Billed as the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden is also an easy pick for my top spot as #1 in my FREE book New York Sports Icons.
The multi-purpose facility in midtown Manhattan sits strategically above Penn Station, a vibrant transportation hub with rail access to Amtrak, L.I.R.R. and New Jersey Transit.
Few would know that the current Madison Square Garden, which opened on February 11, 1968, is actually the fourth Madison Square Garden in New York City history.
The original Garden, named after former US President James Madison, debuted in 1874 on New York’s eastside. This first venue was roofless and had a banked oval velodrome.
In 1890, a second arena replaced the original structure, this time constructed with a roof. This second Garden served as New York’s only indoor sports and entertainment facility.
In 1925, Madison Square Garden’s owner Tex Rickard constructed a new facility designed specifically for boxing.
Rickard was a sports entertainment visionary whose intent was to build several Madison Square Gardens across the United States.
However, the 1929 Stock Market Crash thwarted his zealous plans. Only the Boston Madison Square Garden would become a part of Rickard’s ambitious expansion plans.
New York’s third Madison Square Garden appeared on 8th Avenue and 49th Street in the city’s Hell’s Kitchen district and thrived until 1968. Then, the Pennsylvania Railroad opted to tear down its above ground complex to make way for what would become the world’s most famous arena.
Today’s Madison Square Garden – the fourth – has flourished as the premier sports and entertainment destination in the world. Madison Square Garden’s continuous use prompted a $200 million upgrade in 1991 and a whopping $1 billion complete renovation between 2011 and 2013.
With state-of-the-art features like an in-house broadcast studio, massive LED video displays, plus wider concourses, better lighting and a bevy of food options, today’s newly renovated Garden is poised to carry on its unparalleled tradition.
The larger sports arena in the Garden is home not only to New York professional sports teams like the NBA Knicks, NHL Rangers, WNBA Liberty and the PLL Titans. It also hosts the Big East Conference’s Red Storm of St. John University.
In addition, the Garden’s smaller Theatre Room hosts the annual NFL and NBA Drafts as well as smaller concerts and other special events.
As chronicled in the released ESPN 30 for 30 documentary When The Garden Was Eden, this midtown Manhattan sports mecca has hosted some of the finest moments in New York sports’ history.
A few of the celebrated events include the 1972 and 1994 Stanley Cup Finals, the 1970 and 1973 NBA Finals, Wrestlemania 1985 and two decades of Big East Championship Tournaments. Professional rodeos, tennis tournaments and indoor track and field championships have also been held here.
Las Vegas has recently become the go-to destination for title fights. However, with a boxing legacy spanning four buildings and an 82 year history, Madison Square Garden has laid claim to hosting the best pugilists on the planet. Boxing luminaries like Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, Bernard Hopkins, Evander Holyfield, Mike Tyson and Jack Dempsey all competed for crowns in Madison square Garden. Even the Brown Bomber Joe Louis fought in the Garden on 12 separate occasions.
The March 8, 1971 “Fight of the Century” was perhaps the Garden’s greatest event. It pitted a 31-0 Muhammad Ali against a 26-0 Joe Frazier. Lasting 15 rounds, the bout exceeded every fan’s expectations. After an unanimous decision, Frazier was awarded the Heavyweight Championships Belt, much to Ali’s dismay.
Though probably best known for its incredible sporting events, Madison Square Garden also ranks as the third busiest music venue in the world. A line-up of “who’s who?” musical acts has performed there to include: Elvis, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Led Zeppelin, The Grateful Dead, The Police’s final show and honorary resident Billy Joel.
With more than 320 events per year, the Garden has also hosted the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum Bailey Circus and both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions.
More than just a legendary sports venue, Madison Square Garden earns its indisputable title as the world’s most famous arena.
That’s why it gets top billing at #1 in New York Sports Icons.
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MIKE on sports!