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.

Isaiah Torres, 10, put in his final work on a speed bag at the LAYAC on April 30. “I wanna grow up confident, I wanna feel proud of myself,” he said of his motivation to train to be a boxer. (EGP photo by Paul Aranda, Jr.)

Isaiah Torres, 10, put in his final work on a speed bag at the LAYAC on April 30. “I wanna grow up confident, I wanna feel proud of myself,” he said of his motivation to train to be a boxer. (EGP photo by Paul Aranda, Jr.)

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.

75-year-old Rudy Tellez serves as a role model for both the youth and younger men who used the LAYAC weight room. “Right here is good people,” Tellez said. “Everybody is the same. We work hard here.” (EGP photo by Paul Aranda, Jr.)

75-year-old Rudy Tellez serves as a role model for both the youth and younger men who used the LAYAC weight room. “Right here is good people,” Tellez said. “Everybody is the same. We work hard here.” (EGP photo by Paul Aranda, Jr.)

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.’

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May 6, 2010  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

Comments

11 Responses to “City Delivers KO Blow to Northeast Boxing Gym”

  1. Fed Up on May 7th, 2010 3:30 pm

    Where are all those people that were trying to save the Golden Gate– why don;t they try and save this building– I don’t like to even go to BFA stuff there any more because ti looks so dumpy.

  2. PROUD PARENT on May 13th, 2010 10:53 am

    MY SON HAS BEEN TRAINNING AT THE OLD JAIL FOR 5 YEARS AND JUST ON MONDAY 05/03/10 THEY SHUT THE DOORS T0 THE GYM NOW EVERYONE INCLUDING MY SON DONT HAVE A PLACE TO TRAIN THAT WAS OUR HOME PLEASE ED REYES REOPEN OUR GYM….

  3. gym supporter on May 20th, 2010 2:59 pm

    There are several of us who are trying to help these kids we need all the support we can get I myself have already started with research of the land before it became a jail as well as contacting historical society as to what we could do. All the help is needed to give these kids a safe place to grow and sanctuary where they have a wide variety of mentors.

  4. Boxing Gym User on May 20th, 2010 6:09 pm

    My son used to go to the gym for years. I don’t get it. Why did they have to get rid of the gym. The group on the first floor is still there so why didnt they get kicked out. Why only the gym?

  5. MEMBER on June 9th, 2010 11:13 am

    WE R STILL HERE AND OUR GYM IS STILL NOT OPEN PLEASE REOPEN OUR GYM OUR HOME……

  6. cesar on August 6th, 2010 9:14 pm

    its terrible to hear this news.i used to go there all the time.now i got nowhere to go. since its hard for families with low income to afford an expensive gym.i learned so much and kept me away from trouble.its devastating to see this happening…

  7. Patrice Singh on August 23rd, 2010 6:56 am

    I am sad to hear that the old gym isn’t open anymore. I no long box there yet I have to say when I was 19 when I started training there. I learned so much in the year that I was at the LAYAC then I did the preview 5 yrs at another gym.
    The LAYAC was always full of hard working and egger students. It was a beautiful gym with great and dedicated coaches. It was a great stepping stone for me and what was to come in my boxing career.

  8. Paul Safier on September 7th, 2010 1:56 pm

    It’s very unfortunate that the Lincoln Heights Jail gym has closed. I used to box there in the early-mid 90s. It was the ideal location/atmosphere to train. -Paul Safier

  9. FRANK on March 2nd, 2011 5:12 pm

    I ALSO TRAINED THERE BACK IN 1980 ‘S AND 1989 I HAVE SINCE RETIRE FROM BOXING ,,, BUT NOW TRAIN FIGHERS IN CANOGA PARK..I REMEMBER JOHNNY FLORES, CHIVO , AND RAYO…WOULD LOVE T O HAVE STUDENTS SENT MY WAY.. OR CALL ME 818 -267- 6221.. I HAVE PRO-FIGHTERS AND AMATURE.

    FRANK S.

  10. Jaime on May 15th, 2011 2:56 am

    The closing of the LAYAC Boxing Program is beyond disturbing!!!! What are those politicians and city leaders thinking? I use to train at that gym back in the 70′s-80′s. This program kept me off the streets and not because i was scarred of them but because i had replaced my sense of pride with boxing instead of gangbanging. 30 years later, i am retired from the US Army and every chance I had, i would visit the gym and volunteer to assist anybody with their training. This gym is a major player in helping our youth and families to bond together and spend their time in a constructive way. Please find a way to reopen this same building that is located in an area that is in need. The fact that it was an old jail has a special meaning to it. It shows that good things can come from the strangest of places.

  11. MEMBER on August 24th, 2011 11:25 am

    STILL WAITTING FOR THE GYM TO REOPEN MY SON NOW TRAINS IN ANOTHER GYM HAVE TO DRIVE FARTHER NOW . AND SOMETIMES I CANT TAKE HIM BECAUSE OF THE DISTANCE….IT WILL NEVER BE THE SAME WE NEED OUR OWN GYM BACK . THE PEOPLE ON THE BOTTOM FLOOR ARE STILL THERE ABIOUSLY THERE WAS NO PROBLEM WITH THE BUILDING SINCE THEY ARE STILL USING IT WE NEED THE 5TH FLOOR BACK…….

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