By: Sean Crose
The abandoned building which once housed the famous Kronk Gym in Detroit has been destroyed by a weekend fire. Detroit police suspect that the incident may have been the result of arson. The building, which was known as the Kronk Recreation Center, once contained one of the most iconic gyms in boxing within its basement. From that gym’s confides, stars such as Thomas Hearns emerged. “What this building brought for me was a chance at life,” Hearns told the Detroit Free Press from the site of the blaze. “I got a chance to become somebody out of this building right here.” A call came into authorities Saturday night reporting the fire. Detroit’s fire department was subsequently unable to save the structure.
The Kronk Gym was the creation of Emanuel Steward, one of the fight game’s great trainers. Known as the Godfather of Detroit’s boxing scene, Steward not only helped give the world Hearns, but also trained such notables as Wladimir Klitschko, Andy Lee, Mike McCallum and Lennox Lewis. An electrician by trade, Steward started training amateur fighters in the recreation center’s basement in his spare time. By the time Hearns turned pro in the late 70s, however, it was clear Steward had found his true calling as a top tier trainer.
Steward went on to train literally dozens of champions in his basement gym. Kronk fighters could usually be noted for the fact that they wore the gym’s famous gold trunks. Steward passed at the age of 68 in 2012, yet by then the gym had closed been closed since 2006 (a new Kronk boxing facility was created in a former church). Still, Steward’s daughter, Sylvia Steward-Williams, told The Detroit News that her “father’s heart lived in that gym.” Ms. Steward-Williams added that “he’d still pay for the (property) even after we moved out because his heart was so much with those kids who wanted that space to train.”
According to the Detroit Fire Department, flames were already emerging from the second floor when help arrived. “We surrounded the building,” Deputy Chief Dave Fornell told The Detroit News, “and then the roof collapsed.” One firefighter was reportedly injured in the blaze and taken to be treated for an ankle injury. Thankfully, no one was reported severely hurt or killed. Firemen tried to fight the blaze for around four hours. “We are listing the fire as suspicious,” Fornell stated, “and it is an ongoing investigation.”
“It’s just sad,” stated Hearns, “to see that people didn’t value this place like we did.”