Outside of Joe Frazier's Gym in North Philadelphia, the sidewalk is littered with an empty bottle of Gordon's gin, a yellow flash of caution tape and scattered pebbles of broken glass.
Inside the gym, which isn't a gym anymore, there are couches and mattresses for sale.
More than a year after Frazier's 2011 death, preservation advocates are seeking protective designations for the building in a campaign that is a sign of a larger cultural shift in the historic preservation community.
At the movement's heart is a push for inclusiveness in a field that has long privileged the stories and accomplishments of influential white men and paid little if any attention to anyone else.
"We've done an analysis over the past year," said Stephanie Toothman, the National Park Service's associate director for cultural resources. "The percentage of sites that specifically represent women and groups such as African-Americans, Native Americans and Asian Pacific Americans ranges from 3 to 8 percent."
Compared with the makeup of the U.S. population, that percentage is minuscule. Women make up slightly more than 50 percent of the population in the United States and white men account for about 36 percent of the overall population, according
"They often say that history is written by the winners, but it's also narrated by the people who have the podium," said Page Harrington, executive director of Sewall-Belmont House and Museum, the Washington, D.C., headquarters for the National Woman's Party throughout much of the 20th century.
"So if you have fewer women in leadership positions - in universities, or writing textbooks, or in Congress - you have fewer of those stories that are necessarily making their way into the public spectrum that the next generation of scholars looks at, and so on, and so on."
The fight to save Frazier's gym seems appropriately symbolic for a man who fought his way to the top. Frazier was an underdog before he became a champ. He worked in a Philadelphia slaughterhouse, where he practiced throwing punches on slabs of beef hanging in a freezing meat locker. Sylvester Stallone borrowed that training habit for a montage in the boxing film "Rocky." And while Philadelphia erected a statue of Stallone's fictional boxer, the fate of Frazier's gym is uncertain.
"Philadelphia is the capital of boxing and I believe Joe Frazier's gym is the White House," said Frazier's son, Marvis Frazier, in a 2011 documentary. Frazier began working out there in 1968. It's where he trained for the "Fight of the Century" in 1971, when he beat Muhammad Ali to defend his title as undisputed world heavyweight champion.
"JOE FRAZIER'S GYM" is still etched into the face of the building at 2917 N. Broad St. Little pairs of boxing gloves are stenciled on either side.
In big red letters underneath: Home Gallery Furniture & Bedding. A sticker on the window advertises "knockout prices." Today, there are sofas where the boxing ring and punching bag used to be, and headboards in what was once Frazier's locker room. The brick walls have been painted a docile yellow. Mylar balloons shaped like stars bob from strings tied to sofas and bed frames.
The furniture store owner didn't respond to interview requests but locals are encouraged by the idea that the building, which is for sale, might be recognized officially and protected as historic.
"Hopefully in a few years, it will go back to what it used to be," said an employee who didn't want his name published.
Outside, a broad-shouldered security guard stood watch. "It's the neighborhood," he explained with a shrug.
He didn't have to say more than that: Joe Frazier's gym is in a part of Philadelphia where barbed wire sprouts from fence tops, storefronts warn people wearing hoodies to keep out, and the homicide rate is nearly three times higher than it is in the rest of the city.
"This is a place that is a more humble architectural resource," said Stephanie Meeks, who runs the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded preservation advocacy group. "But it's really important from the standpoint of an iconic American sports figure and the significance that he had."
What's worth saving
As preservationists look to be more inclusive, they're also reassessing long-held notions about what ought to be preserved. The passage of time inevitably prompts re-evaluation of what is historically significant; usually about 50 years passes before something is in the running for historic protection.
Paul Lusignan, whose job is to review applications for National Register of Historic Places designation, remembers when the skyscrapers of the 1950s and 1960s were considered "the enemy" to preservationists. To scholars in the 1980s, the post-World War II era ushered in a spate of "cold, unfeeling" architecture, he said.
"Modern buildings were coming in and destroying Victorian architecture, so we were trying to protect Victorian architecture," said Lusignan, 54. "Now we're looking and saying, `No, some of these modernist buildings, though they may have demolished something else nice, are significant in and of themselves.' That's always been changing. As time has moved on, people have looked at different things."
