Bringing it home

Bringing it home

City now wants to put Robledo statue in Villa Parke

By Andre Coleman 07/10/2008

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Pasadena officials supportive of plans to build a statue honoring local boxing legend Canto “TNT” Robledo say Villa Parke is the best location for such a monument, not Memorial Park, as originally planned.

Members of Robledo’s family, including his son Joe, himself a longtime figure in the local boxing world, have been negotiating with the city for the past six months over the best location for the monument, which is expected to cost up to $100,000. So far, family members say they have raised more than $10,000 in private donations through concerts and fundraisers.

The idea to change the location of the statue came from Interim City Manager Bernard Melekian. In Fresno recently, Melekian saw a statue of former heavyweight champion “Gentleman” Jack Dempsey at a community center.

“What struck me was watching the kids go in the program there and looking up at the statue,” Melekian said. “If we are going to build the statue of someone famous from the Mexican-American community, what better place to put it than the place where the kids in the local boxing program can draw from its inspiration?

”Robledo, who died in 1999, lost his eyesight in 1933 after suffering two detached retinas during a Pacific bantamweight title fight and enduring several botched operations to repair the damage. Due to his absence from the sport, Canto never received the belt he deserved for winning the fight. He was eventually awarded the belt by the World Boxing Federation in 1988.

For four decades Robledo ran Crown City Gym out of his Manzanita Street garage, mentoring hundreds of kids and some of the best boxers of the times, and helped start the boxing program at Villa Parke in the late 1970s, which is still operating today under the guidance of his son.

The city has earmarked Memorial Park for memorials and statues to veterans who have lost their lives, and a memorial dedicated to veterans who died in Iraq and Afghanistan is in the early planning stages.

The Robledo family is set to meet with members of the Parks and Recreation Commission in early August, by which time the city’s Public Works Department will have checked codes and ordinances governing construction and placement of such monuments. A presentation about the project will be made at that time.

The project has gained the support of District 5 Councilman Victor Gordo, where the park is located. Public Works Director Martin Pastucha could not be reached for comment.

Gordo said that he would also like to see an annual boxing tournament held at Villa Parke in Canto’s honor.

“I am absolutely supportive of the project,” said Gordo. “His accomplishments as a boxer, and then his accomplishments as a trainer and coach should be recognized and memorialized in a way that inspires young people to accomplish and contribute as he did to the community. Another way to do that is host a yearly boxing tournament in his honor. He had significant barriers placed in front of him and he overcame them over and over, and that is something for young people to know about, understand and hopefully emulate.”

Current sketches of the statue depict Robledo with his hand placed gently on a child’s shoulders as he coaches two other small children in the art of boxing.

The statue would mark many firsts in Pasadena. There are currently no statues commemorating Hispanic-Americans, nor has any family ever commissioned a statue and dedicated it to the city. The only citizens honored with busts are former Pasadena residents Jackie Robinson, who broke down baseball’s color barrier in 1947, and his brother Mack, whose performance at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin helped quash Hitler’s Aryan superiority propaganda.

But while the Robinson brothers were making headlines around the world, it seemed as if Canto Robledo’s moment in the sun had passed. Depressed and on the verge of suicide, Canto spent his days trying to do whatever he could to help his family stay afloat, even traveling to Bakersfield and Fresno to pick fruit.

When his brothers opened a gym in the family’s basement on El Sereno Avenue in Northwest Pasadena, Canto slowly came out of his funk. Soon he was training neighborhood children and his younger brother (also named Joe), who, under Canto’s tutelage, earned the No. 1 contender’s spot in the featherweight division in 1941.

In 1953, Canto moved his family to a house on Manzanita Street near Villa Parke and started Crown City Boxing — complete with heavy bags, speed bags and a ring — in his garage. By the early 1990s, Crown City Boxing was hosting several amateur tournaments at the Elks Lodge and Villa Parke, several of them attended by Oscar De La Hoya shortly after his professional debut.

Over the ensuing 40 years, Canto trained some of the greatest fighters in California, including Baby Cassius and Henry Culpepper, and heavyweight contenders like Wayne Kendrick. The Bellflower Bomber, Jerry Quarry, considered by many to be the best heavyweight fighter to never win the title, was a frequent visitor for sparring sessions.

“I think we need to have some role models we can look up to who have displayed perseverance and have given back to the community,” said Joe Robledo. “This is a way of recognizing a lot of the people he helped. It’s a great honor to even have gone this far in the project. I never imagined that a statue of my dad would possibly stand in the city.”

“We are continuously working to get community support from the city and organizations that knew Canto,” said Rachel Heredia, secretary of the Pasadena Mexican-American Association. “We are working hard at our fundraising. We need the finances to pull this off. We have faith in Mr. Melekian and Mr. Pastucha. We meet a lot of people who loved Canto that we hope support our fundraising events.” 

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