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The Philadelphia Daily News

JOE SNYDER and his old pals pumped iron in the early mornings at Jardel Rec Center for 40 years until Tony the maintenance man suddenly told them he could no longer let them in until staffers opened the building at 2 p.m.

Snyder, 60, a postal worker who has been weightlifting early at Jardel "since we used pineapple cans filled with concrete," couldn't believe it.

Neither could his fellow early birds. Chris Vogt, 80, drove from Bucks County to the Castor section of Northeast Philadelphia, lifted with Snyder, then spent the day working at his brother's transmission shop.

John Bugary, 73, a retired city program analyst from Fox Chase, has lifted with them since 1975.

City police officers and firefighters and at least one judge also joined the Jardel Sporting Club, a 1950s weight room in the rec-center basement with the rules on a handmade poster, including "No smoking or swearing" and "Last one out, lock the door."

"It's just a throwback gym," Snyder said, proudly surveying the wall-to-wall weightlifting equipment that members bought themselves out of their $200 initiation fee and $20 annual dues.

"All the members got a key to the room," Snyder said, frustrated that it was now useless in the morning.

Leo Dignam, the rec department's deputy commissioner for programs, said the main reason to keep the weight room closed until Jardel opens at 2 p.m. is the safety of the preschoolers in the morning Tot Rec program.

Dignam said the children are supervised by trained personnel who should be the only adults in the building for security reasons.

"In the past, people were giving out too many keys," Dignam said. "Doors were left open so friends could enter. There were robberies at Jardel. The building wasn't secure."

He said he couldn't make an exception for the old-timers who have been using the weight room for decades.

"We can't say, 'You can come in but nobody else can,' " Dignam said. "That would open a Pandora's box."

Deputy Commissioner Susan Slawson said another issue was the danger of allowing people to pump iron unsupervised in a near-deserted building.

"If somebody dies," Slawson said, "the first thing people will ask us is, 'Why were they in there by themselves? Why did you give them keys?' "

Snyder pointed with pride to his ancient, sweat-stained Jardel T-shirt and said, "If you're a gym rat, you break stuff."

"I've played here with broken noses and broken legs all my life," he said. "You get elbowed in basketball, you could get a broken nose. I used to jump my Sting-Ray bike over the dirt hills out there and get hurt.

"You didn't run home and say, 'I broke my leg. I'm getting a lawyer and I'm going to sue the rec center.' You got fixed up and went back to Jardel."

He misses driving his '68 Ford Falcon Futura to an early Jardel workout. It's hard to give up a 40-year habit, he said.

Very hard.

On Twitter: @DanGeringer


April 2, 2014


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