New York City has been home to not one, not two, but four different Madison Square Gardens dating back to 1879 — or so we thought. In fact, there have been five! For a brief time, Queens actually had its own Madison Square Garden, an outdoor arena called Madison Square Garden Bowl. None of the original Madison Square Garden Bowl buildings stand today, and in place is a strip mall and a used-car dealership. However, the history of this secret fifth Madison Square Garden is fascinating — and cursed.
The Madison Square Garden Bowl was located in Sunnyside and was built in 1932 as arena for boxing matches. The arena was actually a spinoff of a midtown Manhattan one created by Tex Rickard, a boxing promoter. The arena housed 72,000 spectators on wood bleachers, and it cost a surprisingly small construction fee of $160,000. Despite having such a large capacity, the Bowl was rarely used as a regular venue but rather as a site for large summer events.
One such event was the World Heavyweight championship in 1935, in which James J. Braddock defeated Max Baer. This fight was dramatized in the 2005 film Cinderella Man. Other boxers like Joe Louis, Henry Armstrong, Jack Sharkey, and Primo Carnera fought at the Madison Square Garden Bowl. However, the Bowl was dubbed the “Jinx Bowl” and “The Graveyard of Champions” because no titleholder ever successfully defended his title at the arena.
In addition to boxing, Madison Square Garden Bowl hosted so-called “midget auto races,” or races for very small cars. The fumes from these races, though, would haunt the entire neighborhood for the day.
On May 8, 1939, a 400-pound tiger named Colonel (or Duke) escaped from his wooden crate near the Madison Square Garden Bowl. The Bowl also served as an arena for Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus — although they set up in a lot adjacent to the Bowl. At approximately 5:35 a.m. that day, a milk truck driver called police headquarters. “Do believe me. I have not been drinking. But I have just seen a tiger. Three men are after it.” Although reports of the incident differ, the tiger likely was captured while roaming the Woodside car barns.
Just a decade after opening, the arena shut down in 1942. It was torn down to make way for a U.S. Army Mail Depot, and many of these boxing matches were moved to baseball stadiums nearby. The building’s metal was repurposed into bullets and other war materials, and no indication remains at the site that a popular arena seating 72,000 once stood there. Today, the location is home Major World, a car dealership complex selling Chevrolet cars along Northern Boulevard in a stretch known for a strip of car dealerships and auto repair shops.
Learn even more about the lost Madison Square Gardens in our latest edition of Lost New York. In this virtual talk on Thursday, Untapped New York’s Chief Experience Officer Justin Rivers will trace the evolution of Madison Square Garden from its humble beginnings to the entertainment venue it is today. Along the way, you will hear tales of a romantic scandal that ended in murder, see how the architectural style of each iteration changed with the times, and learn about the amazing events that took place inside!
The Lost Madison Square Gardens
Next, check out The Lost Madison Square Gardens of NYC!