Most people outside New York City know that Madison Square Garden is the name of the city’s premier indoor sports facility. However, most don’t know that the Madison Square Garden of today is neither the original venue nor is it in the location of the original. Amazingly, the current Madison Square Garden is actually the fourth structure to bear the iconic name of the most storied sports and entertainment facility ever to exist here in my native New York City.
The original Madison Square Garden was an open-air venue that opened in 1879 and was located in the vicinity of Madison Square, an area of the city formed by the intersection of Broadway and Fifth Avenue at 23rd Street in Manhattan. Near the square is the three-block expanse that is Madison Square Park, across from which is the headquarters building of the New York Life Insurance Company on Madison Avenue between 26th and 27th Streets. That building now occupies the location of the original Madison Square Garden. Nearby are the following items of note: the General William Jenkins Worth Monument in General Worth Square, statues honoring President Andrew Jackson, businessman Bernard Baruch, Senator Roscoe Conkling, Governor William H. Seward, Admiral David Farragut, and perhaps others I have yet to see during my trips about Madison Square Park.
In 1890, a second, larger Madison Square Garden opened its doors at the same location used by the original venue and it remained there until 1925, after which it was torn down. The second Madison Square Garden was an indoor arena with offices and space for at least one apartment, and it was graced with a tower crowned by a copper statue of the goddess Diana. The building was at the center of a sordid, scandalous, headline-grabbing story of sex, betrayal, and murder between Stanford White, the building’s architect; actress Evelyn Nesbit Thaw; and Harry Thaw, the millionaire husband of the actress. It was revealed that architect Stanford White had slept with Evelyn Nesbit Thaw since she was 16 years of age and that their trysts were continuing despite the actress’ marriage to millionaire Harry Thaw. Predictably, the discovery of his wife’s continuing affair did not sit well with Thaw. During the evening of June 25, 1906, Harry Thaw–humiliated, consumed with jealousy, and riddled with illegal drugs–entered Madison Square Garden and executed Stanford White. The murder was committed in full view of a shocked crowd within a restaurant located on the rooftop of the very building the architect designed.
The third Madison Square Garden opened in 1925 at the intersection of 8th Avenue and 49th Street, the site of the current One Worldwide Plaza, and existed there until 1968. The decision to place the building within that section of Manhattan was an unfortunate one as the area around it became rife with sex workers, illegal drugs, peep shows, pornographic theaters, vagrancy, overall filth, and utterly staggering levels of crime. In particular, the area immediately in front of the venue was part of the notorious “Minnesota Strip,” a putrid stretch of 8th Avenue between 42nd and 57th Streets where runaway girls from the Midwest were forced into prostitution. Perhaps the most memorable event within this Madison Square Garden occurred on May 19, 1962, when actress Marilyn Monroe sang a breathy, seductive, dripping-with-sex take on “Happy Birthday” to President John F. Kennedy while wearing a shimmering, curve-hugging gown with a plunging neckline and an open back. How sexually charged was her song to the married president? Take a look at this…
Finally, the current Madison Square Garden opened later in 1968, far from the nightmarish area of its predecessor. The venue is massive, spanning 31st through 33rd Streets between 7th and 8th Avenues. Along with an office building that shares its location, the current Madison Square Garden sits where New York’s original Pennsylvania Station once stood. That magnificent creation of glass, steel, and stone was built in 1910 and lasted until 1963, at which point it was unceremoniously demolished. Afterwards, only dimly-lit portions of the station’s lower levels remained for incorporation into a new, wholly underground, and absolutely inferior version of Pennsylvania Station. Please use the following link to learn more about the tragic history of the station: The history of Penn Station (1910-1963) from Mashable.
Finally, I realize only three images of buildings are in this text although four structures named Madison Square Garden have called New York City home. Unfortunately, I encountered a lack of royalty-free images of acceptable quality for the 1925-1968 Madison Square Garden. Many images of that structure exist on the internet, but licensing issues and/or the lack of proper attribution prevents their use here. Please use the following link to see images of the 1925-1968 Madison Square Garden: Madison Square Garden (1925-1968) images from Curbed NY.
All the best,
- The Current Madison Square Garden: By Rich Mitchell from New York, NY (Madison Square Garden, February 2013) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons