Jim Hamilton was in jail again.
But unlike most folks, Hamilton was there by choice. In fact, he pays to go.
In front of a cell block with rows of gray steel doors, he jumped rope at a rapid pace. The rope made a soft tap-tap-tap sound on the wooden floor.
He was on the fifth floor of the old Lincoln Heights jail in Los Angeles, engaged in one of his thrice weekly boxing workouts. The old jailhouse is now known as the Los Angeles City Youth Athletic Club.
There, Hamilton works out as if he were a boxer, even emulates boxers and studies other boxers. But he is not a boxer, nor has he any intention of becoming one.
Hamilton is among what seems to be a growing number of professional people who visit boxing gyms and do boxing workouts to stay in shape.
Hamilton, of Burbank, and others say such training not only gets one in good physical condition but also reduces stress.
“I punch the heavy and speed bags, jump rope, shadow box, do the kinds of calisthenics boxers do,” Hamilton said. “I used to do a little amateur boxing and some sparring. But I’m a part-time actor and I showed up at my agent’s one day with a swollen eye and that was the end of that.
"(But) I figure if I can do the things boxers do, then I’m in pretty good shape.
“Just try shadow boxing for three rounds. Some people can’t even hold their hands up for that long. Boxers are in better shape than any other athletes.”
Hamilton, in his 20s--"My agent told me never to tell anyone how old I am"--waits tables and does construction work between acting gigs. He says his gym-learned boxing skills have already helped him get a part.
“I got a ‘Murder, She Wrote’ stand-in part for a boxing scene only because I have some boxing skills,” he said.
Hamilton, who competed in football and track at Burbank High, said that he has been hanging around boxing gyms for years.
“I’ve watched people like Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard and Michael Nunn work out,” he said.
“I study them. They make it look so easy, the things they do in the gym. But there’s nothing’s easy about it. Boxing is the most difficult sport in the world to master. Just getting in good enough shape to look smooth when you’re working out is tough enough.”
The director of the Los Angeles City Youth Athletic Club is Johnny Flores, a fixture on the Los Angeles boxing scene. He once trained heavyweight Jerry Quarry.
He said his gym was converted from a jail in 1977.
“The city decided in 1977 to make this floor of the building a gym, so a welder came in with a torch one day, cut the bars off the windows and we were in business,” he said.
“The second floor is just like it was when it was a jail--it’s kept that way for the movie companies.”
This is your basic, no-frills boxing gym.
No picture windows. No fancy carpets. No nutrition bar. No chrome weight-training equipment. No music sound system. No high-tech workout suits.
And no $100-a-month dues, either.
When you join the L.A. City Youth Athletic Club, you get rock-bottom dues of $10 a month and showers, but no lockers.
They have “Don’t Spit on the Floor” signs. And the lights are sort of weak. Oh, and the elevator doesn’t work. Hasn’t for a couple years.
“We’ve got about 200 members,” Flores said. “It’s kind of a mix of people. About 75 boxers, another 75 come in to use the weight room and do karate workouts, and the rest are people like Jim--working people who do boxer’s workouts to stay in shape.”
Flores’ gym is quiet during the day, but at about 5 p.m. it begins filling up with boxers and non-boxers. For someone who lives in the Pasadena area and works in downtown Los Angeles, the old jail is perfect.
It’s located on the edge of the Los Angeles River, at 401 N. Avenue 19, near where the Pasadena Freeway intersects the Golden State Freeway.
A longtime trainer of Southland boxers, Benny Georgino, has been prompted by number of non-boxers he sees in gyms these days to go into the boxing-gym business.
“It’s different from gym to gym, but overall I’d say the non-boxers are in the majority at most gyms I go to,” he said.
“I’d like to get a gym in Riverside and specialize in older professional people and show them how to get in really good shape with boxing workouts.”
Although white-collar people who work out in boxing gyms often do so alongside pro and amateur boxers in their “floor work,” they do not spar with pros in the ring.
State law prohibits pro boxers from sparring with non-pro boxers or anyone else who does not have at least a state sparring permit. And generally, gym operators discourage non-boxers from sparring with one another.
To Bill Slayton, who runs the Broadway Boxing Gym in Los Angeles, many people working out in his gym do so to live out fantasies.
