Sunnyside Post

Sunnyside NY news

Street likely to be named in honor of Irish-American Athletic Club

Local legislators are getting behind a plan to co-name a street that runs through the Celtic Park apartment complex in recognition of the Irish-American Athletic Club.

The new street name, which would be called Winged Fist Way, would apply to 43rd Street — between 48th and 50th Aves. The name would recognize that the Irish-American Athletic Club, which enjoyed its heydays before World War I, was headquartered where the Celtic Park apartments are today. The Winged Fist was the emblem of the club, which had a raised fist, eagle wings, shamrocks and the US flag.

The club was extremely successful, with its members winning 53 medals at the Olympic Games. Medalists included Irishmen, African-Americans and Polish-Jews. However, after WWI the club went into decline.

The battle for recognition of the club’s history began in 2007, when Ian McGowan, a resident and history buff, approached the coop board of the 750-apartment complex seeking to place a small plaque in recognition of the club on one of the buildings. The board was initially receptive to the idea and Congressman Joseph Crowley supported it; however, the board eventually denied his request arguing that the fist evoked racism.

Then the board began to cite technical reasons for the denial, such as coop regulations prohibiting placement of signs on exterior walls of the premises. (click for Winged Fist website)

But McGowan has always enjoyed strong support from the public and political leaders on this issue.

Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, in an interview Wednesday, said that she sent McGowan a letter of support for the street co-naming today, adding that “Ian [McGowan] has been an activist for the good.” State. Sen. Mike Gianaris sent a letter of support Wednesday to the community board, according to a spokesman.

But Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, the most important player in this process, said he planned to sponsor the co-naming in the city council. For a street naming to occur, it needs a sponsor and a vote before the council.

“I’m a big fan of history and I’ve been very impressed by what Ian has uncovered and what took place there,” Van Bramer said.

McGowan, this afternoon, said he was “excited” about the support he is getting.

Meanwhile, the Celtic Park coop board could not be reached for comment about the proposed street co-naming.

proposed plaque

1911 junior team (source: Winged Fist)

For a complete history of the club, please visit Wingedfist.org

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27 Responses »

  1. I rmember my Dad telling stories of how before the Celtic Garden apartments were built, the Irish used to come from all over the city to festivities held on the grounds.
    He said that the #7 line only came to the Rawson St station and that the people would walk up from there. He told of how Queens Boulevard would be filled with people all dressed up and of the ladies in their beautiful dresses and hats coming up the boulevard ..
    He came here in 1929 so his sightings would be in the early 1930′s ..

  2. Good idea.

    Pity the co-op board was too politically correct and short-sighted to put up a simple commemorative plaque. It would have added some historical flair to the property.

    Their logic was completely backward. They claimed the plaque might offend residents of non-Irish descent. Anyway, the property is called CELTIC PARK. So, it’s ok to name the property Celtic Park but informing people of Celtic Park’s history with a modest plaque is offensive? Besides the prissy co-op board, who exactly is offended by this? Nobody I’ve spoken to.

  3. “…the board eventually denied his request arguing that the fist evoked racism.”

    Good grief, what isn’t called “racist” these days? That word gets thrown around like confetti. If anyone looks at that logo and sees racism, well, psychiatrists have a term for that, it’s called “projection.”

  4. I love this. I wish my street address would change, but my apt is the 42nd st side of Celtic Park. I also think the plaque discussions should resume again. I think honoring the past is very important.

  5. As a Celtic Park resident, I support the plaque – but the board doesn’t have the power to approve it because it would require a majority shareholder vote, and our neighbors in this complex do not come to the annual meeting to vote on anything, unfortunately. Not even their board representation!

    The street renaming is a great idea – and I bet more people will see the street sign that a plaque anyhow.

  6. @diane k

    The board has done plenty of things without a shareholder vote – the flag pole which I like and the tacky pepto bismal colored flower pots they bought a while back. They also seem to like butchering trees without asking anybody. I agree about the shareholder apathy though, it’s sad.

  7. so we’re wasting time, effort, and money
    on dead/old people one guy wants to remember

    oh, okay.

  8. Celtic Park management always has a fresh cup of “no”, ready to serve anyone walking in their door. The plaque could only increase the cache of the neighborhood in general and the coop specifically. As long as the shareholders remain apathetic to everything, nothing will change. The plaque would be OK, but if it involves any extra paperwork for the office, lots of luck. They are understaffed and swamped or just difficult and lazy. Either way, the results speak for themselves. I’ve lived there for a while now and I’ve never heard a kind word about the office, and I’ve spoken to dozens of shareholders in both buildings-every one has a story, and they’re never happy when they recount it. But, back on point- good for Ian, I hope his long standing efforts are rewarded.

