The Time Warp That Is Gleason’s Gym

By Norman Marcus on March 16, 2013
The Time Warp That Is Gleason’s Gym
Two things were brought over from Manhattan to the new gym's location in Brooklyn.

During the 1940s a lot of champions came out of Gleason’s Gym. Jake LaMotta trained there, as did three-time world champion Carlos Ortiz…

This place is an anachronism in the fight game. The definition of that big word is, “a person or a thing that is chronologically out of place. Misplacing of persons, events, objects, or customs in regard to each other.” This is exactly what you see when you walk into this gym. It is a mirror of America as we all wish it to be. You’ll find rich and poor here. Race, religion or creed makes no difference. The world’s problems are left outside the door. No climate changers, bombers or insane gunmen to contend with in here. Members are basically interested in conditioning their bodies and following a program. There is a feeling of comradery here that you don’t find in other gyms. It is not a “clicky” place. Everyone seems friendly. Gleason’s is the oldest working gym in the world.

The gym was started by an Italian boxer named Peter Robert Gagliardi, in 1937. He changed his name to Bobby Gleason because it was an Irish neighborhood at the time. It was good for business. It was first located in the Bronx at 434 Westchester Avenue. It always needed a coat of paint and smelled of sweat, a good start for a gym.

During the 1940s a lot of champions came out of Gleason’s Gym. Jake LaMotta, the Bronx Bull, trained there, as did three-time world champion Carlos Ortiz. When the ‘60s arrived the sport took a dive and their main competition, Stillman’s Gym closed up. This left Gleason’s as the last gym standing in big time New York boxing. Welterweight champion Benny “Kid” Paret trained at the gym until his death at the hands of Emile Griffith in 1962.

Gleason was soon looking for a new location. In 1974 when Bobby was eighty-two years old he moved the gym to 252 West 30th Street in Manhattan. This place way bigger and had a new coat of paint.

Whitey Bimstein, one of the best trainers in the business, moved with Gleason to the new site. Bimstein’s reputation helped bring the old members along with him. Heavyweight contender Gerry Cooney made the gym his home base, so did middleweight champion Roberto Duran and trainer Ray Arcel.

A lot of guest fighters hung their hats at the new location. Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, Wilfred Benitez, Hector Camacho, Julio Cesar Chavez, Larry Holmes, Thomas Hearns, and Muhammad Ali trained there.

In 1984 the neighborhood changed again and became more upscale. The rent went up. The gym then had to make its third move to 77 Front Street in the Dumbo section of Brooklyn, right under the Brooklyn Bridge. The current gym has hosted champions and contenders such as Buddy McGirt, Aaron Davis, Riddick Bowe, Mike Tyson, Arturo Gatti, Zab Judah and Shane Mosley.

Former WBA light middleweight champion Yuri Foreman, aka The Lion of Zion, now uses Gleason’s as his home base. After a twenty-two month layoff Foreman is on the comeback trail with a surgically rebuilt knee (ACL) and a rabbinical degree. The new rabbi sticks and moves in the gym as he pursues the WBA belt he lost to Miguel Cotto at Yankee Stadium on June 5, 2010. Foreman pulled up lame on a braced knee in round seven. Fighting on one leg, he was stopped in round nine. The press called it “The Battle of Wounded Knee.”

Hollywood studios discovered the gritty realism of the gym and used it over and over again for location shots. Martin Scorsese (Raging Bull) and Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby) filmed there. Gleason’s current owner Bruce Silverglade says, “ We’ve done twenty-six full length movies here, and four of them won Academy Awards. We’ve done at least a hundred documentaries. It’s crazy.”

The gym features four square rings, three for boxing and one for wrestling. They are twenty feet wide on the outside and eighteen feet wide on the inside. Six speed bag racks, eight heavy bags, stationary bikes, free weights—the works. A lot of yuppie business types work out in the gym, right alongside the pros. During lunch hour, before and after work, the gym is busy. Members pay $65 to $85 a month. There are more than eighty trainers available for hire at the gym. They also have the best hot dogs in Brooklyn at their snack bar. Only “Nathan’s Hot Dogs” on Coney Island might win a close decision here on points.

The current recession has hit some gym members hard. Sixty percent are amateurs and membership is down. To help the bottom line Bruce has introduced “White Collar Fights,” one Saturday a month. A paying gym audience gets to watch amateurs mix it up in the ring. No one gets hurt. 

The gym is also used as a laboratory for the Everlast Company. They send over new equipment for Gleason’s to use. Over a period of time the gym reports back on the quality and durability of these products. All kinds of gear, like gloves, ropes, speed bags etc., even the Everlast square rings themselves, are tested here.

Two things were brought over from Manhattan to the new gym in Brooklyn. Gleason’s would never be Gleason’s without them. One is a wall mounted quote by the Roman poet Virgil that reads: “Now whoever has courage and a strong and collected spirit in his breast, let him come forward, lace on the gloves and put up his hands.”

The second item is Jack Dempsey’s ninety-year-old speed bag rack, made out of solid oak. No space age carbon fiber here. Any member can use it. Of course, you have to hang your own speed bag but still, you get to have the ghost of Dempsey looking over your shoulder. Who knows? It can’t hurt. He was the best short puncher in the business!