“We have some older guys working out here, guys who sort of enjoy a fantasy while they get themselves in shape,” he said.
“Some of them whack that heavy bag like they’ve got Marvin Hagler trapped in a corner. A lot of guys, they just like the environment of an old boxing gym.”
The Broadway Boxing Gym, located a block off the Harbor Freeway at 108th and Broadway, is much more expensive than Flores’ place. It’s $15 a month. It offers weights and showers, but not lockers.
What you get at Broadway is a boxing gym that looks the way a boxing gym is supposed to look. It sounds like one, too.
It’s an old, gritty second-story gym, the walls covered with faded posters and ancient signs. Around 5 p.m., the place seems to vibrate from the energy expended by dozens of boxers and non-boxers, jumping rope, punching bags and sparring.
There is a richness to the noise. The sounds of the Broadway Gym make you want to think it’s the 1930s again, and over there in a corner, maybe a young Joe Louis is learning to use a speed bag.
Boxers in the ring grunt and groan from both the delivery of blows and their impact. Speed bags rattle like automatic weapons. A dozen high-speed jump ropes clatter on the wooden floor.
White-collar boxing. Get with it.
Peter DePasquale, a 34-year-old New York advertising executive, worked out in New York boxing gyms for years. In recent years, he said, he was so struck by the growing number of white-collar workers, including women, in gyms that he wrote a book about it.
“The hotbed for white-collar boxing people in New York is the new Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn,” he said.
“In fact, the owners moved the gym out of Manhattan several years ago because they needed more space for white-collar people. On Saturdays, it’s 100% white-collar people.”
DePasquale said there are more female boxers now than when he wrote his book last year.
“There were a few women in New York gyms when I did the book, but it didn’t seem to be a trend so I didn’t write about them. But if I were doing the book today, I’d write about women because there’s a lot more.”
Bruce Silverglade, manager at Gleason’s, said there are 130 women among the 700-plus boxers and non-boxers who work out at his gym.
“The breakdown is roughly 300 pros, 120 amateurs, 170 non-boxing men and 130 women,” he said.
“Most of the women do just what the white collar men do--they pay a trainer $5 an hour (gym dues: $40 a month) to show them how to do boxing floor work and the exercises. We’re open from 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., and they come and go all day.
“The women work out alongside the men, punching the speed and heavy bags, jumping rope, doing sit-ups. They punch boxing mitts (large, catcher’s mitt-type gloves that are worn on both hands by a trainer), shadow box, ride stationary bikes and maybe some weight training.”
DePasquale works out at Gleason’s three times a week, does light road work on non-gym days and rests Sundays.
How to find a boxing gym?
DePasquale says police departments are good sources.
“Police just seem to know where all the boxing gyms are,” he said.
Or you can contact the USA Amateur Boxing Federation in Colorado Springs, Colo.
George Lopez boxed for Argentina’s Olympic team at Seoul last summer. He’s also a Los Angeles policeman and runs the Hollenbeck Youth Center gym for the Los Angeles Police Department.
At Hollenbeck--2015 E. 1st St., Los Angeles; about two miles from Los Angeles City Hall--on any given day, Lopez says you’re likely to find about 40 amateur boxers alongside 10 or 12 non-boxers.
Hollenbeck dues are unbeatable--there are none. Contributions are welcomed, however. The relatively new gym is supported by the Hollenbeck Police Business Council, the LAPD, area businessmen, the United Way and private donations.
Hollenbeck has one ring and showers for men and women, but no lockers. A new wing is about to be built, however, which will have lockers.
At Hollenbeck, Lopez said, even senior citizens show up for modified boxing workouts.
“There’s an older guy, about 65 or 70, who comes around every so often and punches the heavy and speed bags,” he said. “I don’t think anyone knows his name, we just call him Rocky.”
Non-boxers are discouraged from sparring.
“If someone just wants to get in shape, the workouts are enough--there’s no reason to spar,” Lopez said. “If you can do what a boxer does when he trains, you’re in shape.
“Hitting the bags, jumping rope, hitting gloves, shadow boxing and the sit-ups will do the trick. Most of our older people like the challenge of learning how to do the hard stuff--jumping rope and hitting the speed bag.”