Since there was a lot of positive response to my comment on the KD thread about The Garden, I floated the idea of a thread, and you all asked for it, so here it is! Here at reddit, there can be a lot of LOL this (Knicks) and LOL that (Knicks again), and while MSG certainly has its own shortcomings to say the least, there is a true story to be told about the buildings and how it came to be where it is today.
Known as ‘The Worlds Most Famous Arena’, MSG played a direct roll in making sports in America what it is today, and while many people criticize the current incarnation of the building, most people don’t know the full story - or that the current one is actually the 4th version (and 3rd location) of the building.
The college basketball history at MSG, which I won’t give away yet, is one of if not THE main reason we have our beloved NBA and professional basketball in general today. This is going to be a very long read, like, very very long. But I’m going to try and throw all the really juicy facts in there that I picked up along my years of research from working in the tour department.
I thought of splitting it up, but I wanted this post to be a comprehensive history of The World’s Most Famous Arena! If you’re only concerned with the history of the joint once basketball enters into the picture, skip to MSG III. If you want the juicy details on the controversy of tearing down old Penn Station then skip to MSG IIII.
If you have any questions on anything or want me to elaborate on anything that I only mention briefly, please feel free to ask! MSG’s history is full of not only amazing moments, but vengeful murders, and a whole lot of sketchy stuff. This is the story of how a small train station on the north east corner of Madison Square Park eventually led to the demolition of an iconic NYC train station some 100 years later. It’s not on Madison Avenue, it’s not square, and it’s not a garden, but there is a good reason for all of this - or at least a good explanation - I promise! MADISON SQUARE GARDEN I
Ironically, just how this story’s climax involves tearing an iconic train station down to build the current arena, the beginning starts in much the same way. Just with a significantly less iconic train station. In the mid 1800’s there was a small railroad depot on the north east corner of Madison Square Park, occupied by New York and Harlem Railroad on East 26th street and Madison Ave and owned by Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt
. For those of you not familiar with the city (yes, we call it ‘the city’) that location is pretty central and throughout time has had a lot of important events happen there, which is a thread for another time. The park was named for president James Madison, just like the street, which was very common at the time. People loved that guy.
The railroad opened up another location you may have heard of, by the name of ‘Grand Central Station’ in 1871, therefor leaving the smaller rail depot on 26th street abandoned. After a few vacant years, the building was leased to PT Barnum, who converted it into what he called the ‘Great Roman Hippodrome’. This place was a big open air oval ‘arena’ where he did exactly what you’d expect. Circuses etc. What happens next is where things start getting interesting.
Then the building was leased to a band leader named Patrick Gilmore. Some historians in that field feel like Gilmore is a forgotten guy compared to the likes of John Phillips Sousa, who is really the only person we common modern folk recognize in terms of old timey band leaders. But Gilmore was a very important figure of his day. Gilmore purchased the building and…wait for it…called it Gilmore’s Concert GARDEN
. ‘Garden’ was a semi-popular add on to entertainment centers in NY during that era, starting with what I can tell from my research when Castle Clinton (aka, the old fort turned venue turned place you buy your tickets to go out to the Statue of Liberty now) was converted into a venue called Castle garden in the 1820s.
The other notable contributions Gilmore made to The Garden are holding the first Westminster Kennel Club dog show, the longest running garden event obviously still held there today, and even doing the first boxing matches there. I always found this bit fascinating, because boxing matches were technically illegal at the time. He called them ‘illustrated lectures’ and as any good New Yorker trying to make a buck does, found a way around the rules and got away with it. This is a common theme within the history of The Garden as you will see.
The arena changed hands a few more times, first to an administrator with the dog show, who also started to do more sporty things like tennis and installing one of the first ‘indoor’ ice rinks in the US.
The building went back into Vanderbilt control when Commodore died, by his grandson William Vanderbilt. He was the one who decided, the ‘garden’ part was cool, but since it wasn’t leased by Gilmore anymore, he would rename it after the park which it shared a border. Hence the name, Madison Square Garden. He expanded the range of events that were held there including adding bicycle racing. This would be by far the most widely beloved event held at the Garden, including a long running race called ‘Six Days of New York’ where an insane SIX day bike race would be held. These were basically just endurance contests, with a single bicyclist doing as many laps as possible, they could sleep whenever and join back in whenever. This was all the rage, but also dangerous for not only the participants but the spectators. People who wanted to soak up all the action were easy targets for crooks who were also in attendance. These events were so popular nationwide however, that there is even a bicycle discipline called ‘Madison’ named after the OG garden.
The building however ran its course, because of its lack of roof and decaying infrastructure.
What I mean by decaying can probably best be summed up by the disaster which many people now a days don’t know of, when part of the building collapsed falling outward into the street and some of the roof also caving in with 800 people inside. Apparently it was chaos, and 20 something people were killed or injured.
It’s pretty brutal, and if you want to know more about that incident you can read the newspaper article from the time here
Vanderbilt sold the spot to who's who collection of rich white men. JP Morgan, Carnegie, Astor etc. So they decided to tear it down and build a new extremely extravagant arena on the same spot. They got renowned architect Stanford White (more on him later) and they demolished the building in 1889. After spending more than half a million dollars, MSG II was built. Madison Square Garden II
By this point, MSG was still not the household name it would become in the future. This building was supposed to change that narrative, which is why these rich guys went all in on it. You’ll see, that they were maybe in over their heads. However, this might be the most fascinating of all the MSGs for several reasons.
