Then and Now – Madison Square Garden

Madison Square Garden’s storied history has surely secured the building’s title of the “Worlds Most Famous Arena.” There is only one word to describe the Garden’s relationship to the city that it calls home, iconic. However, one wonders why the arena is called “Madison Square Garden” when in fact, it is currently located nowhere near Madison Square Park, or for that matter, Madison Avenue. Nor is there a garden of any kind in the facility. And perhaps the most obvious fact of all, it is not square. On top of all this, many New Yorkers may not even know that the Garden they know and love, is the fourth of its kind.

In 1871, P.T. Barnum leased the area formerly occupied by a railway terminal from Cornelius Vanderbilt and converted it into “Barnum’s Hippodrome.” After the lease expired, Vanderbilt renamed the venue, Madison Square Garden. The Garden I, as it is called today, stood at 26thStreet and Madison Avenue, a mere 5 minute walk from Baruch College today. On Memorial Day in 1879, Madison Square Garden opened as an arena for activities such as boxing matches and circus acts. The Garden I also had a cycling track built on its premises as well as the first indoor hockey rink in the United States.

In 1890, the building was redesigned; Stanford White modeled the Garden II after the Giralda in Seville. Standing at 32 stories, it was one of New York City’s tallest buildings. The main hall, now the largest in the world, measured 200 by 350 feet, with permanent seating for 8,000, and floor space for even more. Yet once again, the Garden was closed in 1925; this time it was demolished, and replaced by the New York Life Insurance Company Building.

The third Madison Square Garden, or MSG III, was an indoor arena located on 8th Avenue between 49th and 50th street. It was the first Madison Square Garden to not be located near Madison Square Park, yet the name stuck. Architect Thomas Lamb designed the building under owner and operator, Tex Rickard. MSG III hosted events such as the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus, as well as basketball and ice hockey featuring the New York Knicks and the New York Rangers, respectively. Perhaps the most prominent cultural event to have taken place at this version of MSG was the American First Committee peace rallies. The crowd was approximately 22,000 strong.

Constructed in a staggering 249 days, the Garden had a seating capacity of 18,496 people. Despite the attempt to build an elegant, ornate structure, the Garden faithful suffered from poor sight lines and ventilation problems (due largely in part to the lack of restriction on smoking indoors).  Subsequently, in 1967, MSG III was closed and replaced by the Garden IV.

MSG IV, “the World’s Most Famous Arena”, currently resides at 7th avenue between 31st and 33rd st, comfortably atop Penn Station. The arena opened on February 11, 1968 and since that date, has established itself as one of the world’s busiest arenas. Numerous artists, sports teams, and athletes have roamed the halls of this historic structure. The Garden is the home arena for both the New York Rangers and the New York Knicks, both of whom have won championships inside its walls. With seating capacity of 20,000, there is nothing like a sold-out night at the Garden. In 2011, MSG Inc. commissioned a massive renovation; overdoing the renovation that took place in 1991. The $850 million renovation will see the Garden’s entrances and concourses enlarged, improved seating, locker rooms and dining options, and a skyway which will allow fans to watch games from above the ice or floor. Phase One was completed in Fall 2011 and Phase Two will commence after the Rangers and Knicks close out their 2011-2012 Seasons. The Recession has been kind to the Garden; MSG Co. reported an increase in revenue and sales since 2007. This steady increase can be attributed to the fact that consumers want to see their favorite sports teams and their favorite bands, despite the effects the Recession had on them. The 25th Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Anniversary Concert took place at the Garden in front of a sold out crowd; that was 2009. Justin Bieber sold out the Garden in 20 minutes in 2010. Each year more and more ticket subscribers join the Garden Faithful to cheer on the Knicks and Rangers. Obviously, the Recession hasn’t had too much of an effect on the “World’s Most Famous Arena.”



“History of Madison Square Garden”