The current Garden - located between 31st and 33rd Streets and Seventh and Eigth Avenues on Manhattan's West Side - is the fourth building (third site) to be named Madison Square Garden.
Garden I was located at Madison Square: 26th Street and Madison Avenue. It was originally opened in 1874 (at a cost of $35,000) by the legendary P.T. Barnum as "Barnum's Monster Classical and Geological Hippodrome." However, it was soon renamed "Gilmore's Garden" when the lease was auctioned off to bandmaster Patrick S. Gilmore (the term "Garden" was used often during this period to denote a place of public gathering and entertainment).
The building, which had 28-foot walls without a roof, hosted a caried schedule of social and fraternal meetings, flower shows and commercial exhibitions. When Gilmore's lease expired in 1878, it was picked up briefly by W. M. Tileson. The followin year, William Vanderbilt of the New York Central Railroad assumed control of the facility and officially renamed it Madison Square Garden on May 31, 1879. Featuring a sports and entertainment program that stressed such events as boxing and the National Horse Show, Garden I stood until its demolition in 1889.
Garden II was constructed on the site of Garden I, opening on June 16, 1890 at a cost of $1.5 million. It contained an 8,000-seat main arena, 1,500-seat concert hall and 1,200-seat theater and the world's largest indoor swimming pool. The Spanish Renaissance-style structure was topped by its most famous feature: a 32-story tower and roof garden atop which stood Augustus Saint-Gauden's gold statue of Diana, Goddess of the Hunt.
Stanford White, the renowned architect who designed Garden II, also figured in its most famous - and infamous - event. On the night of June 25, 1906, White was gunned down in the Garden's rooftop garden by Pittsburgh millionaire Harry Thaw, allegedly in revenge for White's long-standing affair with Thaw's wife, showgirl Evelyn Nesbit. The White-Thaw-Nesbit love triangle was ultimately immportalized in the 1955 film The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing - starring Ray Milland as White and Joan Collins as Nesbit - and in the recent best-seller American Eve by Paula Uruburu (Riverhead Books, 2008). Nesbit died in obscurity in California at age 81 in 1967.
Garden II hosted a sporting card heavy with boxing, wrestling, six-day bicycle races and horse shows, along with national events such as the 1924 Democratic National Conventio, a marathon that lasted through 16 days and 103 ballots. Movie buffs will recall that in Orson Welles' 1941 classic Citizen Kane, Charles Foster Kane's acceptance of the 1916 New York gubernatorial nomination takes place at Garden II (although, obviously, it wasn't actually filmed there).
Garden II closed with a boxing card on May 5, 1925, followed by a mournful eulogy by ring announcer Joe Humphreys: "Farewell to thee, o sweet Miss Diana ..." The New York Life Insurance Building (51 Madison Avenue) occupies the former site of Gardens I and II, while Diana found a new home at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The "Old Garden" - was built in just 249 days at 49th Street and Eighth Avenue under the watchful eyes of promoter Tex Rickard and architect Thomas Lamb. The fabled 18,000-seat arena, built at a cost of $5.6 million, opened with a six-day bicycle race on Nov. 24, 1925, and for 43 years was America's premier sports and entertainment showplace. Ironically, Rickard did not live to see the blossoming of Garden III, suffering a fatal appendicitis attack on Jan. 6, 1929.
Anyone who ever set foot in the Old Garden remembers its unforgettable atmosphere ... the sky-high balcony ... the haze from decades of cigarette smoke ... the main lobby, a schmoozer's paradise ... the marquee ... G.O. Cards ... the organ (played first by Gladys Goodding, later by Virginia Thomas) ... the unmistakable voice of John Condon, the Nedick's and Adam Hats stores that flanked the main entrance.
