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Site of Former Sunnyside Boxing Arena Gets Recognition

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska | October 17, 2012 8:35am

SUNNYSIDE — A former boxing venue where the movie “Mr. Universe” was shot and where John F. Kennedy held a presidential rally has been recognized with a monument.

The plaque was placed earlier this month in front of Wendy’s in Sunnyside, on the corner of Queens Boulevard and 45th Street, where the Sunnyside Garden Arena used to stand.

The venue, which once seated about 2,400 spectators, hosted numerous boxing events between 1945 and 1977, when the sport was extremely popular in the city.

Emile Griffith, Gerry Cooney, Bobby Cassidy and Jose Torres were among the boxers who fought there.

“The Sunnyside Garden Arena was a big draw to our community,” said Luke Adams, local historian and marketing director at the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce. “If you said ‘Sunnyside Garden Arena,’ everyone knew what you were talking about.”

The original Sunnyside Garden Arena was built in 1926 by the millionaire Jay Gould, Adams said.

At first, it was a private tennis club. Then in 1945, the building was sold and turned into a boxing arena.

“The movie ("Mr. Universe") that was shot there, had quite a few famous people — Bert Lahr, Jack Carson, and a very young at that time Vince Edwards, long before he was Dr. Ben Casey,” Adams noted.

Wrestling matches were also produced there in the early days of television, he added.

Kennedy held a presidential rally at the Garden in 1960, Adams said, noting it was one of the biggest events ever held at the venue.

When interest in boxing faded, the owners tried to keep it profitable by renting it for proms and dance parties.

“It wasn’t used as much as before,” Adams said. “The owners wanted to get rid of it.”

On weekends, he said, it was also used by charity groups as a flea market.

In 1977, the building was sold and torn down. It was later replaced by Wendy’s.

“Unfortunately, at the time, people didn’t fight to save it,” Adams said. “But we are glad the monument is there.”

The plaque — which reads, “This monument is in honor and dedicated to those men who fought in the amateurs and professional bouts” — was sponsored by Ring 8, the Veteran Boxers Association of New York.