While unfamiliar to many Detroiters, “Kronk” is a name that carries a lot of weight in the Boxing World. Curiously though, Kronk is not the name of a boxer – but of a venue.
Built in 1921 on McGraw street in west Detroit, the Kronk Community Building is a recreation center is named for Detroit City Councilman John Kronk. The center rose to prominence in the early 1970’s after a young boxer named Emmanuel Steward took on a part-time job as the head coach of the boxing program, leading it to a Detroit Golden Gloves championship title that year.
Over the next three decades under the guidance of Steward, the Kronk Gym would produce 50 amateur boxing champions, 30 world champions, and three Olympic gold medals. Tommy “The Motor City Cobra” Hearns got his start at Kronk, going on to win titles in five weight classes.
Most important though was what the gym meant to the thousands of neighborhood kids who passed through during its 37 years. For a teenager living in a rundown part of Detroit in the 70’s and 80’s, the discipline of boxing gave them an alternative to gang life – or worse.
By the late 90’s Kronk had stopped producing world champions. The City of Detroit, who owned and ran the rec center, was dealing with significant budget issues, forcing the gym to rely more and more on donations. A 2004 survey of rec centers by the city recreation department found that the Kronk building – by then the oldest center in the city – was in serious disrepair. Nine out of 29 recreation centers were slated to close in 2005, including Kronk.
Steward stepped in with an offer to buy the center rather than see it close, eventually reaching an agreement with the city to pay the operating costs out of his own pocket – estimated to be between $500,000 to $1 million dollars annually. The final death knell, however, came in September of 2006, when thieves broken into the center over a weekend and stole much of the copper piping. Without water, the center was forced to close for good that November.
The program, however, lives on – albeit a few miles down the road. The new Kronk Gym is in a storefront on Warren avenue, and was watched over by Emmanuel Steward until he passed away in October of 2012. While the new gym is brighter, cleaner, and certainly more inviting then the basement it left, there is still talk of one day going back to the original Kronk Gym, and reclaiming it’s former glory.