More recently, preservationists have expanded parameters to include historic designations for modest bungalows, airplanes, water towers, even gas stations. The National Park Service has thus far "drawn the line at cars," archivist Jeff Joeckel says.
The idea that an unassuming brick building where a young boxer turned into a champion - miles away from Independence Hall or the street where Benjamin Franklin lived - might join Philadelphia's ranks of historic treasures is one that wouldn't have gained much traction in the past.
At the same time, preservationists are looking beyond the built world altogether, which requires disassociating ideas about historic significance from Western values.
"In most native communities, the spiritual aspects of life and their worldview are not separated from everything else," said Valerie Hauser, director of the Office of Native American Affairs at the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. "So that's a basic disconnect. We often - on the federal side, or the nonnative side - are challenged to understand the significance to a tribe, say, or a Native Hawaiian organization, that maintaining the view shed of the mountain could be important."
In Hawaiian culture, slices of land traditionally were divvied up into ahupuaa: long uninterrupted strips that extended from the mountains down to the shore. Development over the years - particularly on the island of Oahu, which includes Honolulu - has broken many of those sacred mountain-to-ocean links.
"There's still an inherent tension between the nonnative side of preservation and the native side of preservation," Hauser said. "We're still trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. We're still going through growing pains, but we have at least gotten to the point where we sit and argue and recognize that they have a place at the table. Philosophically, it's recognized. Policy-wise, it's recognized. Legally, it's recognized. But operationally, it's more challenging."
The way forward
The Obama administration has listed inclusiveness among its priorities for historic preservation efforts going forward. Outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made it clear in a recent statement that "we need to change" the low level of representation of women, specifically among National Park System sites.
One of the steps his department took late last year was to officially affiliate the Sewall-Belmont House with the National Mall. That administrative restructuring means that when people research sites to visit, Sewall-Belmont will be listed among better-known Washington landmarks like the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.
"Secretary Salazar wants the history of minorities more accurately represented but also more equally represented, and that's been something that he's been focused on," said Sewall-Belmont's Harrington. "But if there is no actual funding for it, it's going to limit what we can do. You have to ask yourself: What is the dollar amount it would take to get where we need to be? And it's astronomical."
Federal advocates also are working to find ways to engage people on the local level, since national historic designations must begin with state nominations. That means finding ways to connect with individuals and groups that often aren't accustomed to considering their own stories and histories as eligible for broader recognition.
Back in North Philly, preservationists are cautiously optimistic about the campaign for Frazier's gym. They plan to complete a study on whether it's possible to turn it back into a gym or some kind of community center, "the type that Joe Frazier had in mind for the building," said John Gallery, former executive director of the Philadelphia Preservation Alliance.
A 1974 New York Times article described the gym as it was in those days: Huge boxing photos and an oil painting of Frazier hanging on the original red brick walls, with bright blue carpeting with dark wood paneling. It was a gym "of relative splendor" and seemed especially lavish in the shadow of "the grimy North Philadelphia railroad station."
In Frazier's fighting days, he had a reputation for taking punches - smirking and chuckling at the ones that hurt the most - and biding his time before striking down his opponent.
Frazier's legacy on North Broad Street seems distant now. It's been 42 years since the "Fight of the Century," which pitted a heavyweight so nimble he could "float like a butterfly" against Frazier's dogged and sometimes-clunky style. Ali, who was 5 inches taller than Frazier, was favored by many to win that night. In an article published the day of the fight, a New York Times reporter described what it would look like when Frazier inevitably lost: His chortling giving way to dizziness and the loss of spatial relationships, the eventual relief of going down.
But that isn't what happened. Joe Frazier won.
And on the wall of his gym,he put up an enormous photo - 8 feet wide and 6 feet tall - from the night of that legendary fight. The photographer had captured the moment just before Ali dropped from Frazier's spectacular left hook. Ali's face was caught in an expression of dull surprise, like he couldn't believe he was about to fall, or that the fight would actually end the way it did.