It is marred by weeds, graffiti and broken bottles, the tiny abandoned firehouse in Oxnard that once housed La Colonia Boxing Club.
But the stucco building, and the 30 years of local boxing tradition it represents, have not been forgotten by the neighborhood's youth and community leaders--or, it now appears, by Oxnard's City Council.
The City Council today is set to approve a $250,000 program to enlarge as well as renovate the old boxing club, located at 520 E. 1st St., in the heart of La Colonia.
The rebuilding plan comes as a pleasant surprise to the barrio's youngsters, many of whom trained and hung out in the boxing club before it was shut down by city officials in 1990 due to concerns about its structural safety.
"I think a lot of people will take advantage of it," said Juan Diaz, 16, who lives a block from the club and trained there as a child. "It showcases your skills, it lets you be aggressive, and it gets you out of trouble."
With the help of the La Colonia Youth Boxing Assn., a local booster organization, club members were able to move to a small room inside the Oxnard Boys & Girls Club after the city closed the old building.
But because of limited space, only the most dedicated young boxers followed, leading many youths back out into some of Oxnard's meanest streets.
"I got a cousin that boxes and he had to go to someone's garage to train," said Ralph Lopez, 27, a basketball coach at the Colonia Recreation Center. "There's a lot of good boxers coming out of here, and they all need a place to box."
In fact, several talented boxers have come out of the La Colonia Boxing Club, most notably Robert Garcia, an undefeated professional featherweight (11-0) who made it to the semifinals for the recent Olympics, and Fernando Vargas, the current U.S. amateur lightweight champion. The boxing club is widely regarded as one of the finest amateur programs in the state.
As part of a culture in which boxers are viewed as macho icons, La Colonia's youngsters also know that hard work in the ring will bring them legitimacy and respect, Lopez said.
"They can easily get into a fight out here," he said, pointing to the street, "and they might be tough in the street world. But the ring is the true test of a fighter and they know it. In order to be a good fighter in the ring, you have to be more than tough. You have to have your heart in it."
City officials had sought federal money to renovate the boxing club since it was closed, finally obtaining $182,000 in Urban Parks and Recreation Recovery funds and a $78,000 Community Development Block Grant in 1992.
It has taken until now for the city to find a bidder to perform the work, which includes renovating the existing 1,700-square-foot area and adding 1,300 square feet and a mezzanine.
City Council members today will also discuss using $52,000 in block grant funds allotted to the Police Athletic League for the boxing club, which will be run in part by PAL and the Fire Department.
"We've been discussing this a long time, and I think there's a need in the Colonia area for something like this," said Mayor Manuel Lopez, a self-professed boxing enthusiast.
"There's a lot of people that have been involved in the boxing programs in the past, and I think this will show that we are interested in maintaining the boxing tradition in this city."