Sports - especially hockey, basketball, boxing and track - would be the lifeblood of the Old Garden. But it also hosted entertainment extravaganzas ranging from the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and the Gene Autry Rodeo to star-studded spectacles like Mike Todd's 1957 anniversary party for his film Around the World in 80 Days and President John F. Kennedy's May 19, 1962 birthday party which featured Marilyn Monroe's breathless version of "Happy Birthday." On the screen, the Garden provided the inspiration, and title, for the 1932 Paramount epic Madison Square Garden, starring Jack Oakie and ZaSu Pitts, as well as the on-screen location backdrop for the harrowing final reel of John Frankenheimer's 1962 classic The Manchurian Candidate.
The first NHL team to play at Garden III was the New York Americans, who rented the building for the 1925-26 season. The Rangers played their first regular season NHL game there on Nov. 16, 1926, beating the Montreal Maroons 1-0. In the 42 years the Rangers played on 49th Street, they would win three Stanley Cup championships (1928, 1933, 1940) and develop a host of Hall of Famers, including Bill Cook, Frank Boucher, Ching Johnson, Babe Pratt, Neil Colville, Chuck Rayner, Andy Bathgate, Harry Howell, Gump Worsley, Rod Gilbert, Jean Ratelle and Eddie Giacomin.
The Rangers played their final game at the Old Garden on the afternoon of Feb. 11, 1968, a 3-3 tie with Detroit. The last event ever was the Westminster Dog Show, over Feb. 12 and 13, 1968. After the Old Garden was demolished, the site was used for years as Kinney parking lot. The Worldwide Plaza office/apartment complex, which opened in 1989, now occupies the site.
On Nov. 3, 1960, Garden president Irving Mitchell Felt announced plans for a new Madison Square Garden - Garden IV - to eventually be built at 33rd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, atop Pennsylvania Station.
Prospective sites for a New Garden had been discussed throughout the mid-and late-'50s, especially the area at Columbus Circle which would eventually house the New York Coliseum and, ultimately, the Time Warner Center.
Then the Garden Corporation obtained the coveted "air rights" above Penn Station from the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1961. The Railroad entertained the idea of selling Penn Station's air rights as far back as 1951, when faced with a $72 million deficit. In 1955, Railroad president James Symes and famed real estate developer William Zeckendorf signed an agreement to option the Station's air rights for an industrial-commercial "Palace of Progress," with new, renovated Penn Station below street level. When the project fell through, the Railroad sold the air rights to the Garden Corporation. Above-ground demolition of Penn Station began on Oct. 28, 1963, with new concrete poured starting on May 1, 1964.
Garden IV opened as a glittering sports and entertainment showplace, with its distinctive circular, cable-suspended roof above the 19,000-seat arena, its 5,000-seat Felt Forum, 48-lane Bowling Center, 500-seat cinema, Hall of Fame Club, National Art Museum of Sport, 50,000-square foot Exposition Rotunda and 29-story office building (Two Penn Plaza) attached by a pedestrian mall.
The first element of the New Garden complex to open its doors was the Bowling Center, on Oct. 30, 1967. On Nov. 26, 1967, Felt Forum opened with a performance of the Welsh and Scots Guards.
The "New York" itself officially opened on Feb. 11, 1968, when Bob Hope and Bing Crosby hosted "The Night of the Century," a star-studded salute to the USO. One week later - Feb. 18, 1968 - the Rangers played their first game in their new home, a 3-1 victory over a Philadelphia Flyers team that had entered the NHL that season in what signaled the end of the NHL's Original Six era.
The Garden Transformed
On Oct. 25, 2013, Madison Square Garden began a new chapter in its celebrated history, with the completion of its three-year Transformation. The unprecedented project, which required 2.6 million man hours of labor, touched every aspect of the Arena, significantly enchancing the experience of customers, athletes, entertainers, suite holders and marketing partners, from the first row to the last.
The Transformed Garden ensures that the World's Most Famous Arena will continue to attract the historic, unforgettable events for which it has been known throughout its history, while also elevating the total customer experience.