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Muhammad Ali Boyhood Home Restoration Nears Completion, Pink Paint and All

Ali boyhood home
J. Tyler Franklin
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The legacy of Muhammad Ali is celebrated in many places in Louisville, his hometown.

There’s a major downtown street named for the famed boxing champion and humanitarian. A giant photo mural of Ali overlooks the Ohio River, not far from the cultural and educational center he and his wife, Lonnie, established a decade ago.

Now, two avid Ali fans are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to turn his West Louisville boyhood home into a museum.

The modest single-story house is where, from 1947 to 1961, Cassius and Odessa Clay raised their two boys, Cassius Jr. and his younger brother, Rudy, now known respectively as Muhammad and Rahman Ali.

At about 1,000 interior square feet, the house on Grand Avenue is not the most imposing on its block. For years, it was an indiscreet rental property; the only giveaway that one of the most famous people in the world had once called it home were the occasional Ali fans who'd stop to take pictures of it.

This past week, the renovation work was well underway.

George Bochetto is a Philadelphia attorney and former Pennsylvania state boxing commissioner. The Ali home was sold to a Las Vegas real estate investor in 2012, and Bochetto later became a partner in the restoration project.

A state historical marker was erected on the property a few years ago, but Bochetto said the house itself had long been neglected.

“It was in as bad a condition as it could have been and frankly, it might have been easier as it turned out, it might have been easier just to knock it down and start over again,” he said while giving a tour of the home recently.

But now, the extensive structural repairs are complete, down to the restoration of the home’s pink exterior — just as the house looked when Ali was young.

Bochetto is focused on curating furniture and other pieces from the period.

“Aside from being a big Ali admirer, I regard this as really, sacred grounds,” he said. “This is where, in 1,000 square feet, one of the greatest humans who ever lived grew up with one of the greatest brothers you could ever have.”

He pointed to Rahman, Muhammad Ali’s exuberant 72-year-old brother, who’s always ready with a handshake and hug.

“I have nothing but pleasant memories, “Rahman Ali said. “Every day of my life, I see Daddy and Mom in this house. It was a wonderful, wonderful time.”

During the restoration, Bochetto has become close friends with Rahman Ali, who’s providing both memories and mementos to the project.

“He could tell you where the beds were, he could tell you the kind of stove they had. He remembers when his father built the extension on the back and everything,” Bochetto said.

This is where the boys lived when 12-year-old Cassius Clay Jr. reported his bike stolen to a local police officer. Officer Joe Martin also happened to own a gym and introduced the young Clay to boxing.

The rest is a part of American history.

Watch a Tour of the House

Muhammad Ali, now 73 and slowed by Parkinson’s disease, is not directly involved in the restoration of his boyhood home, but his presence looms large.

A lot of the house’s rehabilitation was done by workers in a program called "Jesus and a Job" that was established by the Rev. Charles Elliott about 20 years ago, with Ali’s help. Elliot, pastor of the nearby King Solomon Baptist Church, said the Ali project serves as an example.

“It can be and will be something we can point to. It’s not where you’re born but what you do after you’re born. And Ali has demonstrated that not only in Louisville, but all over the world,” he said.

The project’s investors hope to have the Ali boyhood home open to visitors by next spring. The investors have also purchased the house next door and plan to convert it into a welcome center.

Rick Howlett is host of WFPL's weekly talk show, "In Conversation." Email Rick at rhowlett@lpm.org.