The Time Warp That Is Gleason’s Gym
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.