This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.
Jimmy Glenn, a former amateur boxer and trainer whose gym on 42nd Street succumbed to Times Square’s redevelopment, but whose nearby bar has resisted the area’s drastic changes for nearly a half-century, died on Thursday in Manhattan. He was 89.
The cause was complications of the coronavirus, his son Adam Glenn said.
In 1971, the year Joe Frazier defeated Muhammad Ali at Madison Square Garden in the so-called Fight of the Century, Mr. Glenn opened Jimmy’s Corner, a bar on West 44th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. He made it a shrine to boxing, filling it with photos, posters and other memorabilia.
It was a small and simple joint, serving drinks and snacks but reduced costs by not serving meals.
If Mr. Glenn was not off training a fighter or working in a boxer’s corner as a cutman, he was at the bar six nights a week.
Seven years after opening Jimmy’s Corner, he opened the Times Square Boxing Club above a bar on the second floor of a small building on 42nd Street, near Broadway. It was the newest gym in the city, but it was never a moneymaker; Mr. Glenn subsidized it with the earnings from Jimmy’s Corner.
But for Mr. Glenn, a friendly man with a gentle voice, owning a gym was a natural business. He loved training young fighters. One night after he had opened the gym, Mr. Glenn sat at his bar and, in an interview with The Daily News, talked about some of the ambitious young boxers he was mentoring. “Once you get boxing in your blood,” he observed, “it don’t leave.”
Fifteen years later, he closed the gym. But Jimmy’s Corner endured.
James Lee Glenn was born on Aug. 18, 1930, in South Carolina. His father, Jonah Robertson, was a custodian. His mother, Susie (Glenn) Robertson, was a domestic worker.
She left her son when he was about 7 with his grandfather, a sharecropper in South Carolina, and moved to Washington, D.C. He reunited with her a few years later in Harlem, N.Y., after she remarried. He then spent most of World War II with his grandfather, but returned to Harlem in 1944.
Mr. Glenn began boxing in New York at the Police Athletic League and studied the splendid Sugar Ray Robinson when he worked out at a gym in Harlem. In late 1946, when he was 16, he went to the Garden to see Robinson beat Tommy Bell to win his first championship belt.
Mr. Glenn’s boxing career was modest. As an amateur fighter, from the mid-1940s until around 1950, he had 14 wins and two defeats as a middleweight and welterweight. His most famous bout was a loss to Floyd Patterson, the future heavyweight champion.
“He beat me,” Mr. Glenn told Seconds Out, a boxing website, in 2005. “Knocked me down a few times, broke my tooth. But I went the distance.”
He did not move into the professional ranks — he said he was a fair fighter but not a good one — and instead volunteered to train amateurs at a church’s community center in Harlem, where he stayed for about 15 years. Mr. Glenn also worked odd jobs, including as a truck driver and house painter, to help supplement his income.
He developed a reputation as a skilled trainer and cutman for various boxers, including Patterson, Michael Spinks, Jameel McCline, Aaron Davis, Bobby Cassidy and Terrence Alli. Most recently, he managed Travis Peterkin, a light heavyweight. In the late 1980s, he trained Mark Gastineau, a former defensive end for the New York Jets, who had a brief career as a boxer.
Jimmy’s Corner would remain Mr. Glenn’s most visible legacy. Boxers, promoters and fans would drink there and watch bouts on its television sets. They could look at pictures of Mr. Glenn with Muhammad Ali (a friend who occasionally visited Mr. Glenn’s gym) and posters that promoted Joe Louis-Max Schmeling and Ali-George Foreman bouts.
Adam Glenn said that his father’s perseverance — and a friendly landlord — had kept the bar in business.
“He and my mom built a solid business that required 24-hour attention,” he said. “He had to make rules to keep the pimps and mob out, and that meant standing up every day and telling people, ‘This is my place and nobody is going to mess with us.’”
The landlord, the Durst Organization, did not try to push the bar out with exorbitant rent.
“They loved my dad,” Adam Glenn said.
In addition to his son Adam, Mr. Glenn is survived by another son, James Jr.; five daughters, Denise Mercado, Cheryl Glenn-Mitchell, Delana Glenn, Anita Costa and Tanya Glenn; and six siblings. His wife, Swietlana Garbarska, known as Swannie Glenn, died in 2015. His previous marriage, to Wynola Ann Flemming, ended in divorce.
In 2018, The New Yorker visited Jimmy’s Corner and took note of Mr. Glenn’s silvery horseshoe mustache and marble-handled walking cane; his cheap prices, like $3 draft beers and $3.50 drinks from the rail; and his permanence in a changing neighborhood.
“From a distance of half a century,” David Kortova, of The New Yorker, wrote, “the bar’s survival, in the heart of Times Square, has the feel of an underdog story. The decades-long makeover of the neighborhood, from a convivial Gomorrah to an outpost of Disneyland, couldn’t dislodge the place.”
Jimmy’s Corner has been closed during the coronavirus pandemic. But Adam Glenn vowed that it would reopen.
“This has hurt our business and finances,” he said, “but we’re in a position to come back. One hundred percent.”
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