babe needed a permit.
When apprised of the requirement, Babe said, “Well give me one.”
The inspector replied, “Let me see the plans.”
Babe looked at the man and just pointed with his index finger to his temple. Although this wasn’t good enough for inspector, Babe still got his permit. The two men sat down then and there to draw up the plans on a piece of scrap paper.
Another time, Babe built a garage at the home of his daughter and son-in-law, Ross and Barbara Thornton. Ross, quoting a building contractor, said the building would withstand an earthquake of 9.5 on the Richter scale.
In later life, Babe would often ride around Madera and point to different houses along the way and say with pride, “I built that one,” or “I built that one.” He was a man of many interests. At times, he was a plumber by day and a farmer at night. At one time he owned the Rotor Rooter Franchise in Madera. He even tried his hand at stock car racing. That is how it was with Babe Sordi — a man of action and talent. He left his mark all over Madera with the houses, garages and barns that he built.
He also left a memory that is preserved in that old house on Avenue 13 1/2. It is the image of a teenage Italian lad who climbed into the ring, took off his robe, and filled the air with punches as he got ready to do battle again in Madera’s Bucket of Blood.