The building where Philadelphia boxing great Joe Frazier trained for his big fights has been named to the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. The annual list spotlights important examples of the nation’s architectural, cultural and natural heritage that are at risk of destruction or irreparable damage according to the association. More than 230 sites have been on the list over its 25-year history and, in that time, only a handful of listed sites have been lost.
Joe Frazier’s Gym, a three-story building on North Broad Street, is now a converted warehouse. The space where Frazier developed his skills as a heavyweight boxing champion is home to a discount furniture store and there are two floors of vacant space. Despite increased interest in commemorating Frazier’s life following his death last year, the history of the gym is currently not well recognized and the gym is unprotected, with no formal historic designation at the local or national level.
“Joe Frazier was a sports legend,” said Brent Leggs, field officer, National Trust for Historic Preservation in Boston, Mass. “He deserves a place to celebrate his legacy and contributions to the sport of boxing. Placing Joe Frazier’s Gym on the local and national registry is a fitting tribute to one of the greatest athletes of all time. Our goal is really to protect the building, to keep it safe from any negative alterations that could physically alter the building in any negative way, to prevent it from being demolished and to bring greater visibility and awareness to this historic site.”
The first step in recognizing and protecting Joe Frazier’s Gym is to ensure that it is designated at the local level. This month students at Temple University started the process. They will submit a nomination form to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places to protect the gym from adverse alterations and demolition. But additional steps are needed, including having the gym placed on the National Register of Historic Places, identifying a buyer now that gym is for sale, and assisting present and future owners in developing possible reuses.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation is a privately funded nonprofit organization that works to save America’s historic places.
They came in cars, vans, trucks and limousines. There were reporters, photographers, television news crews and radio reporters from local and national media outlets. They all came to pay their final respects to Joe Frazier, former heavyweight champion, and one of Philadelphia’s most beloved sports heroes.
More than 2,500 people attended Smokin’ Joe’s funeral services Monday morning at Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, 2800 Cheltenham Ave. Of the many sports figures and celebrities at the service were boxing great Muhammad Ali, boxing promoter Don King and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
The presence of Ali at Frazier’s homegoing service was huge. It was those classic fights between Frazier and Ali that will always have a unique place in the history of boxing. He clashed with Ali in three memorable fights in the 1970s — including the famous “Thrilla in Manila,” of which Ali said that bout brought him “as close to dying as I’ve ever come” because Frazier hit so hard. Frazier dropped Ali in the 15th round at Madison Square Garden in 1971 to seal a win in what was known as “Fight of the Century.” Although he beat Ali in that fight, Frazier lost their final two. Nevertheless, he and Ali are forever entwined and hold a very special place in the annals of boxing.
A very detailed program was passed out to all in attendance. It mentioned some of Frazier’s famous quotes such as “I’m just an average Joe,” “Mustang Sally,” “They trying to get me,” and “Put your number on that, please.” During the service, there was some great gospel music by the choir. Frazier enjoyed gospel music. His favorite singers were the Revs. C.L. Franklin and Marvin Sapp. Frazier also enjoyed music in general. He had a singing group at one time called Joe Frazier and the Knockouts.
In addition to boxing and music, Frazier cared about people — particularly family. Renae Frazier-Martin, 50, Frazier’s oldest daughter, was impressed by the outpouring of warmth and affection shown toward her father.
“I’m so glad about the support we’ve been getting from my dad’s family and fans,” Frazier-Martin said. “He’s always been there for his children. He had 11 kids. It’s hard, but he’s always been there for all of us and the grandkids. I know I’m going to miss my dad. I love him. I just want to keep his memories close to my heart. His family is his legacy to us.”
Frazier was the youngest of 13 children born to Rubin and Dolly Frazier in Beaufort, S.C. But Philly has always been home for him. Gary Collins, Frazier’s son-in-law, said he will always have great memories of Frazier, and not only as a fighter.
“He was a great champion who had spectacular accomplishments,” Collins said. “He was a fantastic father to his children. He was very personable. When he would come to visit, he wasn’t the champion of the world. He was “Pop Pop.” To my wife (Weatta Frazier-Collins), he was dad and to me he was Pop. He was just a fantastic guy.”
Frazier was a true people’s champion. He was, as he liked to say, an average Joe. People will remember that. They will also remember his brilliant career. He compiled a 32-4-1 record with 27 knockouts, holding the heavyweight title from 1970 through 1973.
Forever one of Philadelphia’s favorite adopted sons, “Smokin’ Joe” Frazier died Nov. 7, losing his battle to liver cancer. He was 67.
Wayne Simmonds, Philadelphia Flyers forward, recently stopped by the Simons Ice Rink and Recreation Center, 7200 Woolston Avenue, to teach basic hockey skills to aspiring boys and girls from the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation, as part of the grand re-opening celebration of the newly refurbished Simons Ice Rink.
