Little Bits of History

Madison Square Garden

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 31, 2015
Madison Square Garden - PT Barnum's Hippodrome

Madison Square Garden – PT Barnum’s Hippodrome

May 31, 1879: William Kissam Vanderbilt takes control. William was the second son of William Henry Vanderbilt and the grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt. Gilmore’s Garden was originally the New York and Harlem Railroad depot but the depot moved uptown and the land was leased to PT Barnum in 1871. Barnum converted it into an oval arena measuring 270 feet along its longest axis. He added seats and benches and banked formation and called his arena the Great Roman Hippodrome. He presented circuses as well as other entertainment. His roofless building was also pejoratively called Barnum’s Monster Classical and Geological Hippodrome.

The building was next leased to Patrick Gilmore, an Irish-born American composer and bandmaster. He used the space to present flower shows, beauty contests, walking marathons, music concerts, temperance and revival meetings, and most prestigiously, the first Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show which in 1877 was called the First Annual N.Y. Bench Show. Because boxing was illegal at the time, exhibitions and illustrated lectures were offered which coincidentally looked exactly like boxing matches. William Tileston was the next to lease the space. He was an official of the dog show and he wished to bring in a more genteel crowd and offered tennis, a riding school, and an ice carnival. The arena had one of the first indoor ice rinks in the US.

When Cornelius Vanderbilt died, his grandson took back control of the land owned by his grandfather. On this date he announced it would be renamed Madison Square Garden since it was located at East 26th Street and Madison Avenue in Manhattan. William used the space for sporting events. He held indoor track and field meets and the National Horse Show. He held a convention for the Elks. He also used the space for boxing matches and featured John L Sullivan who began a four-year series of exhibitions in 1882. When Jumbo crossed the Brooklyn Bridge (see yesterday) he was coming to Madison Square Garden. Another use of the open air building was as a velodrome, an oval, banked track for bike racing – one of the biggest sports in the country at the time.

The roofless Garden was hot in the summer and freezing in the winter. It wasn’t well maintained and was starting to deteriorate. In was demolished in July 1889 and the second building to bear the name opened on June 6, 1890. The new building wasn’t any more profitable than the old and the mortgage holder opted to demolish it in 1925 and the New York Life Building opened in 1928. Today’s version of Madison Square Garden is located at 4 Pennsylvania Plaza in Manhattan. They opened at their new home on February 11, 1968 and continue to offer boxing events as well as basketball, ice hockey, lacrosse, and pro wrestling. It is also the venue for many concerts.

All sports are time control demonstrations. – Buckminster Fuller

Sports serve society by providing vivid examples of excellence. – George Will

Unlike any other business in the United States, sports must preserve an illusion of perfect innocence. – Lewis H. Lapham

I always turn to the sports pages first, which records people’s accomplishments. The front page has nothing but man’s failures. – Earl Warren

Also on this day: Ready to Eat – In 1884, Kellogg patented corn flakes.
Johnstown Flood – In 1889, the South Fork Dam burst.
Pepys’s Diary – In 1669, Samuel made his last diary entry.
BEN – In 1859, Big Ben went on line.
Widest Recorded Tornado – In 2013, the El Reno tornado was filmed.

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