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; residence in the Madison – Lenox hotel; a boy’s club off Fenkell Avenue and  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.


Location:  Gone – Rec Center and playground formerly at Congress and Larned; Boys Boxing Club north of Focus Hope.

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  – 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.


In winter 1939, Fred Nagle heard about a rogue group of boys using an old shanty on his property at 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.

Ben Hill’s story is done – just not posted..  Salsinger’s story is #16. The old St. Francis Home for Boys / Paul Robeson Academy stood next to Salsinger until it burned in 2011.  Map courtesy of google.

Nagle 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 one of their own, 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 in their new club. 

“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.  He arranged with the Department of Recreation for Fred Johnson, an experienced recreation supervisor to guide the boys. 

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 super nerdy. I am a stamp collector. Courtesy USPS. 

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.

Below is the lot where the boys club stood.  According to news reports, Nagle met with Tunney personally regarding the formation of the club.

 empty lot
Corner of Log Cabin and Fenkell. 

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, it dropped out of the news in 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.

grey block building
This building is two blocks down and is a great representation of what the Gene Tunney Boy’s club looked like. This is 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. It is remarkably well kept, Satan obviously likes things tidy. 

Fred Nagel the bachelor,  passed in September 1954.  The 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 kids and recreation.  Progress usually wins.

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