A top sports and concert venue in New York City, Madison Square Garden has been around in some form or another since 1879.
Manhattan’s current Madison Square Garden – often referred to simply as “The Garden” or MSG – is the fourth building to share that name. The first two were located at Madison Square (Madison Ave. and 26th Street), hence the name, but the last two have been situated elsewhere.
The first Madison Square Gardens
When a railway terminal near Madison Square moved to Grand Central Terminal in 1871, P. T. Barnum leased the area from Cornelius Vanderbilt and converted the terminals into Barnum’s Hippodrome. In 1879, after the lease had expired, Vanderbilt renamed the venue Madison Square Garden. It soon became known for the many events held here.
The second MSG was built at the same site, in 1890. It was a grand palatial structure with a tower modeled after the Giralda in Seville. The building designed by Stanford White was one of the city’s tallest, and its enormous main hall was the site of many high-society venues and events. It was demolished in 1925 and replaced by the New York Life Insurance Company Building.
The third MSG moved uptown to 50th Street and Eight Avenue and was a characterless building used mainly as a boxing arena.
Madison Square Garden IV
The present building sits on 7th Avenue between 31st and 33rd Streets and was opened in 1968. Touted as “The World’s Most Famous Arena”, the fourth Madison Square Garden sits atop Pennsylvania (Penn) Station.
It was constructed after the Pennsylvania Railroad demolished the above-ground portion of their facility at the site, a magnificent 1911 Beaux-Arts building designed by McKim, Mead, and White. The demolition of this railway station in 1961 and the public’s outcry led to the city’s landmark preservation laws. Thanks to these laws, historic buildings such as New York City’s other grand railway station – Grand Central Terminal – were saved from the wrecking ball.
The historic Beaux-Arts building was replaced by a complex including a bland railway station, office buildings and an arena: the new Madison Square Garden. A cylindrical concrete building, the Garden was one of the first structures ever to be built above an active railroad station and was considered an engineering feat. As far as aesthetics are concerned, it was a far cry from the earlier, grander versions of Madison Square Garden.
The building’s lack of aesthetics hasn’t hampered ticket sales though. Madison Square Garden hosts approximately 350 events – often sold out – each year, nearly one per day, making it one of the busiest arenas in the world.
Madison Square Garden has achieved much of its glory as the home base for two popular New York sports teams – the NHL New York Rangers and the NBA New York Knicks. The Garden owns these two teams and has hosted a number of all-star NBA and NHL games throughout the years.
The Garden is also used for other events such as pop concerts, exhibits and circuses. Madison Square Garden is also the home base for World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). In addition, boxing has been a big part of life at The Garden. Many of the biggest bouts in boxing history were fought here, including the first Ali-Frazier fight.
Besides the main arena which can seat about 20,000 people, there is also a theater (WaMu Theater) and the Expo Center, usually a venue for trade shows and sometimes large banquets or receptions.