Bruce Silverglade and the legend of Gleason’s Gym

James Oddy
06/01/2016 10:06am

New York City holds a special place in the hearts of many boxing fans. It was at the centre of the sport during its golden age and Madison Square Garden is still a draw for many fans in itself. The city has always produced top quality boxers and one of boxing’s other famous names, Gleason’s Gym, has long been at the heart of that.

“[The gym] started in 1937 and its first champions were Phil Terranova and Jake LaMotta,” current owner Bruce Silverglade told Boxing Monthly, during a hectic festive period. “The gym was hot from the beginning but really took off when the famed Stillman's Gym went out of business in 1954.”

But, for Silverglade, the sport has always been a part of his life in one way or another. “I grew up around all sports but especially boxing,” he told BM. “My father was the Director of Health, Recreation and Welfare for the City of Trenton, New Jersey. He started The Police Athletic League and his favourite sport was boxing. He was the US Olympic team manager for boxing in 1980 and 1984.” 

Despite that, it wasn’t an immediate transition for Silverglade into the sport. “I graduated from college and received a BA in Economics. I did not want to follow in my father’s footsteps so I went to work for a retailer, Sears Roebuck and Co. I worked in management for them for 16 years. However, I realized retail was not as exciting as boxing, so I had my father introduce me to amateur boxing. As I worked for Sears, I volunteered in the amateurs and became the President of amateur boxing in New York. I went into Gleason's one day and the owner Ira Becker mentioned that he was looking for a partner. That is all it took. I resigned from Sears the next day and became a 50% owner of Gleason's Gym.”

Despite it’s long and illustrious history, the gym have had several sites, reflecting the ever-changing demographics of the city.

“The current gym in Brooklyn is the third location. The original gym started in 1937 in the Bronx,” said Silverglade. “It was there until 1974 when the building we were in was replaced with a huge housing project. The gym relocated into Manhattan for 10 years. We lost our lease again at the end of 1984 and we moved to our current location in Brooklyn. The Manhattan location is now a residential building.”

Any readers lucky enough to visit New York may have spotted the gym whilst crossing the iconic Brooklyn Bridge, and the current location has certainly helped business.

“Gleason's Gym is a well known tourist attraction in New York. Many people walk across the Brooklyn Bridge just to come to the gym. Others see it from the bridge and then come and visit. I have 15 to 20 tourists everyday,” he said. Yet despite that, the gym is still very much a working gym.

“There are always good boxers from New York. We have several world champions like Danny Jacobs and some ex-champions who are trying to win the title again like Yuri Foreman. The New York Golden Gloves starts in a couple of weeks and that will showcase the newcomers. The current state of boxing in New York is very good. There are boxing events every week. The bigger events do not take place in New York because of two things: taxes and the cost of doing business in New York.”

“Sparring at Gleason's is always amazing. We have five rings and usually there are champions sparring in more than one ring at the same time. If it isn't a current champion it is a past champion making a comeback or one of my numerous trainers that are former champions, Olympians or Hall Of Famers.”

Silverglade can also reflect on some great memories of former boxers who have graced the famous gym.

“Roberto Duran was the best in the gym for sparring. Everything was a war with him,” he told BM. “My favorite story is about Muhammad Ali. He was visiting the gym one day several years ago. Instead of bringing him up my stairs, I told his driver to pull around the block and I would bring him up an elevator. When his car approached, I was waiting for him outside. As he exited the car, a young lady who was walking down the street, recognized him and began to stammer into her cell phone. Ali walked over, put his arm around her and took her phone and began talking to the person on the other end. That is how the greatest acts around his fans and friends.”

Whilst the gym has a long relationship with the pro game, Silverglade was also at the forefront of developments in the unpaid ranks.

“I started White Collar Boxing at Gleason's in 1990. I started it because the amateurs and professionals did not want to be bothered with this group,” he told BM. “It is now worldwide. The amateurs have adopted the group and call it Master Boxing. I think it is a wonderful thing and that this group is tremendously important to the sport of boxing. They support us and are financially able to help.”

The gym has also served as a base for the training and shooting of many famous representations of the sport on screen.

“The famous people who train at Gleason's are from all areas: acting, sports, politics and industry. They are all nice people and have no airs about them when they are in the gym. Hilary Swank was amazing and actually hung out with us 24-7 so that she would understand what a boxer is.

“Many of the actors and models say they want to turn professional,” continued Silverglade. “However, as good as they become, they are not the level of professional boxers. The one exception that I can recall is Robert De Niro. He trained for the role in Raging Bull and was quite good. His management did not allow him to turn pro. He would have been a tough journeyman.”

If the gym is anything to go by, the sport is certainly still thriving in NYC, which can only be a good thing. “The gym is currently the oldest and largest active boxing gym in the USA. Gleason's Gym is iconic in boxing circles today,” added Silverglade.