The Charleston Boxing Club took a punch to the gut recently when the city closed the circa-1933 fire station housing the gym on upper King Street, but 87-year-old founder Al “Hollywood” Meggett doesn’t go down easy. The former professional boxer and trainer is hoping to save the character-building youth program that has become a local institution.
“There’s definitely a need for the program,” Mr. Meggett said. “Boxing is a vehicle.” He takes great pride in seeing the young men and women he has taken under his wing blossom into well-rounded adults, and he has groomed one of his protéges, Darren Whitaker, 57, to take over the program.
But city officials say it will cost $350,000 to $400,000 to rehabilitate the once-robust building and bring it up to code. Certainly, the boxing program is worth saving. The building, however, might not be.
The boxing club has operated under an informal, rent-free agreement with the city since the early 1980s, but a structural inspection this past spring prompted city officials to deem the building a safety hazard and place it off limits. There are full-depth cracks in the brick walls running between the first- and second-story windows. The upstairs gym sits on rotted wooden joists, and the entire second floor may need to be replaced, among other problems noted by engineers. In other words, it’s a mess.
The Charleston Police Athletic League supported the boxing club for much of its 35-year history, but that relationship apparently dissolved about the time former Police Chief Reuben Greenberg stepped down. Since then, Mr. Meggett has relied on fundraisers and donations to keep the program alive.
Recommendations for saving the building are expected to perk up to City Council by way of the Committee on Real Estate next year. City spokesman Jack O’Toole said it was the city’s responsibility to decide what to do with the building. If it is rehabilitated, he said he expects Messrs, Meggett and Whitaker to present a proposal for reviving the boxing club, but making the building available to the club would be a separate policy issue to be decided by City Council.
The old fire station is well-suited for a gym, and it’s unclear what other uses the city might have for the building. If the city decides to go forward with its renovation, the mayor and council members should also consider establishing a formal relationship with the boxing club, perhaps through the Recreation Department.
Though boxing has largely gone out of vogue, it would be sad to see the city lose one of its homegrown youth-mentoring programs. And it’s hard to put a price on the worth of what Mr. Meggett teaches beyond the “sweet science” of boxing, which has a long history of its own in Charleston. The club’s code of conduct embodied in “10 commandments” promotes discipline, sportsmanship and respect for others — qualities Mr. Meggett says never go out of style.