Saturday, July 7, 2012

Smokin' Joe's Former Boxing Gym Makes Annual List Of Country's Most Endangered Places; Group Seeks To Save N. Broad Street Landmark From Wrecking Ball

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports:

  • Like a boxer who remains standing after a bruising bout, the old gym where Smokin' Joe Frazier trained for his 1971 heavyweight title fight against Muhammad Ali has managed to withstand the ravages that have taken so many of North Broad Street's landmarks. Its fading marquee, reading "Joe Frazier's Gym," still is visible above the garish signs of the current occupant, a furniture store.

  • But the National Trust for Historic Preservation warned Wednesday that the 19th-century building may not be able to hold out much longer. It was just put up for sale and its future is uncertain. Fearing that Philadelphia could lose a touchstone of American boxing history, the trust put Frazier's gym on its annual roster of the country's most endangered places, one of 11 listed this year. It is the first Philadelphia building to make the list since the Boyd Theater on Chestnut Street was singled out in 2008.

  • The Boyd's inclusion on the list proved crucial in getting it on Philadelphia's historic register and staving off demolition, although it has yet to be redeveloped.

  • The trust hopes this year's citation could do the same for Frazier's gym, which is opposite Amtrak's renovated North Philadelphia station. Besides a gas station, the gym is the sole remaining structure on the block, which sits hard by the railroad viaduct. The gym was not chosen for its architectural merit, said John Gallery, who heads Philadelphia's Preservation Alliance, but because of the role it played in African American and sports history.

  • Frazier was a larger-than-life presence in Philadelphia who went on to mentor generations of young fighters at his gym. "We'd like to see the building preserved because it embodies the qualities of the man," Gallery said.
  • Frazier, who died last year at 67, was a dominant force in boxing for years, from the time he won an Olympic gold medal in 1964 until his retirement after his defeat by George Foreman in 1976. His long-standing rivalry with Ali also reflected the turbulent civil rights debates of the '60's and '70s. In an effort to prove his superiority over Ali, Frazier trained relentlessly in his gym's first-floor ring, and defeated him in the "Fight of the Century" at New York's Madison Square Garden in 1971.
  • The building, thought to have been built between 1888 and 1895, was acquired in 1966 by a syndicate of Philadelphia leaders interested in supporting Frazier's boxing career after he won the Olympic medal. He paid them back with his winnings. The gym's precarious condition came to the attention of the National Trust after a group of Temple University students was assigned to prepare mock nominations of endangered buildings by instructor Dennis Playdon.

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