Sunnyside Post

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Street co-naming: Winged Fist Way

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Footage: care of George Burles

Charles Bacon, gold; Johnny Hayes, gold; Harry Porter, gold; John Flanagan, gold.

These men were just four of the 56 Olympic medalists whose names were read on Saturday in commemoration of the Irish American Athletic Club. The names were read as part of the ceremony that marked the co-naming of “Winged Fist Way” (43rd Street and 48th Ave) ­– after the club’s emblem the Winged Fist. Martin Sheridan, who was deemed one of the greatest sports figures in US history after winning five Olympic gold medals, was a member of the club. Special praise was for him.

Winged Fist Way (43rd St and 48th Ave.) goes through the heart of the Celtic Apartment Complex. This was once the location of the Irish American Athletic Club, which was in existence from 1901 through 1930.

Ian McGowan, an historian and head of the Winged Fist Organization, had fought for years to get recognition for the club. He had hoped to get a plaque placed on a building within the Celtic Park complex, but was rejected by the coop board who had a problem that the club’s emblem—since it included a fist raised in the air. Local officials, however, stepped in and decided a street co-naming was one way of preserving the club’s—and Sunnyside/Woodside’s–history.

McGowan, at Saturday’s event, discussed how the club bought seven acres of land from George Thomson (as in Thomson Hill Park) in 1897 when the area was farmland. The club broke ground in March 1898 and over time, the club built an 8,000-person grandstand.

Many of the neighborhoods politicians turned out in support of the renaming. Jimmy Van Bramer, who said it was about time the club received the recognition it deserved, said: “I find it hard to believe that the City of New York could recognize the club but that the [Celtic Coop] board could not.” Van Bramer sponsored the co-naming of the street through the city council last year.

Meanwhile, Congressman Joseph Crowley, discussed how many of the club’s athletes were the children and grandchildren of Irish immigrants, who were victims of the Irish famine. He said that the club was open to all, including John Baxter Taylor, an African-American who won gold at the London Olympics in 1908, and Myer Prinstein, a Polish-Jew who won gold at the St. Louis Olympics.

“Don’t you think it [the club] deserves a nice plaque on the building,” Crowley said. “This is not just Irish history…no matter your race, this is great American history.”

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20 Responses »

  1. Could there be a more fitting event to mark St. Patrick’s Day 2012 than this commemoration of Irish New York’s sports history in Sunnyside where that history took place. Ian McGowan has done us all proud with his mission to keep alive the memory of Celtic Park and the athletes who competed there known as Winged Fist. And the timing couldn’t be better — in this year of the London Olympic Games — more than a century after the success of the Winged Fist athletes at the first Olympic Games in London 1908. Congratulations to all and thanks to George Burles for capaturing the Street Sign dedication on video. This story is Irish America’s Chariots of Fire and no doubt one day it too will be an inspirational movie.

  2. Do we really need a plaque, too? I guess history and Irish pride should be respected, but the name and the image are kind of awkward, I think. I guess they did things differently 100 years ago.

  3. Congratulations Ian. Job well done.

  4. St. Paddy’s Day is a week away and already the Irish are climbing the lamp posts. Give that man a gold medal.

    Love the surprise ending there.

  5. COngrats to all for hanging in there and preserving a part of American History in Sunnyside/Woodside ..

    I remember my Dad, who came here in 1929 telling about how the Irish coming from all over the city, on a Sunday, would get off at the last stop on the #7 line
    ( then Rawson St)
    and how you could see people walking up from there to Celtic Park. Lots of ladies in long dresses and big beautiful hats .. He said “quite a sight” ..
    He watched the #7 line being built out to Flushing and raised his family
    in St Teresa’s parish …

    Good life ….

  6. @ Pat Nice story, Pat, thanks. I didn’t know the train only went that far as late as 1929. When was it built out, I wonder.

  7. Thank you, Jimmy Van Bramer, for helping us remember and celebrate the overlooked accomplishments of our neighbors of the past.

  8. That coop board sure isn’t too bright.

  9. What a wonderful way to remember the achievements of a wonderful group of athletes. Congratulations to all involved on such a positive endevour.

    Mick Rice
    Galway, Ireland.

  10. ESPN should do a story on the I-AAC for St. Patrick’s Day. Ian, get your publicist on it.

  11. Just a thought: Everybody mail a friendly post card to the coop board using the new street name.

  12. That’s actually a great idea velociraptor.

  13. I’m not a big fan of Joe Crowley but he gave a great speech. Nice going Joe.

  14. Congratulations to Ian- your persistence paid off! Good luck on the plaque, you’ve got my support. RE: The Winged Fist symbol: if the “management” was so concerned about not being perceived as aggressive or contentious, they’d be better served by dealing with the shareholders politely, courteously and efficiently.; the way that office is run on a day to day basis is far more off-putting than any sign could achieve, from what my friends in the know tell me.

  15. Well done Ian, what a great victory in spite of some bigoted views of the *co-op board (7) of which three d’ont even reside in Celtic Park. Just like you Ian we kept pushing foward and were successful in ousting one of our entrenched resident board members (anti – plaque)That seat is now belongs to Deirdre Feerick,a resident and a local Democratic District Leader (*she was not on the board when the plaque was voted down) Hopefully after this year’s board election the vote may come up again. Once again Ian thanks for a great day and the way it finished was so surreal-_kind’of hair standing up on your neck- – a kind’of Field of Dreams moment, after a failed attempt to uncover the sign completly.(see video here) our giant congressman Crowley could’nt reach the sign ,but you Ian started climbing up the pole.I really did’nt think you could reach it but I believe the spitits those great athletes somehow- – yes that was the huge hand of Sheridan that pushed your arse up to finally unveil WINGED FIST WAY.

  16. Congrats and Kudos, Ian. Pity I missed the event, but I know that your zeal and enthusiasm will prevail to ensure the installation of an Honoring Plaque in the not-to-distant future.

  17. Dear Friends and Supporters of the Celtic Park Plaque

    Installing a plaque, honoring the history of Celtic Park should be done for the following reasons.

    1. It would commemorate an ethnically diverse group, who together were more than the individuals that contributed to its success; they would become a model for what Queens is today: The most ethnically diverse county in the world!

    2. Long before political correctness was even a concept, these men of various backgrounds banded together on the site of the Celtic Park apartments, to hone their individual athletic skills into a team that was among the most prolific contenders ever competing in the arena of Track and Field.

    3. It was because they celebrated their common values and not their differences that they were successful. They amassed more Olympic medals, as a group, than any amateur athletic club in the world before them.

    Had the Irish-American Athletic Club not purchased a nine acre tract of land in the 19th century from the Thompson family, and sold it intact, the two square block structures that are today the Celtic Park apartments could never have been constructed, and most certainly would not be called “Celtic Park.”

    For these reasons, alone, the commemorative plaque should be installed, proudly in Celtic Park, as a reminder of what can be accomplished when you are willing to accept others for their contributions and not reject them for their differences.

  18. well don to all concerned as a native of alittle village bohar ballina nr nenagh co tipperary the birth place of matt mc grath we say thank ye one and all for this wonderfull tribute and on the centerany of matts gold meadle win stocklom in 1912 we are so proud of them all who brought honour and glory tosunnyside woodside nypd usa ireland and on the night of the opening of london 2012 we say god bless ye all and america

  19. Well what has happened to the sign that was put up???
    They replaced the light pole and never replaced the signs for 43rd Street, 48th Avenue or “Winged Fist Way”!!! When will they be replaced??

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