The good fight
Eddie Johnson and Canto ‘TNT’ Robledo will both be memorialized at Villa Parke
By Andre Coleman 09/25/2008
Some consider a plan to honor two local boxing legends instead of just one a good compromise, but not everyone is happy with the deal brokered by City Councilman Victor Gordo.
Under that plan, the city will allow the placement of a privately financed statue honoring the achievements of trainer Canto “TNT” Robledo at Villa-Parke Community Center, and then rename the facility’s boxing gym for fellow trainer Eddie Johnson, who did most of his work at that gym until his death in 2000.
Robledo, who was blinded during a fight in 1932 but went on to train several top-ranked fighters at his Crown City Gym on Manzanita Street, died the previous year following a stroke.
“I am OK with it,” Canto’s son, Joe Robledo, said of Gordo’s proposal. “If they want to put Eddie Johnson’s name on the ring canvas or rename the gym after him, I am happy with that — as long as there is no interference with the statue of Canto Robledo.”
However, Charles “Buddy” Bereal, former head of the Pasadena Branch of the NAACP and a onetime professional fighter, said he believes placing the statue at the Villa-Parke Community Center gives the wrong impression about Canto Robledo’s actual involvement there.
The statue is expected to cost some $100,000 and, according to drawings, will depict Robledo interacting with two young children.
Bereal was not part of the talks conducted by Gordo. “Pasadena is one of the coldest cities when it comes to the treatment of African-Americans. I am happy they are going to name the gym after Eddie. He deserves it,” Bereal said. “They should have named Manzanita Park after Canto.”
Renaming the park was Joe Robledo’s first idea after the Mexican-American History Association met with him to discuss ways to commemorate his father’s contributions to the city.
However, the city rejected that idea and soon afterward began discussions on erecting a statue. Over the past year, Robledo family members have been privately raising funds for the project.
Both Canto Robledo and Johnson trained fighters in the 1960s and ’70s, a time when interest in local fighting was at an all-time high, due in part to televised fights at the Olympic Auditorium and other venues.
The controversy started when Johnson’s supporters became upset after reading an article in the Pasadena Weekly in which city officials stated that Villa-Parke would be the best place to put a statue of Robledo.
Robledo lost his sight shortly after winning the Pacific Bantamweight Championship and became a trainer, running Crown City Boxing out of his garage on Manzanita Street, about five miles from Villa-Parke.
The statue would be the first honoring a Mexican-American in Pasadena and the first donated to the city by a family. So far, Robledo family members say they have raised more than $10,000 for the statue through concerts and fundraisers.
Joe Robledo is scheduled to meet with Public Works Director Martin Pastucha on Tuesday to discuss the statue’s dimensions.
Johnson supporters point out that Robledo never had any connection to the city’s program, which was started by Johnson and Bereal almost 35 years ago, when the neighborhoods surrounding Villa-Parke were populated largely by African-American families.
“We finally came to a consensus and we compromised,” said Tim Rhambo, who was trained by Johnson and now volunteers at Villa-Parke. “Canto was on the other side of town, and that’s OK, that’s fine.” But, he said, “Eddie Johnson was here working for the city and working with a lot of the youth. How can we honor this guy and not honor one of our guys who was here helping the kids?”
After being turned down on a proposed name change of Manzanita Park, the Robledo family had hopes of placing the statue in Memorial Park, in Old Pasadena. However, city officials soon told them only war memorials are allowed there, and that they would have to come up with yet another plan.
At that point, Interim City Manager Bernard Melekian, while on business in Fresno, saw a statue there commemorating “Gentleman” Jack Dempsey. Melekian was impressed by how youngsters still looked at the statue and suggested that the Robledo memorial be placed at Villa-Parke, where the adjacent neighborhoods are now largely inhabited by Latino families.
“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,” Melekian told the Weekly in July.
Rachel Heredia, secretary of the Pasadena Mexican-American History Association, said she and other members of the organization were pleased with the compromise.
“It is fine with us. We never had any negative feelings about them wanting to do something for Eddie Johnson,” Heredia said. “The only thing we didn’t like is they said they did not want the statue there. Canto is a great role model for the youth there. As Mexican-Americans, we feel we can leave something that shows the history of Mexican-Americans in the city. There is nothing in Pasadena that shows that Mexican-Americans have lived in this community.”
Gordo said he was heartened to see people now recognizing Canto Robledo’s contributions to boxing and Pasadena.
“He overcame a lot of personal and physical obstacles and found a way through boxing to contribute to a lot of people in Pasadena,” Gordo said of Canto. “In short, he’s a Pasadenan we can be proud of. The same can be said of Eddie Johnson. He overcame a lot and persevered and his legacy continues today at Villa-Parke, and we should use their efforts to inspire others.”