As historic site, Frazier gym has fighting chance of preservation

    The National Trust for Historic Preservation has released its annual list of the 11 most endangered places in America. Included is one often overlooked building in North Philadelphia.

    If you stand outside 2917 N. Broad St., “historic” probably wouldn’t be the first word that comes to mind. Essentially, you’d be looking at the multi-colored flags and window advertisements of a neighborhood furniture store.

    But look closer, and you’ll see the last remnants of what once was: faded gray lettering saying, “Joe Frazier’s Gym.” It was here that the heavyweight trained for 1971’s so-called “fight of the century” — a bout in which Frazier became world champ by handing Muhammad Ali his first-ever loss.

    The store’s manager, Avi Iluv, says the connection to the boxing legend’s legacy has not been lost, completely.

    “The spirit is still here of Joe Frazier. We’ve got, like, the knockout prices,” Iluv said, pointing toward the street. “You see we’ve got it on the window, the knockout prices?”

    But the National Trust for Historic Preservation has aimed its sights a bit higher. It’s added the gym to its annual list of “most endangered places in America” — this in hopes of protecting the building against further sale, renovation or demolition.

    The first step in this process is to get the city to designate the building as a local historical site. Students in nearby Temple University’s architecture department have been crafting a proposal that they will submit to the city’s historical commission in the fall.

    Gary Steuer, the city’s chief cultural officer, says Frazier’s gym is an example of the type of history that’s often overshadowed.

    “Philadelphia has this extraordinarily rich history, many pieces of which are not told,” said Steuer. “People know about the Revolutionary War. They don’t know as much about the African-American heritage of the city and the great things that happened here.”

    Joe Frazier’s sister, Martha Frazier-Rhodan, has lived in the gym’s North Philadelphia neighborhood for half a century. She hopes it will be turned into an athletic-based community center.

    “This would be a big help to make us, you know, proud of living in this neighborhood — because I don’t think I’m going anywhere,” she said.

    Joe Frazier died in November at the age of 67.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.