Why do they call Madison Square Garden Madison Square Garden? It certainly isn't a garden, or square. Shouldn't they call it Madison Round Arena or something? Or maybe name it after a bank or a pet supply company?
-- Steve Covault, San Diego
Madison Square Garden is a state of mind, not a building. It's actually been four buildings in three locations with at least three different names. If they'd named the place according to what it looked like, the first arena in the mid-1870s would have been called the Roofless Rectangular Abandoned Railroad Shed. But P.T. Barnum owned the arena, so it was called Barnum's Monster Classical Roman and Geological Hippodrome. P.T. featured chariot races and dancing elephants for the delight of the huddled masses yearning to be free.
The railroad yard was at Madison Square (Madison and Fifth Avenues, from 23rd to 26th Streets). In NewYorkspeak, a "square" is a kind of park or landmark area of buildings. The city is full of squares: Times, Washington, Union, Herald, Tompkins, Stuyvesant-- many of which are actually square, but that's not a strict requirement. If you people got out more, we wouldn't have to cover these basics.
P.T.'s enterprise lasted a year or so, after which he leased the plot to a Mr. Gilmore, who believed the huddled masses would pay to wander through a lovely garden amid the city squalor, so he planted a big one, with fountains and romantic paths. New name: Gilmore's Garden. By 1879 William Vanderbilt had taken over the property from those dilettantes, and he renamed it Madison Square Garden-- that is, a garden at Madison Square. Not a square garden named Madison. By 1890 he'd rebuilt Madison Square Garden into the largest arena in the nation, with North America's first indoor ice rink, and hosted the first indoor pro football game in 1902. The almost-as-famous-sports-venue Boston Garden was built around this time and originally named "Boston's Madison Square Garden," until the Bean Town boosters decided it made them look second rate.
Fast forward: 1925, tore down old Madison Square Garden on Madison Square, replaced with insurance office; built new Madison Square Garden on 8th Avenue, between 49th and 50th Streets; 1968, tore down that Madison Square Garden, replaced it with office buildings; built even newer Madison Square Garden over Pennsylvania (railroad) Station, at 7th Avenue and 31st Street. For one weekend in 1968, there were two Madison Square Gardens holding events-- the 8th Avenue venue's last hurrah and the Penn Station arena's grand opening.
As for naming it after some commercial enterprise, the Paramount-Gulf+Western-ITT-Cablevision-Viacom Garden (a list of recent owners) would certainly start a riot in New York City. But throw in Halliburton and, oh, say, Enron, and it would have been perfect for the Republicans.
Madison Square Garden: Round 2
Cousin Typhanee Alice hopes one day to play Madison Square Garden. She's studying to be a ring card girl. Two semesters of plastic surgery plus three lab credits in "The Kinesiology of Spike Heels." She's out on the patio now, practicing for finals. So let's ring the bell to start the I-should-have-seen-this-coming round 2 of comments on last week's history of Madison Square Garden. From Lee Stevens of Solana Beach:
Your research gnomes fell asleep around the turn of the 19th Century. At that time, Madison Square Garden was an international center of bike racing on its wooden indoor velodrome. One of the most popular events was the six-day endurance race. Another well-known two-man-team race is still promoted at Morley Field in SD; it's know as the Madison. In 1899 the U.S. crowned a world champion in bicycle racing in Madison Square Garden, Major Taylor. He was the second African-American world champion in U.S. sports history, after George Dixon, who won the bantamweight boxing crown in 1890.
Oops. Sorry, gotta go. Cousin Typhanee just wandered into traffic.
Bulletin from the Emma Lazarus Fan Club
Dear Mr. A: Those huddled masses aren't yearning to "be" free, they're yearning to "breathe" free. Though I suppose they could do both if they put their huddled minds to it.
-- Gordon Myers, San Diego
Please note how Gordon fails to congratulate us on the exquisite answer in which the be/breathe transposition occurred. Well, we know more about Madison Square Garden and Gordon knows more about the Statue of Liberty. I'd call it a draw.