City Delivers KO Blow to Northeast Boxing Gym
Volunteer staff expresses frustration with public officials over abrupt closure of a unique facility where generations of families trained side by side.
By Paul Aranda, Jr., EGP Staff Writer
Local youth and adults gathered on the fifth floor of the old Lincoln Heights jail for one final workout last Friday evening before the city officially closed the doors of the Los Angeles Youth Athletic Club.
The closure of the LAYAC’s historic, albeit deteriorated, home on April 30 brings an end to a onetime thriving boxing club that once housed legendary fighters such as the original ‘Golden Boy,” Art Aragon. In the hallway, a mural featuring Muhammad Ali bears the signature of the iconic boxer who dedicated the artwork several decades ago.
But the onetime jail is now a visibly rundown building. It is registered as a city historical monument. The jail comprises two buildings, a 1931 structure and a 1949 five-story addition designed to provide more jail space. The jail last housed prisoners in 1965. The Bilingual Arts Foundation has resided in the first floor of the 1931 structure and was not impacted by the latest inspection. The LAYAC was located on the fifth floor of the 1949 addition.
“We are still here, says Gigi Gordon, BFA business manager. Asked if they were told they might have to leave at a later date, Gordon said “no” they had not heard anything to that effect.
“They [fire department] checks on us regularly, they come here all the time, and they say this need to be done, but they have not told us we have to move,” she told EGP on April 29.
For many club participants, the graffiti-lined stairways, and other dislocated features of the building, did little to deter a sense of dedication and commitment to the gym. Ed Barraza first used the gym as a teenager. Years later he returned so that his two daughter could learn the same lessons he acquired through boxing at the gym. Barraza, a teacher at Burbank Middle School in Highland Park, served as a volunteer at the gym and now is leading efforts to find an answer as to why the gym was closed and more importantly for his former students, when it will reopen.
Barazza said two weeks ago, city officials told them the Los Angeles Fire Department had found the fifth floor to be unsafe. According to Barazza, it is unclear exactly why they were told to vacate the building. He said possible reasons include roof damage caused by rain, a broken elevator or exposed broken windows in the stairwell.
Barazza and other gym volunteers, who asked to remain anonymous, voiced frustration with local elected City Councilman Ed Reyes (CD-1) over a lack of clear communication regarding the closure of the gym and attempts to find a new facility. Signs posted by city workers state that the LAYAC would close its doors permanently with the youth boxing program relocated to the Lincoln Heights Youth Center. Barraza said a May 1 dedication was canceled and no new date has been provided.
Even with the club’s history in the old jail building, Barazzza said he supports a move if the new facility provides adequate space to accommodate not only the club’s current participants, but also new participants from whatever surrounding community the club is located.
Barraza opposes the move of the youth boxing program to the newly constructed Lincoln Heights site because it was never intended to house LAYAC. He said the center has space for one full-sized boxing ring and offers limited space for additional training equipment. The old jail building houses three full-sized rings and ample space for additional heavy bags, speed bags and floor space for training purposes. Ed Martinez, LAYAC boxing coordinator, said an average of 35 youths train at each ring everyday. In addition, the fifth floor gym houses two weight rooms and additional rooms for fitness classes.
The proposed plan to shift the youth boxing program to the new recreation center also would strip LAYAC of one of its most prominent features as both youth and adults were allowed access to its programs. For a $10 monthly fee, adults were able to purchase a membership to utilize the gyms various fitness classes and weight room. This feature created what Barazza described as a family-oriented place that served as a safe-haven for local youth. Last Friday, on the eve of the gym’s closure, the sounds of young children still echoed throughout the gym, as parents and older siblings socialized throughout the gym. For those parents that sought more than just the chance to observe their children, LAYAC offered a more hands-on approach.
Such was the case for Lidia Bonilla. Nearly eight years ago she walked into LAYAC in search of taekwondo classes for her then nine-year-old son Chris. One day, as Chris was in class, Lidia and a cousin started messing around with a heavy bag. Before long, both Lidia and Chris were active participants in the boxing program. Although Lidia’s participation varied throughout the years, Chris, now17, dived headfirst into the sport. The Eagle Rock High School senior has competed in 35 amateur fights, including participation in the state’s renowned Golden Gloves tournament.
“I practically live here,” Chris said. “I train 25 hours per week. [Boxing] keeps me busy, focused. It has taught me a lot of things.”
Although he has dreams of turning pro, Chris plans to enroll at Glendale Community College this summer after graduation to begin preparations for a career as a firefighter.
“Honestly, I would have been a trouble maker,” Chris said on how he envisions himself without LAYAC. “I had a lot of time on my hands and it was common for my friends to be in trouble.”
For Lidia, finding a safe place for her son to spend time was enhanced when she found herself actively training as a boxer.
“For me it was great, we could work out together” she said. “[Chris] has a lot of dedication for being 17. This has helped him out a lot. It sucks now that they are going to take it away.
“It’s more like a family thing.”
For Barazza, LAYAC was a place to build self-discipline and confidence. So much so, that he took his own daughters down to the same grungy gym he once trained in as a youth. Erica Barazza, 19, recalled her visit to the gym as an eight-year-old.
“My dad brought me here because he thought it would be a good opportunity for me,” Erica said. “I took a liking to it.”
With his own daughters as examples, Barazza is a believer in LAYAC’s ability to provide a productive place for local youth.
“They get through hard times because of what they learn here,” he added. “Girls come out of here with confidence that they won’t get taken advantaged of by anyone.”
Barazza said his experience as a teacher allows him to see the impact LAYAC has on the community. He recalled a recent shooting on the 300 block of North Avenue 57 in Highland Park on April 28 that left one teenager dead and another injured. Both were former students of Barazza at Burbank.
“This gym here prevents that kind of thing from happening,” he said. “This place here, it pulls the kids in the right place.”
Editor’s Note: On May 13, 2010, we published a response to this issue by local elected officials. Click here to read ‘Local City Councilmen Voice Support for LAYAC Future.’Print This Post
May 6, 2010 Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.