Fred Nagle – Park 74

Here’s one from the GONE file.. Fred Nagle’s life and efforts stretched to many parts of Detroit – a boyhood home on High Street in Corktown, the Madison – Lenox hotel, a boy’s club off Fenkell Avenue, a long gone rec center and playground in the Elmwood neighborhood –  all of those haunts are gone.  The only thing left to his Detroit legacy is his burial marker in Mount Olivet Cemetery.  When I find it.. I will post a photo.

INVESTED IN DETROIT

Location:  Gone – Rec Center and playground formerly at Congress and Larned

Fred George Nagle [1885- 1954] was a lifelong Detroiter and Corktown native who graced the halls of the Trinity School and Detroit College [now University of Detroit].  Nagel crafted a successful 25+ year real estate career with an office located in the Penobscot Building.  He managed his cadre of rentals, business locations and developed local strip shopping malls in the 1950’s.  The confirmed bachelor lived with his two sisters in the long gone Madison – Lenox Hotel off Harmonie Park.  

Fred Nagle
Fred Nagle was camera shy and a man of few photos. Photo: Detroit Parks and Recreation Annual Report for 1940.

Nagle took high interest in the plight of Detroit youth with involvement in the Catholic Youth Organization and St. Francis Home for Boys.  Mayor Jeffries took notice of his efforts and Nagle was appointed the first President to the newly formed Detroit Department of Parks and Recreation in 1940.  He served on the commission until December 1949 when Mayor Van Antwerp abruptly replaced him with Michael “Dad” Butler.

During his Parks and Rec tenure, Nagle worked closely with Governor Alex Groesbeck and Margaret Simmons [her story not yet posted] for the planning of the Farwell Field project (also an upcoming story)  – a 100 acre park developed with funding gifted to the city.  In 1942, Nagle generously donated the playground equipment for a small experimental play lot at Woodrow Wilson and Calvert Streets just north of Boston Edison.

HIS CAPSTONE ACHIEVEMENT

In winter 1939, Fred Nagle heard about a rogue group of boys using an old shanty on his property near Fenkell and Log Cabin without his consent.  Driving by one day, he saw smoke curling from the chimney, so he stopped and knocked on the door.  “Who is it?” asked a boy’s voice on the inside.  “Fred Nagle, the owner of this property,” he returned.  “Well, come on in,” replied the boy.

Instead of proceeding with a fierce eviction, Fred pulled up a home-made stool by the small wood stove and started a conversation. He was truly interested in the boys’ desire to have a real clubhouse and participate in activities that interested them.

He challenged them to get organized and offered them the use of a vacant field as a play lot. In turn, the boys got busy electing Billy Roggero [1922-1996] as the first President of their club.  They mowed the lot and created a baseball field.  By the end of the summer they had 140 members.  Nagle arranged with the Department of Recreation for Fred Johnson, an experienced recreation supervisor to guide the boys. 

“He seemed to take an interest in us from the start,” remarked 17 year old Billy Roggero to the Detroit Free Press.

Satisfied, Nagle offered them the use of another small brick building on his property.  By 1942, the Detroit chapter of the Gene Tunney Detroit Boys Club was born.  Gene Tunney [1897-1978]  was boxing heavy weight champion who created a national legion of boys clubs across the US after retiring from boxing in 1928.

A man's man. He fought 68 professional fights, losing only one. Portrait courtesy of US Library of Congress, Public Domain.
A man’s man. He fought 68 professional fights, losing only one. Portrait courtesy of US Library of Congress, Public Domain.
US stamp showing Gene Tunney in black and white
Ok here’s where it gets nerdy. I am a stamp collector. Courtesy USPS. A piece of advice: Talk to your mail carrier..they know everything that goes down in your neighborhood. Seriously. That’s why we need to keep mail carriers.

One of their first club projects was creating content to publish a small newspaper – The Tunney Town News. [Oh how I wish I could find an issue of this today..] The publication advertised the club, their members, as well as willingness to take odd jobs and run errands to earn money.

The new clubhouse was improved with a reading room, game tables, showers, a locker room, small gym and of course a boxing ring.  Autographed photos of men who had pursued and achieved success in their careers despite obstacles and handicaps lined the walls for inspiration.

 

 empty lot
2400 Fenkell is now an empty lot where the shanty and the former office building turned Detroit Gene Tunney Boys Club stood.  According to news reports, Nagle met with Tunney personally regarding the formation of the club. Corner of Log Cabin and Fenkell. 
grey block building
This building is two blocks down and is a great representation of what the Gene Tunney Boy’s club looked like. It’s actually the Satan’s Sidekicks Motorcycle Club. I was hoping this was the original clubhouse as it would make an interesting story but it’s not. But it is remarkably well kept.

The clubhouse was dedicated July 15, 1942.  The boys were responsible for furnishing a tribute to Mr. Nagle, the history of the club and mission statement.  At the dedication, Nagle refused to be photographed by the newspapers indicating that the real press belonged to the boy’s efforts.  *It’s hard to say when the Gene Tunney boys club ended I am thinking it was the late 1960’s.*  If you know, please chime in on the facebook page.  With little mention of the club I was happy to find the sources I did.

Fred Nagel passed in September 1954.  Elmwood Playground and Recreation Center were re-named in 1957 to honor his contribution to Detroit youth.  In 1966 both memorials were swallowed up by the Elmwood Park Rehabilitation project.  Nagel’s Detroit legacy is gone aside from his burial in Mount Olivet Cemetery.

Plat map
Plat map showing location of the long gone rec center and playground honoring Nagel’s significant contribution to Detroit. Progress usually wins.

Thanks for reading.  ©Andrea Gallucci, 2016.  etc etc.