Fight for Smokin’ Joe’s Gym

More than a year ago, Dennis Playdon was preparing to teach an introduction to Architectural Preservation course at Temple University, when he stumbled upon the perfect project for his students: saving Joe Frazier’s Gym in North Philadelphia.

Playdon, an adjunct professor at Temple’s Tyler School of Art, came up with the idea after seeing a “for sale” sign on the landmark three-story building on North Broad Street near Glenwood Avenue where Frazier’s name still can be seen etched overhead.

“I was astounded to see a ‘for sale’ sign on it because I always assumed since he was a huge champion in the world he was well off,” Playdon said. “The alarming thing to me was how could such a famous gym maybe be on the verge of being demolished or sold. It seemed to be unbelievable that the sports world hadn’t jumped in.”

Playdon said he sent a letter to Frazier, but because of the boxing legend’s illness at the time there was no response. He tried sending pictures of the gym, which houses a furniture store on the ground floor, to sports magazines, but that didn’t work. Playdon then had some of his students nominate the building to the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia’s Endangered Properties List, which accepted it. That designation helped to catch the eye of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which listed the building on its Endangered Properties list in June.

Some of Playdon’s students are in the process of submitting an application for the Philadelphia Register for Historic Places, which would protect the building from demolition or major changes to the exterior by any future owner.

It’s origin, then sale

Frazier’s management company purchased the former manufacturing and lumber warehouse in the late 1960s and converted it to a gym.

He not only spent time there training for his classic fights against Muhammad Ali, but opened it to the neighborhood. In 2008, Frazier lost the gym because of back taxes.

“It’s about preserving the memory of a gold medalist, Olympic boxer, someone who was very active in the community as far as outreach,” said senior Michael Baker, who’s worked on the project. “It’s about preserving his memory and his legacy and what he did for the city.”

Digitizing Joe’s gym

Playdon said this year his class is working to create an interactive website that will allow people to take a digital tour of the gym as it once looked. The site also would feature links to movies and other things about Frazier.

The work by the Temple students would serve as another posthumous tribute to the Philadelphia icon, who died last year at age 67 after a bout with liver cancer.

Earlier this month, the city and Frazier’s family formally announced plans to erect a statue at Xfinity Live by the end of 2013.

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