At Gleason’s Gym

A story in pictures.

Gleason's, Brooklyn. © Jessica Edwards, 2010

One of the oldest boxing gyms in New York City, Gleason’s Gym exudes a sense of history from the moment you climb the stairs up to its second floor premises. The gym was founded by Peter Robert Gagliardi, a flyweight turned bantamweight who changed his name to Bobby Gleason to appeal to his Irish New Yorker market. It opened its doors in the lower Bronx in 1937.

The Gleason’s that I visited last September is in its third incarnation. The gym upped sticks from Westchester Avenue, its original home, in 1974 to move to Manhattan. Before it left its Bronx home, Gleason’s had trained some of the world’s best known boxers, including Jake ‘The Bronx Bull’ LaMotta, Phil Terranova and Jimmy Carter. Training in the 40s, they all won world titles and international acclaim for Gleason’s. Muhammed Ali (then Cassius Clay) trained for the first time at the gym’s Manhattan premises in February 1964.

Today, Gleason’s stands on Front Street in Brooklyn, between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges in the area known as DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass). It took over an old warehouse virtually under the Brooklyn Bridge, and remains one of the oldest and most active boxing gyms in the world. It is among the most immediately evocative spaces I have ever been in.

Round the corner from Gleason’s is the St Ann’s Warehouse, a theatre on Water Street. The last time I was in Brooklyn, I was surprised to see that St Ann’s upcoming programme was almost entirely British experimental theatre. The show that particularly caught my eye was Frantic Assembly and the National Theatre of Scotland’s ‘Beautiful Burnout’, a show all about boxing, inspired by Gleason’s Gym. I had seen it in Edinburgh about a month before. The show had been flawed, but interesting. Walking away from Gleason’s and passing a poster for ‘Beautiful Burnout’, it struck me how little the show had been able to evoke the overt physicality of Gleason’s as a space: the sharp, acrid smell of sweat, the blood red walls, the unflinching reality of the place.

The Gym Rules © Jessica Edwards, 2010

The Ring © Jessica Edwards, 2010

Flag (detail) © Jessica Edwards, 2010

World Champions © Jessica Edwards, 2010

 

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About jsaedwards

Jessica Edwards is a young director and recent graduate of Oxford University. She works with new theatre company Flipping the Bird (go and see www.flippingthebird.co.uk). She is also a playwright, blogger and graphic designer.
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