The gym has recently expanded to two new locations. One is at the Mercedes Club in Midtown Manhattan. You can also workout at a Gleason’s Gym at the shore, in Long Branch, New Jersey.

My hometown of Philadelphia is famous for producing good fighters. But that is looking at the entire city, including all the local gyms and clubs past and present. Gleason’s on the other hand has produced a total of one hundred and thirty-two professional world champions, solely on its own! It’s still training name fighters to this day.

Note: I would like to thank Bruce Silverglade of Gleason’s Gym for much of the information used in this story.

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  1. Weathy 03:39pm, 01/28/2016

    I’m writing story in which one of the characters owns a gym post WWII (inspired by Gleasons)  In my story gym revenue comes from membership and hosting local fights (owner splits the door with fight winner). Aside from gym expenses like linen service, utilities, building and equipment maintenance and upkeep what other expenses would a gym owner have? (No employees other than one guy who helps out in exchange for gym use). The gym closes during the war and reopens after. Questions: home mortgages unheard of prior to war. How about for business? Were bldgs purchased with cash in the teens and twenties? Would there be other expenses besides those I’ve listed? My character needs to be losing the gym because of mismanagement. What other financial problems would a gym owner have? My research not that fruitful but it seems gyms were very neighborhood based, so competition not a huge factor? Any input appreciated. 

  2. Clarence George 01:51pm, 07/02/2013

    Your brother disappeared more than 50 years ago?  I unfortunately don’t know the name.  I did a little research online, but didn’t come up with anything.  Perhaps your best bet would be to go through official channels.

    Best of luck.

  3. Diane Burchette 07:19am, 07/02/2013

    My brother Anthony Spencer was trained at the famous Bobby Gleason in the Bronx between 1959 and 1960. He was supposed had went to Pro. I don’t know what happened, I will like to find out, if anybody have information on Anthony Spencer please send me an e-mail     Thank-you….

  4. NYIrish 12:39pm, 03/20/2013

    Mike Silver is right re the 14th Street Gym, (aka Gramercy Gym, and Empire S.C. for the amateurs in the Golden Gloves,) and it’s role in the production of Raging Bull. Al Gavin and Bobby Jackson owned the gym. The shots of De Niro sparring with Joe Pesci definitely were shot in the Gramercy Gym. Many of the fighters featured as opponents for LaMotta were pro fighters of the appropriate size who trained at 14th St. Gym. The welterweight Johnny Turner was one of them. Verne DePaul, who managed Turner and Chu Chu Malave, played a referee in one of the LaMotta bouts. De Niro was taught to box mornings and on weekends when the gym was mostly empty. There was an amateur boxer whose name I don’t recall that spent a lot of time sparring with De Niro. He also played an opponent in the film. Ray Elson trained at Gramercy.
    I don’t know if Gleason’s had a role in Raging Bull but I know the Grammercy Gym did.

  5. Mike Silver 08:14am, 03/18/2013

    Thanks Norm. The reason I’m sure the interiors were shot at the Gramercy was because an actor doing extra work for the film told me at the time he was up at the 14th St. gym for filming. And there was that photo of Elson in the background!

  6. Norm Marcus 07:06am, 03/18/2013

    Mike: Always enjoy your analysis of these stories. You have forgotten more about boxing than I will ever know.
    I went back and Googled my info on Filming at Gleason’s Gym. I again found several sources that reported that Raging Bull was filmed at Gleason’s and De Niro also trained there for the part. Maybe the movie used Gleason’s and D’Amato’s old Gramercy Gym for interior shots? Anyway, if I have to choose between you and the Internet for info- I pick Mike Silver!!!
    love your stories-

  7. Mike Silver 08:17pm, 03/17/2013

    Thanks for the memories Norm. Just wish the new Gleason’s had a wooden floor.  Two corrections: Whitey Bimstein passed away in 1969 so he never made it to the Manhattan version of Gleason’s. But the great teacher and cornerman Freddie Brown was there training Duran and others. Also,“Raging Bull” scenes were filmed at Cus D’Amato’s old Gramercy gym on 14th street in 1977 and they forgot to remove the big photo of Ray Elson (1970s light heavy) and his afro from the wall!

  8. cnorkusjr 06:57am, 03/16/2013

    Gleason’s Gym was still in the hands of the Gleason Family when Bobby Gleason passed away. The Gym was located in Manhattan with Bruce Silverglade the operating mgr. The family found it hard to run the gym with other family business and a long commute from Long Island and shortly thereafter the Gym was sold to Mr. Silverglade. It was he who then moved it to Brooklyn.
    Bobby Gleason’s family is still much around and living well on Long Island.

  9. Mike Casey 12:48am, 03/16/2013

    Very nice treatment of a wonderful old boxing fixture. Enjoyed this one, Norm!

  10. Norm Marcus 03:42pm, 03/15/2013

    Don’t get wise George- It is the “City Of Brotherly Love!”

  11. Clarence George 12:15pm, 03/15/2013

    Excellent piece, Norm, on one of the few New York boxing institutions remaining.

    By the way, this place—“Philadelphia”—from whence you hail…what is that?

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