Madison Square Park during Fata Morgana exhibit. Photo via Madison Square Park Conservancy
We’ve uncovered the secrets of a lot of the major “squares” in New York City – Times Square, Herald Square, Union Square, and Washington Square Park. Next on our list is Madison Square (and Madison Square Park). Madison Square Park was named for James Madison, the fourth president of the United States. It has been an urban public place since 1686 but officially became a public park in 1847, when the area was a bustling, trendy shopping district. Without further ado, here are our top ten secrets of Madison Square.
The first version of Madison Square Garden in around 1879. Image via Wikimedia Commons
Today, we know that Madison Square Garden is located on the West Side of Manhattan in Pennsylvania Plaza. However, the “World’s Most Famous Arena” had its origins right here in Madison Square.
The block northeast of Madison Square Park (between 26th and 27th streets) was the site of the first and second Madison Square Gardens (there were four versions in total). It started in 1873, when P.T. Barnum started hosting his circus in an obsolete railroad depot north of Madison Square, owned by Commodore Vanderbilt. He made it the site of his “Great Roman Hippodrome” every year, and the first arena officially became a reality in 1879. In fact, the circus kept the first (and financially poor) Madison Square Garden building stable.
P.T. Barnum’s Great Roman Hippodrome. Image via Wikipedia
However, structurally speaking, the building wasn’t working out, and it was demolished in 1889. To avoid missing more than one show season, a second Madison Square Garden Building was built at the same location, designed by famed architect Stanford White.
The second version of Madison Square Garden in 1890. Image via Wikipedia
Workers built it around the clock so that just a year later, in 1890, the building was completed (and the second tallest building in the city) until it was closed in 1925. The second Madison Square Garden was no stranger to notoriety. Stanford White built himself a seduction lair inside the building and was later shot to death on the roof.
The third version of Madison Square opened in 1925, but at 49th street and 8th Avenue.