  9. Will someone clarify: Is this an honorary street renaming or is 43rd St officially being renamed (I live on the street, so would my mail need to be addressed to 48-xx Winged Fist Way, Woodside, NY 11377)? Ha, that would be quite the unusual street name. I assume co-naming means it is honorary.

  10. Oh, that would be a nice touch to the neighborhood. Can 44th Street be renamed “Dog Poop Alley”?

  11. Great job Ian. I had know idea about any of this.

  12. Mo,

    That name’s been taken by several streets in Paris I think.

  13. Keep up the effort Ian! This is neighborhood history. The fist represents physical strength for an ATHLETIC club. How is that seen as racist?
    Zeeesh.

  14. This was a club for athletes–REGARDLESS of race or religion.

  15. “when the irish ruled ny sports” give me an effin break… that was 100 years ago.
    this is bull. are you serious? did anyone click any links relating to this?

    “…detailed, historical explanation of the ethnic and religious diversity within the I-AAC membership…”
    i like how the article didn’t fail to mention african-americans were medalists… look at that picture! is that the ONE black guy? ONE? okay, so the picture isn’t a good example of ALL the members of the IAAC? okay, well… if you read on further, they recruited their token african-american
    click the link. WAIT- and he was half white. WAIT- and he died really early on in life, does he count?
    it says there were other ethnic groups who belonged to the IAAC… but i dont see many ethnically diverse names on the plaque. You have to be kidding me! this is from a time in history where no one wanted to stirr the cultural pot and youre telling me that the IAAC was doing that and there is proof, no way. i highly doubt it, especially in the world of competitive sports.
    i feel like theyre trying to pass this off as something it’s not, and i dont appreciate it.
    i agree with hankin’s decision!
    i understand sunnyside is has a large Irish-American community, mostly residing in northern-sunnyside (since the terms north and south are becoming popular on here). so, even looking at it geographically… it doesnt make sense. Go throw a statue in doughboy or skillman park, its big enough and around the people who would appreciate it more.

  16. AM

    Do you do anything else besides nit-pick, whine and throw mud? Has your diaper been changed recently?

  17. Well, “Celtic Park ” would be a better name than Winged Fist Way, that sounds like a kung -fu movie. But since CP administration has been so difficult, why should Ian further exalt those who would deny him? Either “way”, it’s a plaque and a street sign for heaven’s sake. Hundreds of these go up and down, and I can’t imagine they all require this much handwringing.

  18. Ugh, I live in CP and really, who cares about this plaque. Put it up, don’t put it up. Everything in this building is a huge debate – even the petty small things. However, I am also a renter so my opinion doesn’t matter – which is why I don’t go to their annual meeting or vote on whatever it is they are voting on. To me, it’s just an apartment complex. Sure there is some history to it, much like a lot of other buildings in NYC, but come on! The residents like to think it’s some sort of palace – get real.

  19. Mel Sheppard (my grandfather), ran for the IAAC, Winged fist track club. He won 4 gold medals & 1 silver medal @ the 1908 & 1912 Olympics. He was proud to be a member of that organization, and was also very proud to be on the 1908 Oympic, relay Gold Medal winning team with the first black American to ever win a Gold Medal.
    Their club brought a lot of glory & honor back the U.S. after the games were over.
    By naming a street after the club would be the right & honorable thing to do. The timing is great, if possible, since the 2012 Olympics are back in London where it all began in 1908.

  20. Wow, people are so cynical,some of the comments are so negative for no good reason really.

    53 Olympic medals from a single organization that happened to bring cross-cultural identity to its members. Uniting New York City at a time when Irish and African Americans and Jews were highly discriminated against. Not even being allowed to enter some establishments for their races.

    In a time before the presidency’s of John F Kennedy and Ronald Reagan when Irish Americans would become recognized as a tremendous force in American politics, would the stature and reputation of these hard working immigrants be recognized.

    I think its a huge
    Story that should be recognized not only for the cultural aspect but mainly for the shear athletic accomplishment alone. Least of which being my Great Grandfather was one of the Olympians on the team.

  21. Although an integral part of the City of New York for over 100 years, our Borough, arguably the most cultural diverse one hundred square miles in the United States, and perhaps, the world, gets short shrift in the annals of history.