The Simons Ice Rink is one of three city-owned public skating rinks that has been completely re-constructed and fully enclosed making it operational year-round. The renovations at each rink include new classrooms, learning labs and expanded public space.
In addition, Comcast Corporation presented Snider Hockey with a grant to rebuild state-of-the art computer labs in the adjacent recreation center as part of its company-wide Comcast Connect initiative.
Snider Hockey, largely through a personal commitment by Ed Snider, contributed $6.5 million to match a grant from the Commonwealth’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program. This unprecedented public/private partnership resulted in a $13 million restoration project to preserve after-school, recreational, and supplemental educational activities for children, youth, and families in the City of Philadelphia.
Snider Hockey provides free “learn to skate” programs, public skating opportunities, ice hockey instruction, and league play, including all equipment, as well as supplemental academic services at no charge to inner city boys and girls. The Philadelphia Parks & Recreation will continue to maintain the rinks.
Tickets on sale for 108th annual Phila. Sports Writers Awards
Standout stars from Philadelphia professional, collegiate and amateur sports teams, including members of the Philadelphia Phillies, the Philadelphia Flyers, and many more, will be honored on the evening of Monday, January 30 for the 108th annual Philadelphia Sports Writers Association Awards Dinner, at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Cherry Hill, N.J.
Tickets to the banquet are $95 per person, and available online at http://pswa.org. Doors to the banquet open at 5 p.m. The program begins at 6:30 p.m.
The association dinner is one of the oldest sports banquets in the nation, and annually attracts a number of great athletes, coaches, writers and broadcasters. This year the association will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game and a remembrance of the late heavyweight boxing champion Joe Frazier.
Moore, Jones, Sweeney named Big 5 Players of the Week
The Philadelphia Big 5 honored Ramone Moore (Temple) and Carl Jones (Saint Joseph’s) as the Big 5 men’s co-players of the week. Moore averaged 20 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists a game in a 2-0 week for the Owls. He scored a career-high 32 points in the squad’s Big 5 victory against Villanova including six points in a decisive 10-0 run that gave Temple a double-digit lead late. In the win over Toledo, Moore scored eight points, but dished out a season-high seven assists.
Jones averaged 21 points, 4.5 rebounds, five assists and three steals in a 2-0 week for the Hawks. He scored his 1,000th career point in a win over Boston University. Jones netted a game-high 29 points in an upset win over No. 19/17 Creighton, scoring 20 of those in the second half and hitting 10-11 foul shots.
The Philadelphia Big 5 honored Laura Sweeney (Villanova) as the Big 5 women’s player of the week. Sweeney led the Wildcats to a 2-0 week that included a hard-fought Big 5 win over Saint Joseph’s. Against Big East foe Providence, she went 10-for-15 from the floor for a game-high 25 points and tied a career-high with 13 rebounds. In the Big 5 showdown against the Hawks, she went 8-for-16 from the floor for 18 points and grabbed nine rebounds. She tallied 16 of her 18 points in the second half and scored of Villanova’s final 14 points of the game.
I first met Joe Frazier when I was a martial arts-obsessed teenager who wandered into Frazier’s gym on North Broad Street, hoping to get some boxing training. I ran into him many times over the years since, and he was always as kind and gracious as he was that first day.
What struck me at first was his size. At just under six feet tall, maybe 200 pounds or so, he was not the imposing physical specimen you’d expect from the heavyweight champion of the world. Even as a teen, I was larger than he was.
Then he shook my hand. His meaty paw swallowed mine, and his firm grip was almost frightening. But what was so large and imposing about Frazier was not the size of his muscles, but the size of his heart.
He was, without question, the most fierce and determined warrior I have ever seen step into the ring. Even though he was born in South Carolina, he was the prototypical Philadelphia fighter — always walking forward, bobbing and weaving — and steadily launching thunderous left hooks, each with vicious intent.
The last time I saw the champ, a few years ago, he still looked great. I had just interviewed his daughter, Jacqui, now a Philadelphia judge, but then a punishing puncher in her own right.
Smokin’ Joe smiled that megawatt Frazier grin at me, then broke down in a mock stance and feinted a playful, half-hearted left hook in my direction. For just a second there, I was scared out of my wits.
It was the same left hook that broke Ali’s jaw, that knocked Jimmy Ellis through the ropes, which had sent dozens of professionally trained heavyweight fighters crashing to the canvas in a crumbled heap. As quickly as the thought of my life flashing before my eyes, the champ then embraced me in a warm, genuine hug.
That, to me, is the essence of a man like Joseph William Frazier. He was never the aloof, distant celebrity who looked down on the common folk. Joe was the common folk. You could always find Joe, because he was always around. You could run into him at the grocery store, gas station, barbershop or just hanging out in Center City. And he had those same warm hugs for everyone.
