At Joe Frazier's old gym, memories of a champion

Posted: November 09, 2011

THE ENGRAVED SIGN that proudly proclaimed the building as "Joe Frazier's Gym" is now surrounded by neon lights promoting a furniture store. The only other clue that this North Broad Street structure once housed a neighborhood's pride and joy is the advertisement in the middle window: It shows two boxing gloves and bears the slogan, "Knock Out Prices."

But locals don't need help finding Frazier's old North Philadelphia stomping grounds. They know exactly where the former heavyweight champion mentored hundreds of young men, undoubtedly saving and changing lives.

"This gym was a safe haven," said Webster Riddick, who worked for Frazier as a photographer and who came by yesterday to pay his respects. "He kept it open for the kids, for the families. It was almost like a barbershop. People would come in and share news and stay for hours."

Frazier is a legend here, not only for his boxing skills but for his humanity. People talk about how he opened the gym early and kept it open late, all in an attempt to keep kids off the streets. How he gave away turkeys at Thanksgiving. How he once literally gave a homeless man in the neighboring gas station the sweater off his back.

"Joe was a champ, a good man inside and outside the gym, too," said Jamal "Psycho" Harris, 50, who trained at the gym. "He did whatever he could for this neighborhood. He spent a lot of time just doing that, giving back."

In & Out Furniture and Bedding, which offers complete room packages starting at $289.99, opened here 2 months ago. Before that, the building was empty, Frazier having put it up for sale after the gym closed about 3 years ago, said store manager Avi Iluz. All of the equipment was cleared out, and the only Frazier memorabilia left behind was a photo of the champ pounding an opponent in the ring. It now sits by the cash register.

"What I hear is he was the best boxer," said Iluz, who moved here from Israel 7 years ago.

Besides the advertisement on the center window, Iluz acknowledges the store's history on his advertising cards, which notes the store's location as "$The Old Joe Frazier Building$."

It was Iluz' idea to set up the memorial to Frazier outside the store. Besides a photo, flowers and stuffed animals, well-wishers were invited to sign a box that housed a brown recliner. By noon, it was covered in writing: "RIP, Mr. Joe Frazier" and "You did not lose, Joe."

As a youth, Frank Jones, 47, hung out at Frazier's gym. Now he works in the furniture store that replaced it.

"It was a good place for the kids to come," said Jones, of Port Richmond. "It was a landmark."

Dawn Simmons, 52, of Northeast Philadelphia, clucked over the fact that the gym where Frazier had mentored hundreds of young men was now selling leopard-print chairs shaped like high heels.

Still, she said, the champ would never be forgotten.

"He was one of Philly's finest," Simmons said. "You need to take the Rocky statute down now and put his up."

|
|
|
|
|