A new Gleason's Gym debuts in DUMBO
A new Gleason's Gym debuts in DUMBO
As the oldest active boxing gym in the U.S. and perhaps the world’s most famous, Gleason’s Gym is an inspiring community sports space. It has a fascinating history that began during the Depression, flourishing after this and managing to stay strong in the 1960s as the last remnant of New York’s golden age of boxing. From this, it became beloved of Hollywood script writers and ad agencies, with a long and illustrious list of film and sports stars gracing its doors.
Gleason’s Gym moved from its address on the Brooklyn waterfront to a new location only a block away, but the relocation leaves behind an era’s worth of sweat and grime that has accumulated in this temple to boxing.
Peter Robert Gagliardi, a flyweight turned bantamweight, changed his name to Bobby Gleason in order to appeal to the predominantly Irish New York fight crowd of the era and opened the doors to the gym in 1937. Dues were two dollars a month, and the times were tough. Bobby could not meet his expenses, including the $50 per month rent, so he hacked a cab for 10 or 12 hours a night.
Things eased up after the depression. Gleason’s flourished along with boxing in the 40’s and 50’s, but the 60’s took their toll. The sport declined and two of its temples – Stillman’s Gym and the Old Garden – disappeared. That left Gleason’s as the last remnant of boxing’s “Golden Age” in New York City.
The gym was located in the “Hub” district of the lower Bronx at 434 Westchester Avenue, near 149th Street and 3rd Avenue. Fighters from the East, West, and the World made it to the double door leading you up the one flight of stairs and into another world that was not seen by very many fans. The gym was the largest in the city. It looked like an old coal cellar. It needed a paint job and the wooden floors might have been taken from the Mayflower. A blind man with a sense of smell would have known what went on there. The gym became eerily quiet when the next bell rang. Men who, a second before, had been brutalizing heavy bags, suddenly began walking around like zombies. This lasted for one minute, until the next bell rang, when they resumed their frenzied pace.
Jake LaMotta, is probably one of the most famous Gleason’s trained champions. Right up there with him is Roberto Duran. The Panamanian superman won three World Titles using Gleason’s Gym as his training base. He was trained by Ray Arcel and Freddy Brown. When Duran was in Gleason’s, so was the rest of New York. On occasion the street had to be blocked off to accommodate all his fans. Muhammad Ali, then Cassius Clay, trained for Sonny Liston the first time (February 25, 1964) in Gleason’s Gym. In one of the biggest upsets of the twentieth century, he won the World Heavyweight Title when the unpopular Liston failed to answer the bell for the seventh round.
Over the last thirty years, Bruce Silverglade has been busy keeping one of boxing’s grandest traditions alive. He is the driving force behind Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn.
The Silverglade name has been associated with boxing for over 65 years. Bruce’s father Edward, was one of the founders of the National PAL. He also worked for the National Olympic Committee and was the team manager for the US Olympic teams of 1980 and 1984. In 1976, Bruce found himself in the middle of a divorce and sought refuge in boxing. While one marriage ended, another one was just beginning. Silverglade caught the boxing bug and quit his job of 16 years with Sears Roebuck and Company. He began refereeing and judging amateur bouts but because he liked “all” fighters he learned quickly that he could not be an impartial official. That’s when he turned to the administrative side of the sport.
By the early 1980’s, Silverglade began devoting his efforts full-time to Gleason’s. In 1987, he started running live boxing cards at Gleason’s Arena, which was located one block away from the gym. That lasted until 1990, but Silverglade remained involved in the business side of boxing as a matchmaker and booking agent.
And the move to new digs just across the street in DUMBO is just the next step in the 81-year history.
“There’s a lot of history that will just move over to the next place — it’s just another part of Gleason’s history,” said Bruce Silverglade, who has owned the gym for 30 years. “Last week we had Prime Minster Trudeau, and in the new space we’ll have another prime minister.”
The new incarnation — Gleason’s fourth — is smaller than the old space, though Silverglade said the extra square footage came out of the offices, not the gym floor, which is the same size.
Gleason's Gym in DUMBO: 130 Water Street; Brooklyn, NY 11201