    Yet, Ian McGowan has done a tremendous job in reminding us of this most intriguing chapter.

    The history of the IAAC, a group founded primarily by one set of immigrants to these shores, yet open and welcoming to willing participants of all backgrounds, is so reflective of New York at her best.

    Although the Club is gone along with its stadium, we need its ethos of brotherhood, community and sportsmanship so much at this time.

    Renaming a section of 43rd Street would do much to keep our local history ever before us.

  22. New York is a great city because people respect its history and hold its neighborhoods to a high standard. Without a sense of those who went before there’s no incentive to respect what they built. I wish good luck to all who support this street naming honor for Queens. Why should Manhattan and Brooklyn get all the credit for New York’s character. Claim this for Sunnyside before someone else grabs it. And if you don’t do it out of respect for the past do it for those who will occupy these streets in the future. Be a good steward of your neighborhood. That’s what keeps our city the greatest in the world.

  23. I’ve had the pleasure of taking Johnny Hayes’ gold medal to several places around the globe. He won the race that would set the standard distance of the marathon. Among his teammates was John B. Taylor, the first African-American Olympic gold medalist. On their return from Europe after the 1908 Olympics, they had a visit with President Teddy Roosevelt at Sagamore Hill, his Oyster Bay, LI home. Simply put, they were the greatest athletic stars of their era. A few years later, Celtic Park hosted Jim Thorpe, still considered by many to be the greatest athlete who ever lived. I’m pleased that there’s finally a chance to recognize the important events that happened at Celtic Park.

  24. Is AM a troll?

    I trust he has never known anyone who died. Apparently, those people aren’t worth remembering. I guess there’s no reason to maintain Memorial Day, either.

    As for his comments regarding John Baxter Taylor: Yes, Taylor was the only black member of the club. Being a racially integrated club was extremely unusual at that time, which is what makes the “tokenism” important.

    Does AM remember, or known about, 1947? Probably not, it’s the past and ought to be buried, along with any memories of that year. But it was also the year when, for an entire season, Jackie Robinson was the “token” black on the Brooklyn Dodgers. What is a token to some is the start of a legacy to others.

    And what does AM know about Taylor’s parents that is unknown to historians? Taylor was half-white? Where does he come up with such an idea?

    Am spouts preposterous nonsense that ought to be dispelled immediately.

  25. Ian,just came from Community Board 2 monthly meeting where a motion was made for the co-naming of 43rd. st. from 48ave. to 50ave. to Winged Fist Way. A motion normally goes by a rollcall vote of members of C.B.2 , but after your Dad and I spoke on your behalf and because of the support of congressman Crowley ,Christine Quinn , Jimmy Van Bremmer , District Leader Deirdre Feerick ,Cathy Nolan , and our local civic group The United 40″s Assoc. Etc Etc ,. So it went to a vote by a show of hands , it was unamamous .Congrts Ian , all your hard work payed off. Rich O Connor

  26. I am very surprised at all the controversy. First, I must say that my great grandfather, Egon Erickson, was recruited by the Irish American club. Before that he was with another group (Mott Haven). My Great Grandfather was a swede. That opportunity that was given to him by the Irish American Club enabled him to attend the 1912 Olympic games. It also enabled many other americans that were not Irish to compete. I am very surprised that we have forgotten our heritage. It doesn’t matter whether you are Irish, Swedish, Italian, etc…. We all got along back then. We formed great friendships. When I was a kid living in the Bronx. There were all ethnicities on that block. We all looked after each other. There was very little crime on our street because we all knew each other. Ian is only trying to bring a little of that back. Ian, you did a great thing. I hope one day when I return to New York I can see that street sign.

  27. I just want to say thank you to Ian McGowan and all those who have supported his efforts. I am the great granddaughter of Mel Sheppard. It was because of my great grandfather’s Olympic successes that I was so inspired as a cross country and track athlete. Because of the legacy he left behind, my Mom’s cousin passed down to me personally the gold medal awarded to Mel from the Amateur Athletic Association (in England) for the record time set as he ran on to complete the 880 yard finish immediately after he finished the 800 meter Olympic Gold Winning Race in London, England on July 22, 1908. I’m proud of my great grandfather and all of the athletes who competed for the United States in Track and Field thanks to the Irish American Athletic Club.

    I am not the only one who was directly or indirectly inspired by the rich heritage of the members of the IAAC. The renaming of the street to Winged Fist Way is a wonderful way to recognize these Olympians who are a part of our nation’s heritage.

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