I suspect he was aware of his status as a hero to thousands of Philadelphia fight fans, as a true legend in what may be the world’s toughest sport, as a mentor to untold numbers of inner city kids looking for direction, and as the living symbol of the heart, the toughness, the determination and soul of the city that never quite embraced him as warmly as he did us.
Smokin’ Joe Frazier wasn’t just a Philadelphia fighter — he was the epitome of what every kid who ever laced up a pair of gloves wanted to be.
Now that he’s gone, we look around and come to realize there’s not much we’ve done as a city on behalf of a man who has given us all so much.
And that, fellow fight fans, has got to change.
The mighty Joe Frazier gym still sits there on the corner of Broad and Glenwood, except now it’s all but abandoned, used as some sort of discount furniture warehouse.
Here’s what we do: First, restore the gym to its former glory. As much as the legendary Blue Horizon, or even the Uptown, Joe Frazier’s Cloverlay gym is a part of North Philadelphia history. Many of the game’s greats trained there, and many got their start there.
There’s just something special about a boxing gym, and this was one of the most special gyms in the country. The smell of sweat and rubbing alcohol, the sounds of the speed bag and someone skipping rope, and the dreams of young athletes determined to fight their way out of poverty and despair cannot be duplicated in some cookie cutter health club.
There are any number of present and former champions who could easily contribute a few coins to such a worthy cause, and they should be pressed into action.
Second, we rename Glenwood Avenue “Joe Frazier Way” and put up one of those historic markers to commemorate the spot where greatness once stood among us. Call your freshly elected City Council representative and demand it. Call the mayor. Call your favorite radio talk show host.
If we can give an imaginary Hollywood boxing hero a statue at the Art Museum, surely we can spare some glory for a man who was the real deal.
PHILADELPHIA — Joe Frazier, the former heavyweight champion who handed Muhammad Ali his first defeat yet had to live forever in his shadow, died Monday night after a brief final fight with liver cancer. He was 67.
The family issued a release confirming the boxer's death.
Frazier, who took on Ali in three momentous fights in the 1970s — including the epic "Thrilla in Manilla" — had been under home hospice care after being diagnosed just weeks ago with the cancer that took his life, a family friend said. Until then, Frazier had been doing regular autograph appearances, including one in Las Vegas in September.
Smokin' Joe was a small yet ferocious fighter who smothered his opponents with punches, including a devastating left hook he used to end many of his fights early. It was the left hook that dropped Ali in the 15th round at Madison Square Garden in 1971 to seal a win in the so-called "Fight of the Century."
Though he beat Ali in that fight, Frazier lost the final two and for many years was bitter about the role Ali forced him to play as his foil.
Frazier was diagnosed last month with the disease, his personal and business manager said. Leslie Wolff, who has been Frazier's manager for seven years, said the boxer had been in out and out of the hospital since early October and receiving hospice treatment the last week.
Frazier was the first man to beat Ali, knocking him down and taking a decision in the so-called Fight of the Century in 1971. He would go on to lose two more fights to Ali, including the epic "Thrilla in Manila" bout.
Frazier was bitter for many years about the way Ali treated him then. More recently, he said he had forgiven Ali for repeatedly taunting him.
While the "Fight of the Century" is celebrated in boxing lore, Ali and Frazier put on an even better show in their third fight, held in a sweltering arena in Manila as part of Ali's world tour of fights in 1975. Nearly blinded by Ali's punches, Frazier still wanted to go out for the 15th round of the fight but was held back by trainer Eddie Futch in a bout Ali would later say was the closest thing to death he could imagine.
Frazier won the heavyweight title in 1970 by stopping Jimmy Ellis in the fifth round of their fight at Madison Square Garden. Frazier defended it successfully four times before George Foreman knocked him down six times in the first two rounds to take the title from him in 1973.
Frazier would never be heavyweight champion again. -- (AP)
The city of Philadelphia and the sports world lost more than a great fighter when Joe Frazier passed away Monday night. Frazier, former heavyweight champion, who had some classic battles with Muhammad Ali, succumbed to liver cancer. He was 67 years old.
Frazier leaves behind quite a legacy. He was a champion fighter, but also a professional with whom the average person could identify in terms of his boxing style and personality. Frazier had a quick left hook that could knock you out in a second. He didn’t do anything fancy in the ring. He was where the rubber meets the road. Speaking of the road, if you saw the champ on the streets or anywhere in public he always had time to talk to the fans who supported him over the years. He was a people’s champion.
“Joe was the quintessential workman,” said Elmer Smith, former Philadelphia Daily News columnist and longtime boxing writer. “He was like the guy who carried the lunch pail and punched the clock compared to Muhammad Ali, who sort of worked in the executive suite.
“And for a lot of people, Joe was a guy who more closely represented them. He was a regular guy in some extraordinary situations with the way he acquitted himself. He was sort of an example of the way we see ourselves. For every regular guy who found himself in extraordinary situations, it was the way we always dreamed of acting if we ever got in front or became a star. He was like a bit player who stole the scene from a star.
