In a city filled with iconic buildings and venues, Madison Square Garden stands out as one of the most storied and popular places in the New York. Any sports fan – or player – can tell you that playing at MSG is truly a special experience. When not filled for sporting events, such the first Ali-Frazier fight and Willis Reed’s dramatic appearance in Game 7, it’s become a hugely popular concert venue for some of the biggest names in music, from Elvis Presley to Frank Sinatra to Michael Jackson to the Rolling Stones to Lady GaGa — and pretty much everyone in between. Of course, it has also hosted benefit concerts, from George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh to “No Nukes” to “The Concert for New York City” following 9/11, and events such as The 25th Anniversary of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Billy Joel explains: “Madison Square Garden is the center of the universe as far as I’m concerned. It has the best acoustics, the best audiences, the best reputation, and the best history of great artists who have played there.”
One of the greatest venues in the world, right in the middle of the greatest city in the world – it’s easy to see why MSG is such a special place. With the Garden undergoing its biggest renovation in years, it’s a great time to take a look back at the storied history of this NYC landmark.
The current Garden opened on February 11, 1968, directly above Penn Station, after the above ground portions of the train station had been torn down. Even the engineering of the building itself is special – it was the first such structure built directly above the active rails of a train station — making it one of the most convenient venues in any city.
But, this was not the original Garden – it’s actually MSG IV. Ever wonder where MSG got its name, given that it’s located nowhere near New York’s Madison Square, nor is it a garden?
The original, inspired by P.T. Barnum, was built in 1871, on 26th Street, right near Madison Square. It was a roofless, oval-shaped arena with gardens inside that sat 10,000. In 1879, it became the first building known as “Madison Square Garden.” It was replaced by MSG II, also at 26th and Madison, which was in action from 1890 to 1925 and which hosted boxing matches, orchestras, and more, notably serving as host to the 1924 Democratic National Convention. This building was ultimately torn down to make way for the iconic New York Life Building.
MSG III, the first to be located away from Madison Square, was opened in 1925 on 8th Avenue, between 49th and 50th Streets. It was the home of the New York Rangers and the New York Knicks, making it the first true precursor to today’s MSG as a sports venue. Several notable non-sports performances were also hosted here — the most memorable is perhaps Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday” serenade to President John F. Kennedy, at his 1962 birthday party at the Garden.
In 1968, MSG III was closed, and the current Madison Square Garden opened. The venue now hosts over 300 events a year, and includes more than just the main venue – the Theater at MSG is a more intimate, 5,600 seat space used for concert and meetings (and, until 2005, the NFL draft.) MSG also features a 36,000 square foot expo center and two restaurants.
The Garden has been renovated once before, but 2011 kicked off its most aggressive renovation to date. A multi-year, $850 million project, this renovation will dramatically improve the fan experience and the player amenities. It includes major upgrades to the main concourse, new seats, improved retail kiosks, better climate control, and more.
The player upgrades include improved dressing rooms, locker rooms, and green rooms. Check out our fan review of the first phase of renovations here.
The current renovations are paving the way for today’s Madison Square Garden to move with ease into the future – we don’t see a MSG V anytime in the near future. The venue has a lot to live up to — what other single location has housed so many celebrity athletes and artists, so many iconic moments in United States cultural history, so many fans? And all right on top of one of the world’s busiest train stations, in the greatest city in the world? It would be hard to top Madison Square Garden.