By Bill Parry
The Sunnyside Garden Arena was the place where boxers turned up to slug it out in the ring.
The arena, where Wendy’s is located today (44-11 Queens Blvd), drew many people to neighborhood between 1945 and 1977, and helped put Sunnyside on the map.
This Saturday, October 6, at noon, there will be a ceremony commemorating the old arena in front of Wendy’s . Members of Ring 8 Boxing association, a veteran boxers group, will join with former fighters, politicians and other dignitaries to unveil a monument (see picture).
John Edebohls, who was raised just a couple of blocks away when the arena was in operation, led Ring 8’s four year mission to secure the monument at the old site. “This place launched many careers: Emile Griffith [middleweight world champ] and Jose Torres [light heavyweight world champ],” he said.
This was the first place Gerry Cooney fought professionally, Edebolhs added. Cooney fought Larry Holmes in 1982 for the heavyweight title and lost. Cooney – as with Griffith–might turn up for Saturday’s event.
The plaque will be dedicated to the fighters who used the 2,000 seat arena as a springboard to their professional careers. A successful debut at the Sunnyside Garden Arena often led to bigger fights and bigger paydays at Madison Square Garden.
Local historian Luke Adams said the arena, however, wasn’t just for boxing. “They had proms there, they made a movie there (Mr. Universe), and in 1960 John F. Kennedy had one of the first rallies of his Presidential campaign there.”
The arena was originally built as a private tennis club by railway magnate Jay Gould in 1926. It was sold and became a boxing arena in 1945 and then razed in 1977.
“It’s a shame we lost it in 1977 when interest began to wane.” Adams said.
George Kowalski, a Sunnyside resident since the late 50’s has many memories of the arena. He remembers the boxing mostly, but “they also had roller derby, big-time wrestling and a pretty good industrial league basketball team playing out of there. It was a classic place, really.”
The plaque will remember the fighters, but not by their names. “It took four years because of all the squabbling between the old fighters: whose name goes first? What about my corner man? On and on this went, but that’s boxing,” said Edebohls.