“I think one of the things that made him as popular, he was that kind of everyman. He had an incredible heart. He represented that kind of work ethic that a lot of us pride ourselves in that we actually practiced it or not. It’s the way we like to see ourselves. A lot of people saw Joe Frazier in a way they would like to see themselves.”
A lot of people saw Frazier’s great fights over the years. He clashed with Ali in three memorable fights in the 1970s — including the famous “Thrilla in Manila,” after which Ali said that bout brought him “as close to dying as I’ve ever come” because Frazier hit so hard. The man they called “Smokin’ Joe” dropped Ali in the 15th round at Madison Square Garden in 1971 to seal a win in what was known as the ‘Fight of the Century.’ Although he beat Ali that night, Frazier lost their final two fights and for many years was bitter about the role Ali forced him to play as his foil.
Frazier was bitter for many years about the way Ali treated him then. More recently, he said he had forgiven Ali for repeatedly taunting him. Although the “Fight of the Century” is celebrated as one of the all-time great fights, Frazier put on an even better show in their third fight, held in a sweltering arena in Manila as part of Ali’s world tour of fights in 1975. Nearly blinded by Ali’s punches, Frazier still wanted to go out for the 15th round, but was held back by trainer Eddie Futch.
razier won the heavyweight title in 1970 by stopping Jimmy Ellis in the fifth round of their fight at Madison Square Garden. Fhe defended it successfully four times before George Foreman knocked him down six times in the first two rounds to take the title from him in 1973.
Bernard Hopkins, Philadelphia’s light heavyweight world champion, gave his thoughts on Frazier’s boxing exploits, which included those major fights with Ali. Hopkins remembers his boxing career extremely well.
“Ali and Joe Frazier’s rivalry is the king of all rivalries,” Hopkins said in a statement. “You cannot mention Ali’s name without Frazier, and you cannot mention Frazier without Ali. Their three fights were the three most exciting fights of the century. Joe is a person who will never be imitated or emulated. His legacy in boxing will never be duplicated, especially during his era. There will be only one Smokin’ Joe Frazier.
“To be a fighter with a ring name such as ‘Smokin’, you’re taking a big risk, because you must be smokin’ with that famous left hook, and he was. His legacy in the city of Philadelphia is up there with the greats, maybe even surpassing the 76ers’ Dr. J (Julius Erving).
“He had great discipline and a strong will to win. Joe Frazier is an icon, and he will always be remembered that way. My condolences to the entire Frazier family. It’s a very sad day in Philadelphia and all over the world.”
Frazier’s boxing career was quite impressive before he fought Ali, Foreman and Ellis. In 1964, he replaced injured heavyweight Buster Mathis in the Olympics. Frazier stepped in and won a gold medal for the United States. Ironically, Mathis was one of the fighters Frazier lost to during his amateur years. Prior to the Olympics, he was a three-time Middle Atlantic Golden Gloves heavyweight champion.
After the Olympics, he turned professional and developed his boxing skills under the tutelage of the late trainer Yancey “Yank” Durham. Frazier’s first victory as a pro was a TKO over Woody Goss in the first round. He battled a number of heavyweights throughout his career such as Jerry Quarry, Joe Bugner, Oscar Bonavena and George Chuvalo. He fought from 1965 to 1981. He compiled a 32-4-1 record with 27 knockouts, holding the heavyweight title from 1970-73.
After Frazier’s boxing career concluded, he really showed his talents and personality in the entertainment arena. The singing group Joe Frazier and the Knockouts performed in several clubs. Barbara St. Lee was one of the background singers.
“I was part of Joe Frazier’s singing group,” St. Lee said. “I worked along with the Knockouts during the time that he was with them. I was the opening act. After the Knockouts left, they were based out of New York. Fonzi Thornton was one of the main handlers of the Knockouts.
“After that, I continued to work with Joe Frazier as his background vocalist. I remember a really special occasion when he and Jacqui Frazier-Lyde (Joe’s daughter) sang together. That was special. But I know Joe loved singing. He had to convince the public that this was something he really loved to do. He used to sing songs like ‘Mustang Sally,’ ‘Proud Mary’ and ‘My Way.’ His favorite song was ‘My Way’ because he did it his way.”
That wasn’t the only thing Frazier did in retirement. He also had Joe Frazier’s Gym at Broad and Glenwood in North Philadelphia for many years. His son, Marvis Frazier trained at the legendary gym, which was later sold and is now a furniture store. Marvis had a solid boxing career, posting a 19-2 record. Bill Vargus, former sportscaster for Fox TV Channel 29 and longtime boxing reporter, remembers how Joe developed Marvis into a fighter who got into the ring with former heavyweight champion Larry Holmes.
