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Community: New exhibit piece at Burbank museum is a real knockout

A new element has been added to the James J. Jeffries boxing exhibit at the Gordon R. Howard Museum.

A bronze boxing-glove trophy shines inside a display case next to the life-size mannequin of the fighter encircled by a miniature boxing ring. He’s posed ready to punch his opponent.

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Jeffries was the heavyweight boxing champion of the world from 1899 to 1910. The display plaque states that he bought a 107-acre ranch in Burbank in 1904, where he raised prize-winning cattle and grew alfalfa and grain.

He later converted the barn, located at Buena Vista Street and Victory Boulevard, into a boxing arena. The boxing champion died in 1953, and the barn was sold to Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, where it remains today.

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Museum board members Don Baldaseroni and Carey Briggs were recently presented the trophy when Jeffries was inducted posthumously into the National Boxing Hall of Fame.

The ceremony took place inside Jeffries’ old barn, now known as the Wilderness Dance Hall, which is used for special events. Other boxers were also inducted and attended the event, along with many people prominent in the boxing world.

Museum officials brought along several items from the Jeffries display case. The plaque mentioned here earlier was a sought-after relic back in the day, Baldaseroni said.

It had been embedded into the cement at Buena Vista and Victory and, when it was removed for new development, it was stored at Burbank City Hall before being donated to the museum.

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“We had people wanting to buy it,” he said. “Many people thought the plaque was gone and didn’t believe it was the original, but it is.”

The atmosphere during the ceremony was exciting, Baldaseroni said. Among the big names attending was Sylvester Stallone’s brother, Frank Stallone, who is a true boxing historian. Frank Stallone invited Baldaseroni to his home to see his boxing memorabilia.

“He’s planning to give us some [items] from his collection,” Baldaseroni said.

Other Burbank residents attending were boxing coach Steven Harpst and online boxing journalist Michele Chong.

Harpst is founder of the Burbank Boxing Club at the Burbank YMCA, where he started boxing classes for adults and children 20 years ago.

He is also an artist specializing in figurative 3-D bronze sculptures. His bronze pieces have been selected by the World Boxing Hall of Fame for its induction awards. In addition, his artwork has also been featured in art shows and appeared in TV shows, feature films and publications.

Jeffries’ induction into the National Hall of Fame is a huge honor, Harpst said.

“Jim Jeffries was the heavyweight boxing champion of the world when he lived in Burbank — this was a hundred years ago,” he said. “He was a worldwide and national celebrity. I think the recognition was great.”

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The Gordon R. Howard Museum is maintained by the Burbank Historical Society. It is open from 1 to 4 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday and is located next door to the Betsy Lueke Creative Arts Center, 1100 W. Clark Ave., in Izay Park.

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