In the middle of monied, placid DUMBO lies a hard-hitting gym with an expanding reach of influence

By Brendan Fitzgibbons

A basic tenant of business in gentrification- happy city environs is turnover. The borough’s shops, restaurants, and bars are, therefore, chained to a revolving door of openings and closings. But in the revitalized waterfront hood that is DUMBO is a place of business with an enduring significance that is something approaching mythic.

Gleason’s Gym on Front Street was founded in 1937, and is billed as the “oldest boxing gym the world.” Its walls echo with ghosts of boxing legends past—its posted list of champions who have either trained or boxed there making the space feel less like an enterprise, and more like a shrine.

Gleason’s has trained 133 world champions, two gold medal winners (Howard Davis in 1976 and Mark Breland in 1984), and boxing legends Muhammad Ali, Jake LaMotta and Mike Tyson have all sparred here, with Tyson still making the trek to the gym to this day.

At the center of the facility is the affable Bruce Silverglade (at left), owner for 38 years. He speaks with all the boisterous confidence of a seasoned city guy, but without a hint of combativeness.

The owner had been working at Sears Roebuck when he started to volunteer as an official for the Amateur Boxing Association. It was there that he struck up a friendship with boxing aficionado Ira Becker. The two eventually became partners and moved Gleason’s from Manhattan into its current DUMBO location the in mid 1980s.

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“Leaving my job at Sears was the greatest thing I ever did,” Silverglade said. “I never once looked back.” He became the sole owner in 1991 when Becker passed away, and remains one of boxing’s fiercest proponents.

“The masses are discovering that boxing is a great workout, in part because it’s not just a physical workout,” he explained. “It trains your body and mind to be focused in a very specific way, and anyone can use the things they learn in their everyday life.”

The gym itself is a 14,000-square-foot space, with 83 trainers, an array of speed bags (including a 95-year-old antique belonging to Jack Dempsey), heavy and uppercut bags, a myriad of jump ropes, and four full-sized sparring rings. Its 14-foot ceilings and blood-red walls have been the backdrop for a fistful of boxing movies; 26 to be exact, including Million Dollar Baby, Rocky, Mighty Aphrodite, and most famously Raging Bull. (Gleason’s staff trained Robert De Niro for his role as Jake LaMotta.) The gym is also the setting for the Esquire Network’s reality show White Collar Brawlers, featuring two upper-crust professionals who, after an interoffice beef, spar with each other at the gym.

Today, Gleason’s has more than 1,200 members, with patrons paying a month-to-month membership fee of $95 (a weekly membership is available for $50). The owner mentioned that many members put themselves through the same training a champion boxer endures, some even progressing to sparring. Membership provides access to all facilities, which include free weights, treadmills, steppers, stationary bikes, and rowers…seven days a week. Members can also workout with seasoned trainers at an additional cost.

Silverglade believes the price is more than worth it.

“The boxer is the best conditioned athlete in any sport,” he said. “And some people who come in here get really addicted to it.” Most of the members at Gleason’s are Wall Street businessmen and women, with the average age range being 20s-30s. The youngest member is 6, the oldest 83.

“We’re not in competition with health clubs,” the owner added. “Because gyms like Crunch and Equinox only offer boxing training at an introductory level. If anyone really cares about the sport, they’ll eventually make their way here.” •

Gleason’s Gym
77 Front St. / 718.797.2872