Atheletes, broker want Jamaica armory restored

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The Hurricanes, a female track...

By Betsy Scheinbart

The Knights of Columbia track stars ran there in the 1940s, and now a stockbroker from Bayside has made it his mission to restore the Jamaica Armory so that the southeast Queens track stars of the future can run there, too.

The Hurricanes, a female track team from Jamaica, already practices at the armory’s gym, which is about the size of a football field.

The assistant coach of the Hurricanes, Phyllis Fonren, said she would support the restoration “100 percent.”

“There is no indoor facility in Queens to practice or hold a track meet,” Fonren said. “We are lucky they let us use this space for the winter months.”

The 25 athletes, ranging in age from 5 to 15, spend three nights a week there, but the team has to pay to use the space, a large portion of which is used to house National Guard vehicles.

Donald Spitzer, who has spearheaded an effort to restore the Jamaica Armory and other armories in New York City, said those vehicles could be stored elsewhere.

Spitzer’s vision is to create a multipurpose athletic facility at the armory at the intersection of 168th Street and Archer Avenue, just a few blocks east of York College.

If restored, the gym could be available for use by any athletic team in the area, Spitzer said.

The state-owned armory currently has a dirt floor, but the old Madison Square Garden track is available to be placed in the armory, Spitzer said.

Other activities, such a tennis, volleyball or basketball, could be played in the center of the track.

The main building of the armory, which is separate from the gym, currently houses a city-run homeless shelter for women, but Spitzer said creation of an athletic facility in the armory should not interfere with the shelter.

Spitzer enlisted the help of City Councilman Sheldon Leffler (D-Hollis), who has already discussed the project with Borough President Claire Shulman.

“The basic idea of using the Jamaica Armory as a running track is a good idea,” Leffler said, adding that Shulman agreed with him.

Leffler said a board of directors would be needed to adopt and manage the project, and Spitzer is gathering members to be on his Armory Restoration Committee for that purpose.

Meanwhile, Spitzer drew support from Marie Sobers, a track star famous as half of the Desaussure Twins, who ran in the 1940s with the Knights of Columbus.

Sobers recalled what it felt like to practice there in the 1940s. “That was a gorgeous armory,” she said. “The community could use that again — that’s a lot of floor space.”

“Kids in Jamaica, Bedford-Stuyvesant, seniors could all use it. Nobody is saying, ‘Kick out the homeless,’ but give back to the community,” Sobers added, “I believe we can give something back to the children, and the children will want to run there.”

Reach reporter Betsy Scheinbart by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 138.

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