“You look at the amazing relationship he had with Marvis,” Vargus said. “Marvis wasn’t the fighter that Joe was, but Marvis always talks about how after he got knocked out in the first round by Larry Holmes, he was so distraught because he had thought he let his father down. Joe hugged him. He told him that he loved him. They always had this great relationship and Marvis will continue to do good work in the community.”
Frazier has been a big part of the Philadelphia community for many years. He was born in Beaufort, S.C., one of 13 children born to Rubin and Dolly Frazier. However, Philly has always been the place he’s called home.
“Joe Frazier was the quintessential Philadelphia boxer,” said Mayor Michael Nutter in a statement. “He represented the heart and soul of boxing in our great city. In the ring and in the neighborhoods, he carried himself with dignity and courage. He was a true ambassador for our city. I enjoyed him as a fighter, and I really liked him as a person. The entire city mourns his passing, and we keep him and his family in our prayers.”
Frazier has been inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame and the World Boxing Hall of Fame. He received a special award this summer. The National Association of Black Journalists Sports Task Force honored him with the Sam Lacy Pioneer Award at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. There were more than 200 people at the event, part of the 2011 NABJ Convention in Philadelphia.
The NABJ Sports Task Force, composed of more than 100 sports journalists from around the country, recognized him for his groundbreaking efforts and boxing achievements. The awards ceremony was one of the signature events at the convention.
It was a huge award for an outstanding person.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Move over, Rocky. Make way for Smokin' Joe.
The mayor of Philadelphia kicked off a campaign Wednesday to raise money for a statue of hometown boxing great Joe Frazier, a tribute he called "long overdue."
Joined by members of Frazier's family, Mayor Michael Nutter praised the onetime heavyweight champion as a fearless, determined fighter and "a good human being" who gave back to the community. Frazier died last year of liver cancer at age 67.
"Joe Frazier fought as a Philadelphian, and now it's our turn to fight for Joe's memory by erecting a statue that captures his indomitable spirit," Nutter said.
The $150,000 fundraising goal includes money for maintenance of the memorial, which Nutter hopes to unveil by the end of 2013.
"Smokin' Joe" slugged his way to the heavyweight title in 1971 by becoming the first boxer to beat Muhammad Ali. They fought two more classic bouts, including 1975's "Thrilla in Manila." Frazier lost both rematches.
On Wednesday, his eldest daughter, Renae Frazier-Martin, spoke proudly of her father and his athletic accomplishments, noting his 1964 Olympic gold medal and professional record of 34-2-1, with 27 knockouts.
"To the world, he was 'Smokin' Joe' Frazier ..." Frazier-Martin said. "To the city of Philadelphia, he was just Joe. He lived here, he worked here, he built here, he went to church here, he taught here, he gave here and — don't forget — he partied here, too."
The Frazier memorial might finally quiet critics who have long derided the city for showering more brotherly love on fictional movie fighter Rocky Balboa than on a real champion.
A "statue" of Rocky — it's actually a movie prop left over from "Rocky 3" — stands beside the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum.
Frazier's statue will be placed at Xfinity Live, an entertainment complex near Philadelphia's three sports stadiums. The property lies in the footprint of the Spectrum, an arena where Frazier fought.
Jeff Snyder, development director for the complex, announced a $25,000 corporate donation Wednesday to kick-start the collections. All contributions will be managed by the city's nonprofit organization, The Fund for Philadelphia.
Separately, preservationists are seeking to save Frazier's former gym, which served as his training site and a neighborhood anchor in north Philadelphia. Frazier sold the building in 2008. -- (AP)
Outside of Joe Frazier’s Gym in North Philadelphia, the sidewalk is littered with an empty handle of Gordon’s gin, a yellow flash of caution tape and scattered pebbles of broken glass.
Inside the gym, which isn’t a gym anymore, there are couches and mattresses for sale.
More than a year after Frazier’s 2011 death, preservation advocates are seeking protective designations for the building in a campaign that is a sign of a larger cultural shift in the historic preservation community. At the movement’s heart is a push for inclusiveness in a field that has long privileged the stories and accomplishments of influential white men and paid little if any attention to anyone else.
“We’ve done an analysis over the past year,” said Stephanie Toothman, the National Park Service’s associate director for cultural resources. “The percentage of sites that specifically represent women and groups such as African Americans, Native Americans and Asian Pacific Americans ranges from 3 to 8 percent.”
Compared with the makeup of the U.S. population, that percentage is minuscule. Women make up slightly more than 50 percent of the population in the United States and white men account for about 36 percent of the overall population, according the latest figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.
“They often say that history is written by the winners, but it’s also narrated by the people who have the podium,” said Page Harrington, executive director of Sewall-Belmont House and Museum, the Washington, D.C., headquarters for the National Woman’s Party throughout much of the 20th century. “So if you have fewer women in leadership positions — in universities, or writing textbooks, or in Congress — you have fewer of those stories that are necessarily making their way into the public spectrum that the next generation of scholars looks at, and so on, and so on.”
