Guardian Angels celebrate their start in our borough

An undated photo provided by Curtis Sliwa shows the Angels in the early years
Photo courtesy of Guardian Angels

The Guardian Angels celebrated the completion of four decades of fighting crime with a reunion near where it all began in the Bronx.

Members of the original 13 Guardian Angels, the group that formed safety patrols in the city and later throughout the world, celebrated on Sunday, February 10 their 40th anniversary at a McDonald’s on Southern Boulevard and Fordham Road, near the spot where they were founded in 1979.

Known for their red berets and jackets, members of the group known originally as the ‘Magnificent 13’ gathered at another McDonalds’ restaurant not far from the one were it all started: at East Fordham Road near Webster Avenue, where founder Curtis Sliwa worked as a night manager.

The Angels received proclamations from Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. and Councilman Ritchie Torres recognizing their important contributions.

The current owner of the McDonalds where Sliwa and many of the founding members worked, Tony Rodriguez, hailed the Guardian Angels and wished them safety, peace and good health.

“I am extremely proud to host and celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Curtis Sliwa and the Guardian Angels at the roots of where the original 13 members first started: at McDonald’s,” said Rodriguez. “Congratulations to the Guardian Angels and thank you for all that you have done and continue to do for the betterment of our community.”

At the event, Sliwa recalled how the organization got its start.

“We started with the Golden Arches, we expand to wherever the Golden Arches exists, and we will continue to perpetuate and franchise ourselves to people who dare to care,” said Sliwa on February 10.

He added: “There was hopelessness and total despair in the 1970s. The golden arches provided a sanctuary.”

The group would sit in the restaurant’s ‘crew room’ and plot out their patrols, he recalled.

The original members in their debut news story about the founding of their organization and their patrol of the IRT #4 train, what some cops referred to in 1979 as the ‘muggers express.’
Photo courtesy of Guardian Angels

The patrols grew from the cleanup crew known as the ‘Rock Brigade’ that volunteered to clean community streets in the early morning hours after the restaurant closed.

In a city caught in a financial crisis, with cutbacks to police, fire and social workers, Sliwa said, such volunteerism was badly needed.

The group moved to patrolling the IRT #4 subway, which some police referred to in 1979 as the ‘muggers express,’ and then took on the moniker ‘Guardian Angels.’

Gangs often dominated trains, and Sliwa had the vision to use teamwork to combat the miscreants, said Don Chin, who first hired Sliwa at McDonalds and is one of the original 13 present at the occasion.

“You have to really give them kudos,” said Chin. “These were young kids about 17- or 18-years-old willing to volunteer their time and try someone new.”

People in the early train patrols did not get overly physical, but often the Angels presence was enough to deter muggings, said Chin.

The Guardian Angels also empowered their members to learn self-defense to raise their self-esteem, said Chin.

“It was a way to lift people up and have them do something positive,” said Chin.

Among the original members who attended, according to an event organizer, were Sliwa, Chin, William Bohnenberger, Eddie Brown, Anthony Ng, Tom McArdle, Arnaldo Salinas, Dominic Serra, Tommy Kijewski, George Mole and Dennis ‘Superstretch’ Torres.

There are over 138 Guardian Angels chapters, boasting approximately 5,000 members, patrolling the streets of 13 countries today.

Curtis Sliwa is pictured in a recent photo with a subway train like those the Guardian Angels made their reputation patrolling.
Photo courtesy of Guardian Angels

Reach Reporter Patrick Rocchio at (718) 260–4597. E-mail him at procchio@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @patrickfrocchio.

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