’50s flashback: Muhammad Ali’s boyhood home restored

Muhammad Ali in a 1967 World Journal Tribune photo by Ira Rosenberg, Library of Congress image, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Muhammad Ali in a 1967 World Journal Tribune photo by Ira Rosenberg, Library of Congress image, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) – As a boxer and humanitarian, Muhammad Ali stood out. So does the bright pink home in Kentucky where he shadowboxed and played pranks on his brother.

The small frame residence where the former heavyweight boxing champ grew up will soon open to fans, allowing a glimpse into Ali’s life before the world came to know him.

Renovations are nearing completion on the two-bedroom, one-bathroom house in western Louisville. Entering the home is like stepping back in time when Ali – known then as Cassius Clay – lived there with his parents and brother, said the former Pennsylvania state boxing commissioner and catalyst for the project.

“You walk into this house … you’re going back to 1955, and you’re going to be in the middle of the Clay family home,” said George Bochetto, a Philadelphia lawyer. The longtime Ali fan co-owns the house with Las Vegas real estate investor Jared Weiss.

The developers are aiming for a May 1 grand opening, capping about nine months of reconstruction on the once-abandoned house, Bochetto said. They spent more than $300,000 on the venture, which includes buying the house next door and turning it into a welcome center and gift shop.

It was the neighborhood where Ali began dreaming of a boxing career.

He lived in the home when he left for the 1960 Olympics. His gold medal performance launched a career that made him one of the world’s most recognizable figures as a three-time heavyweight boxing champion. The Clay family moved after Ali signed a professional contract, Bochetto said.

Using old photos from inside and out, the developers set out to portray the home just as it looked when Ali lived there. They replicated its furnishings, appliances, artwork and even the home’s pink exterior at the time the boxer was growing up there, he said.

“We’re trying to demonstrate where it all began,” Bochetto said of the home, where the former boxer’s family lived from the late ’40s until the early ’60s. “How did Ali become Ali?”

Ali’s younger brother Rahman Ali, a former fighter himself, consulted on the reconstruction.

Looking at the home moved Rahman Ali to quiet reflection. “It’s just like my boyhood,” he said. “The only things missing are Dad and Mom. Otherwise, it’s perfect.”

The brothers shadowboxed together in the home, and it was there that the future champion showed his mischievous side. When the boys were in bed he tied string to a curtain and pulled it when his younger brother wasn’t looking. He told his brother that ghosts were moving the curtains.

At the outset, the home will be open for tours Thursday through Sunday, said Bochetto, adding general admission will be $8. Three videos, including a 15-minute documentary on Ali’s childhood and another in which Rahman Ali recalls growing up with his brother, will be featured.

The museum won’t chronicle Ali’s boxing career, focusing instead on his formative years, according to Bochetto. Ali’s accomplishments as a boxer and advocate for peace and social justice are displayed in exhibits at the Muhammad Ali Center in downtown Louisville.

Ali, now 74, has been battling Parkinson’s disease. He and his wife, Lonnie, haven’t toured the site but have an open invitation to do so, according to Bochetto.

In a statement, Lonnie Ali said the boxer welcomes the restoration and the thought of tourists visiting the home.

“Muhammad is happy the house is being restored and he knows that if his parents were alive, it would make them happy, too. As time passes, even more people will want to visit the house. In 100 years, it will be a bigger attraction than ever, as Muhammad’s life and legacy continues to inspire people,” she said.

For Bochetto, the modest home will offer encouragement to future generations.

“You don’t have to be from any particular neighborhood, any particular kind of house,” he said. “You can be from anywhere and you can become great … And this is a living monument to just that.”

By BRUCE SCHREINER, Associated Press

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