August 3, 2017

Muhammad Ali's Legacy Lives on in Louisville

Childhood home of Muhammad Ali in Louisville, Kentucky

photo by: Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau

The childhood home of Muhammad Ali was restored and opened for tours in 2016.

As a civil rights leader and heavyweight champion of the world, Muhammad Ali was never known for his modesty, but his humble beginnings are on full display in Louisville, Kentucky.

A $300,000 restoration turned the previously undistinguished home at 3302 Grand Avenue into the Muhammad Ali Childhood Home Museum, opening the icon’s home to tours in May of 2016. It was in that Parkland neighborhood that Ali—then Cassius Clay, Jr.—first learned the sweet science that would propel him to worldwide fame. He lived in the house from the age of 5 to 19. At the home's opening, neighbors recounted seeing the teenager train.

“He’d always be running and shadowboxing,” James Calloway told Louisville’s CBS affiliate.

The rehabilitation returned the single-story, two-bedroom home—which had been sitting vacant and in disrepair before a boxing fan bought it in 2013—to the light pink exterior that Cassius Clay, Sr. had painted it for Ali’s mother, Odessa. And using artifacts from the Clay family, the museum has recreated the interior’s 1950s appearance.

The childhood home of Muhammad Ali before being restored

photo by: Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau

The house was vacant and in disrepair when boxing fan Jared Weiss bought it in 2013.

Historic marker at the Muhammad Ali Childhood Home in Louisville, Kentucky

photo by: Louisville Images/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

An historic marker was added in front of the house in 2012.

The process began after a historic marker was placed in front of the home in 2012, renewing the interest of local preservationists and Ali fans. Since the Clay family had moved, the building had changed hands four times before Jared Weiss and George Bochetto bought it with the hopes of opening it to fans of the fighter and his legacy.

The restoration was no easy task. There was water damage from a leaking roof, the house—originally built in 1942 and bought by the Clays in 1947—had been vandalized as it sat vacant, and the foundation needed to be completely reconstructed. The young Clay’s room was reconstructed to its 1950s look, as well.

The developers also purchased the house next door for a visitor’s center in order to keep the Clay home as close to its original look as possible.

Legend has it that Ali first picked up boxing gloves when living at the Grand Avenue house. When he was 13, his red and white Schwinn bicycle was stolen. As he asked for help from the police, he came upon officer Joe Martin, who trained youth boxers. While living at the house in 1960, he would turn pro, beating Tunney Hunsaker in his first professional fight in 1960.

Now the home is open for tours Thursday through Sunday, serving as a reminder of the fighter’s heroics in the ring and his leadership outside.

Jared Foretek is an editorial intern at the National Trust. He enjoys historic train stations, old bars, and interesting public spaces.

jforetek@savingplaces.org

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