Photo above: President U.S. Grant. Courtesy National Archives. Right: Valley of the Yellowstone, 1871, by William Henry Jackson, Hayden Survey. Courtesy Library of Congress.
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1879 - Detail
May 30, 1879 - The Gilmore's Garden in New York City is renamed Madison Square Garden by William Henry Vanderbilt and opens to the public at 26th Street and Madison Avenue.
Originally it was a railroad passenger depot located at East 26th Street and Madison Avenue, the New York and Harlem Railroad, before they would move in 1871. Then, with tented roof, it would become P.T. Barnum's Great Roman Hippodrome. In 1876, the theatre became Gilmore's Garden, after Patrick Gilmore, a band leader. The building under his name housed flower shows, pedestrian marathons, the first Westminster Kennel Club Show in 1877, beauty contests, and concerts. Owned by the Vanderbilt family, William renamed it Madison Square Garden in 1879, continuing to present a variety of shows; boxing, track and field, and Barnum back with the elephant Jumbo. The first building had a capacity of ten thousand and was open-air.
In 1889, it was decided that the original building had run its course. On June 6, 1890, the second Madison Square Garden building was built for $500,000 (some report the total cost at $3 million) on the same site. The new building held eight thousand seated, and had a roof. It continued to host a variety of events, including boxing, the opera, the circuses of Ringling and Barnum, plus political events. The Democratic National Convention of 1924 was held there; John W. Davis won and did not become president. The main hall at 200 x 350 feet was the largest in the world, plus the structure contained a one thousand two hundred seat theatre, one thousand five hundred seat concert hall, and the largest restaurant in New York City. The tower of the building was thirty-two stories high, making it the second tallest building in New York at the time. This building closed in 1925.
Madison Square Garden III
The new building had now moved, no longer in Madison Square. Madison Square Garden III would be located at Eighth Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets. Still huge at 200 x 375 feet, it would open officially on December 15, 1925, and hold 18,496 for a boxing match. The first official event, however, was ice hockey, but not the New York Rangers. The New York Americans lost to the Montreal Canadians that day 3-1. Their success would prompt the founding of the Rangers in 1926. The building would be replaced in 1968.
Madison Square Garden IV
Version four, the current Madison Square Garden, was built in 1968 between 7th and 8th Avenue at 31st to 33rd Streets. Opened on February 11, 1968, it houses the New York Rangers in the National Hockey League and the New York Knicks of the National Basketball Association. It is constructed above Penn Station with a capacity of 20,789 for boxing. This version has hosted four political conventions; Democratic in 1976, 1980, and 1992, Republican in 2004. In the past decade, there has been much discussion about the potential move and building of Madison Square Garden V.
Photo above: Madison Square Garden in 1879, courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Photo below: One of the many shows at Madison Square Garden prior to 1900. Imre Kiralfy's Naval Spectacular, lithograph by Strobridge and Company, 1898. Source: Library of Congress. Info Source: Wikipedia Commons; thegarden.com; Madisonsquaregardencompany.com.