The fight to save Frazier’s gym seems appropriately symbolic for a man who fought his way to the top. Frazier was an underdog before he became a champ. He worked in a Philadelphia slaughterhouse, where he practiced throwing punches on slabs of beef hanging in a freezing meat locker. Sylvester Stallone borrowed that training habit for a montage in the boxing film “Rocky.” And while Philadelphia erected a statue of Stallone’s fictional boxer, the fate of Frazier’s gym is uncertain.
“Philadelphia is the capital of boxing and I believe Joe Frazier’s gym is the White House,” said Frazier’s son, Marvis Frazier, in a 2011 documentary. Frazier began working out there in 1968. It’s where he trained for the “Fight of the Century” in 1971, when he beat Muhammad Ali to defend his title as undisputed world heavyweight champion.
“JOE FRAZIER’S GYM” is still etched into the face of the building at 2917 N. Broad St. Little pairs of boxing gloves are stenciled on either side. In big red letters underneath: Home Gallery Furniture & Bedding. A sticker on the window advertises “knockout prices.”
Today, there are chocolate-colored sofas where the boxing ring and punching bag used to be, and headboards in what was once Frazier’s locker room. The brick walls have been painted a docile yellow. Mylar balloons shaped like stars bob from strings tied to sofas and bed frames. The furniture store owner didn’t respond to interview requests but locals are encouraged by the idea that the building, which is for sale, might be recognized officially and protected as historic.
“Hopefully in a few years, it will go back to what it used to be,” said an employee who didn’t want his name published.
Outside, a broad-shouldered security guard stood watch. “It’s the neighborhood,” he explained with a shrug.
He didn’t have to say more than that: Joe Frazier’s gym is in a part of Philadelphia where barbed wire sprouts from fence tops, storefronts warn people wearing hoodies to keep out, and the homicide rate is nearly three times higher than it is in the rest of the city.
“This is a place that is a more humble architectural resource,” said Stephanie Meeks, who runs the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded preservation advocacy group. “But it’s really important from the standpoint of an iconic American sports figure and the significance that he had.”
What’s worth saving?
As preservationists look to be more inclusive, they’re also reassessing long-held notions about what ought to be preserved. The passage of time inevitably prompts re-evaluation of what is historically significant; usually about 50 years pass before something is in the running for historic protection. Paul Lusignan, whose job is to review applications for National Register of Historic Places designation, remembers when the skyscrapers of the 1950s and 1960s were considered “the enemy” to preservationists. To scholars in the 1980s, the post-World War II era ushered in a spate of “cold, unfeeling” architecture, he said.
“Modern buildings were coming in and destroying Victorian architecture, so we were trying to protect Victorian architecture,” said Lusignan, 54. “Now we’re looking and saying, ‘No, some of these modernist buildings, though they may have demolished something else nice, are significant in and of themselves.’ That’s always been changing. As time has moved on, people have looked at different things.”
More recently, preservationists have expanded parameters to include historic designations for modest bungalows, airplanes, water towers, even gas stations. The National Park Service has thus far “drawn the line at cars,” archivist Jeff Joeckel says.
The idea that an unassuming brick building where a young boxer turned into a champion — miles away from Independence Hall or the street where Benjamin Franklin lived — might join Philadelphia’s ranks of historic treasures is one that wouldn’t have gained much traction in the past.
At the same time, preservationists are looking beyond the built world altogether, which requires disassociating ideas about historic significance from Western values.
“In most native communities, the spiritual aspects of life and their worldview are not separated from everything else,” said Valerie Hauser, director of the Office of Native American Affairs at the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. “So that’s a basic disconnect. We often — on the federal side, or the nonnative side — are challenged to understand the significance to a tribe, say, or a Native Hawaiian organization, that maintaining the view shed of the mountain could be important.”
In Hawaiian culture, slices of land traditionally were divvied up into ahupuaa: Long uninterrupted strips that extended from the mountains down to the shore. Development over the years — particularly on the island of Oahu, which includes Honolulu — has broken many of those sacred mountain-to-ocean links.
“There’s still an inherent tension between the nonnative side of preservation and the native side of preservation,” Hauser said. “We’re still trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. We’re still going through growing pains, but we have at least gotten to the point where we sit and argue and recognize that they have a place at the table. Philosophically, it’s recognized. Policy-wise, it’s recognized. Legally, it’s recognized. But operationally, it’s more challenging.”
The way forward
The Obama administration has listed inclusiveness among its priorities for historic preservation efforts going forward. Outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made it clear in a recent statement that “we need to change” the low level of representation of women, specifically among National Park System sites.
One of the steps his department took late last year was to officially affiliate the Sewall-Belmont House with the National Mall. That administrative restructuring means that when people research sites to visit, Sewall-Belmont will be listed among better-known Washington landmarks like the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.
“Secretary Salazar wants the history of minorities more accurately represented but also more equally represented, and that’s been something that he’s been focused on,” said Sewall-Belmont’s Harrington. “But if there is no actual funding for it, it’s going to limit what we can do. You have to ask yourself: What is the dollar amount it would take to get where we need to be? And it’s astronomical.”
Federal advocates also are working to find ways to engage people on the local level, since national historic designations must begin with state nominations. That means finding ways to connect with individuals and groups that often aren’t accustomed to considering their own stories and histories as eligible for broader recognition.
Back in North Philly, preservationists are cautiously optimistic about the campaign for Frazier’s gym. They plan to complete a study on whether it’s possible to turn it back into a gym or some kind of community center, “the type that Joe Frazier had in mind for the building,” said John Gallery, former executive director of the Philadelphia Preservation Alliance.
A 1974 New York Times article described the gym as it was in those days: Huge boxing photos and an oil painting of Frazier hanging on the original red brick walls, with bright blue carpeting with dark wood paneling. It was a gym “of relative splendor,” and seemed especially lavish in the shadow of “the grimy North Philadelphia railroad station.”
In Frazier’s fighting days, he had a reputation for taking punches — smirking and chuckling at the ones that hurt the most — and biding his time before striking down his opponent.
Frazier’s legacy on North Broad Street seems distant now. It’s been 42 years since the Fight of the Century, which pitted a heavyweight so nimble he could “float like a butterfly” against Frazier’s dogged and sometimes-clunky style. Ali, who was 5 inches taller than Frazier, was favored by many to win that night. In an article published the day of the fight, a New York Times reporter described what it would look like when Frazier inevitably lost: His chortling giving way to dizziness and the loss of spatial relationships, the eventual relief of going down.
But that isn’t what happened. Joe Frazier won.
And on the wall of his gym, which is now a discount furniture store, he put up an enormous photo — 8 feet wide and 6 feet tall — from that night. The photographer had captured the moment just before Ali dropped from Frazier’s spectacular left hook. Ali’s face was caught in an expression of dull surprise, like he couldn’t believe he was about to fall, or that the fight would actually end the way it did. –(AP)
From sex scandals to revolutions and natural disasters, the top ten national and international stories of 2011 had it all. The Tribune compiled a synopsis of its top ten stories.
9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden killed by U.S.
A Navy SEAL team shot and killed al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden on May 1 at his hideout in Pakistan. He’d been the world’s most-wanted terrorist for nearly a decade, ever since a team of his al-Qaida followers carried out the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The manhunt ended with a nighttime assault by a helicopter-borne special operations squad on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Bin Laden was shot dead by one of the raiders, and within hours his body was buried at sea.
Penn State sex abuse scandal topples Joe Pa
Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was charged with sexually abusing 10 boys over a 12-year period. He has been charged with 52 counts related to the abuse and is currently free on bail.
The scandal rocked the university, leading to the firing of iconic coach Joe Paterno and president Graham Spanier. Both men were fired by the board of trustees on Nov. 9.
Paterno led the Penn State Nittany Lions for 46 seasons and had amassed 409 career victories — a Division I record. His dismissal led to riots in State College, as students protested his removal.
Sandusky, 67, who since 1977 headed up a charity for trouble children called the Second Mile, has maintained his innocence.
Occupy Wall Street spread inequity protests to more than 200 cities worldwide
Demonstrators first gathered Sept. 17, in Zuccotti Park, located in New York City’s Wall Street financial district to protest against social and economic inequality, high unemployment, greed, as well as corruption, and the undue influence of corporations — particularly from the financial services sector — on government. Under the slogan “We are the 99 percent,” the protests in New York City have sparked similar protests and movements around the world.
Arab Spring spreads across the Middle East
A wave of protests rolled across the Middle East, leading to revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, and civil war in Libya. In addition, there was major civil unrest in Bahrain, Syria and Yemen along with protests in Algeria, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco and Oman.
Demonstrators shared frustration at growing economic inequity in all of those countries and well as oppressive regimes. The most famous of the protests took place in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Tens of thousands of protestors forced out dictator Hosni Mubarak with largely peaceful demonstrations.
Boxing legend Joe Frazier dies
Former Heavyweight Champion Joe Frazier died from liver cancer at 67 on Nov. 7.
Born in Beaufort, South Carolina, and long a fixture in Philadelphia, Frazier became the only American fighter to win a gold medal in the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.
Turning pro, he beat Muhammad Ali for the heavyweight title in 1971, the first man to do so. But, Frazier held the title for just four fights.
The two men battled it out three times, twice in the heart of New York City and once in the morning in a steamy arena in the Philippines in an epic battle dubbed “the Thrilla in Manila.” They went 41 rounds together. Neither gave an inch, and both gave it their all.
In their last fight in Manila in 1975, they traded punches with a fervor that seemed unimaginable among heavyweights. Frazier gave as good as he got for 14 rounds, then had to be held back by trainer Eddie Futch as he tried to go out for the final round, unable to see.
In the end, the two sworn enemies forgave each other. Both are members of the Boxing Hall of Fame.
Black Republican Herman Cain flames out as possible Republican nominee
Pizza mogul Herman Cain, briefly considered the likely Republican nominee for president, dropped out of the campaign on Dec. 4, as charges of sexual impropriety grew.
In his announcement, Cain said he decided to drop out to avoid news coverage that was hurtful to his family.
His decision came five days after an Atlanta-area woman claimed she and Cain had an affair for more than a decade, a claim that followed several allegations of sexual harassment against the Georgia businessman.
The businessman had surged in polls until news surfaced in late October that he had been accused of sexual harassment by two women during his time as president of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s.
Casey Anthony declared innocent in death of her daughter
The Florida mom on trial for killing her 2-year-old daughter in 2008 was acquitted July 5 after the jury deliberated for 11 hours. The 25-year-old had been charged with first-degree murder, which could have brought the death penalty if she had been convicted.
Instead, she was convicted of only four counts of lying to investigators looking into the June 2008 disappearance of her daughter Caylee. The tot’s body was found in the woods six months later and a medical examiner was never able to determine how she died.
Jailed since August 2008, Anthony was sentenced to four years but left jail July 17 for time served.
Steve Jobs, Apple founder dies
Apple founder, technological and business guru Steve Jobs died Oct. 5 at the age of 56 from pancreatic cancer. He had been fighting the disease since 2004.
Jobs’ death created a huge outpouring of emotion with mourners who lauded him as a visionary and turned Apple stores across the country into impromptu memorials.
Earthquake strikes Japan
A 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck Japan on March 11, triggering a deadly tsunami that washed far inland, swamping towns, sweeping away a train and sparking massive fires, including one at a major nuclear plant.
The quake ultimately claimed nearly 20,000 lives and caused an estimated $218 billion in damage. The tsunami triggered the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl, after waves knocked out the cooling system at the Fukushima nuclear plant, causing it to spew radiation that turned up in local produce. About 100,000 people evacuated from the area have not returned to their homes. Traces of radioactive materials linked to the accident were detected as far away as Massachusetts.
The offshore quake struck at 2:46 p.m. local time at a depth of 24 kilometers about 125 kilometers off the coast, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, U.S. representative from Arizona
Forty-one-year-old Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot on Jan. 8 while meeting with constituents in Tucson, Ariz. Six people were killed and 13 wounded in the attack, including the lawmaker and members of her staff. Giffords was shot by Jared Loughner, who was quickly captured and imprisoned while being evaluated to determine if was mentally incapable of participating in his defense.
It took more than seven months for her recovery. She returned to Congress on Aug. 1.
This story has been compiled from Associated reports.
“Work is the only meaning I’ve ever known. Like the man in the song says, I just gotta keep on keepin’ on.” Joe Frazier
Years ago in a Philadelphia slaughterhouse, an aspiring young boxer trained in the early mornings by punching sides of beef. He would run up and down the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum.
The world associates these images with a fictional boxer, Rocky Balboa, but they were part of the fascinating life of Smokin’ Joe Frazier, who died earlier this month at the age of 67.
In many ways, the appropriation of Frazier’s early training days is emblematic of how, even at the height of his career, he was overshadowed by the slicker, brasher media favorite, Muhammad Ali.
Although their animosity defined an era of boxing, Frazier boycotted the 1967 heavyweight elimination tournament to find a successor to Ali, and he personally petitioned President Richard M. Nixon to have Ali’s license reinstated. While Ali was banned from boxing, Frazier lent him money to pay his bills. “I’ve never fought anyone with a will so strong,” Ali would say of Frazier.
I’ve always been an Ali fan myself, but the only time I ever rooted against Frazier was when he fought Ali. Frazier, in comparison, was a man of few words, who proved himself with hard work and action in the ring. He let his boxing speak for him.
In many ways, Frazier’s very life, more than anything he said, defined the struggle of Black America. He was self-taught and self-reliant. He rose from crushing poverty in Jim Crow-era South Carolina, one of 14 children born to struggling sharecroppers. He worked the fields from the age of 7 until he, like so many who are part of the Great Migrations of the 20th century, hopped a Greyhound bus to New York City before making his way to Philadelphia.
After he retired from boxing, Joe Frazier’s Gym became an important part of the Philadelphia neighborhood. Though it’s no longer a training facility, fans and former students flocked to the building upon learning of Frazier’s death. It had been a safe haven for young people, a center of the community. In contrast to the violence and sometimes hopelessness of the neighborhood streets outside, young people learned discipline and hard work, and their lives were changed forever, thanks to Smokin’ Joe. — (NNPA)
Marc Morial is the president and CEO of the National Urban League.