Firstly, the building was extremely extravagant. That can not be overstated. I would encourage you all to just google pictures of the building, it was massive and you’ll see all the features I’m describing here. It featured a huge 32 story tall bell tower, which was good for the 2nd tallest building in the city at the time. The bellower was topped by a sculpture of the goddess Diana the huntress, which was sculpted by famous artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and was gilt in copper. They moved the statue not soon after, and you can see it today at the Philly Museum of art! It spun around in the wind, and their original brilliant idea was to have an actual cloth scarf draped on it, but since wind exists, it got blown away not too long after its installation.
Its main hall was the largest in the world. It had not only the main hall which sat 8,000 but just like today’s garden, had a small theater which sat 1200, and even another concert hall which sat 1500. Of course they also had the largest restaurant in the city, because why not. And because it is ‘The Garden’ they decided there should be a roof garden cabaret. They thought this would be a landmark the likes of central park, and it was certainly grandiose enough. They had the same kind of events that the first garden did, including sports, concerts, and all the random stuff they found fun before the invention of TV (not to mention radio, or at least the widespread broadcast of radio). But the problem was, the building was so damn extra, that they had a hard time making enough money to upkeep the place.
Now let’s talk about the architect. Stanford White is probably best remembered for designing the Triumphal arch in Washington square, but then closely followed by being murdered in his own building, MSG II,
in a lovers quarrel. This was huge news at the time, and so was the trial that ensued, they called it ‘The Trial of The Century’. The building, being as ridiculous as it was, of course housed an apartment for White, and millionaire Harry Kendall Thaw was not too happy with White who apparently had an affair with his actress wife when she was 16. So he came through, and shot him dead in his own building. It’s all incredibly sketchy and simultaneously intriguing, involving major names of the day, which is probably why the trial was so juicy and gripping in the eyes of the general public.
Anyways, the building was ultimately a failure, and didn’t last very long in retrospect. Everyone knew what Madison Square Garden was, and it was a landmark from 1890-1926, but the building failed to live up to expectations, much less make money. A 36 year run is really nothing to write home about, especially with the illusions (or better yet delusions) of grandeur its rich owners had in mind. There were some important sporting events that happened there, but what would happen in the next building would be the reason The Garden is now known as, The Worlds most Famous Arena. Interestingly the building there today, the New York Life Insurance Company, was built on that plot directly after MSG II was demolished. They owned the mortgage on the building, so they just built their headquarters there. It’s an iconic building in its own right, and if you’re on the NE corner of the park, there’s a plaque on the building which notes that it was the location of the first 2 Gardens. The only thing MSG still had was, well, the name. And in walked Tex Rickard, to seize an opportunity that proved to be golden. Madison Square Garden III
If you’ve never heard of Tex Rickard, think PT Barnum, Don King, etc. He was the leading boxing (and more) promoter of the day, and was a very successful businessman, operating saloons, hotels, casinos, and the like. He was a country boy, born in Missouri and raised in Texas, but had a knack for business and promotion. Tex saw the opportunity to buy the name, and incorporated the ‘New Madison Square Garden Corporation’ in 1923. It was smart, although MSG II didn't make money, it was still a household name in NYC. The purpose was to build a less extravagant arena, but a place that would be iconic in its own right and host major sporting events, including NHL games. This is where MSG started to make a name for itself as a major player in venues, and eventually THE most famous arena in the world. So Tex bought a big block of land quite a bit of a ways away from the original site of The Garden, on 8th avenue between 49th and 50th street. He basically built a big box, designed by theater architect Thomas Lamb, at the cost of almost 5 million dollars and in a remarkable 249 days. I think it’s sufficient to say that ol’ Tex knew how to get things done. He had a bunch of rich backers, plenty of clout, and he threw his arena up in sharp contrast to the old garden. It did however have a very iconic marquee, and if you talk to anyone who was around at the time they will note that the marquee was the distinguishing feature of the building. The main draw originally was boxing, as that was Tex’s bag. They had major fights, and drew much larger crowds than the older gardens, mostly because they could cram almost 20,000 people in there. The site lines were apparently terrible, but by all accounts the energy that still haunts the current garden, was the main draw.
Then, hockey happened. This was the idea from the start, as fellow sports promoter Thomas Duggan had options on three expansion teams for the NHL, to be established in the US. One became the Bruins, and then one was arranged to be given to NYC’s most-celebrated prohibition bootlegger Bill Dwyer, who arranged with Tex to have the team play at MSG III. Tex had an agreement with the first team they started, The New York Americans, aka The Amerks (ever heard of them?), that they would be the only hockey team to ever play at The Garden. Although there was a clause in the contract that Tex claimed he would never exercise, that claimed if Tex and MSG ever made a bid for a team, the Amerks would support it. Tex kept his word for approximately one year, when due to the American’s success, he went out and got himself a hockey team. The tabloids dubbed this team Tex’s Rangers, an obvious play on words, and you can guess what that team that became today.
The Rangers soon eclipsed the Amerks in success, and The Garden’s lore began to grow as the place to be in NYC. One more note on Tex, and maybe the most important in my biased Knicks ‘no other arena is THE GARDEN’ mind. he started 7 other Madison Square Garden’s around the country. Including ‘Boston Madison Square Garden’ which as you may guess, became known as Boston Garden. Thats right Celtics fans, your building was named after ours. Thanks Tex, for unknowingly providing another iconic building, that the future inhabitants of your NYC building would lose in over and over again! Anyways…now is where basketball becomes the star - so you can all start paying attention!
At the time, nobody thought professional basketball was a viable way of making money. Rickard passed away in 1929, and during the great depression things stayed somewhat status quo, but also there were now a lot of days where the giant arena wasn’t being used at all. Then, in walked Ned Irish, a successful sports journalist who quit his job covering basketball games for the World-Telegram, to start promoting basketball games at MSG III. The Garden let him promote and hold games there, as long as he would just cover the rent, that’s how bad things were economically. To everyone’s pleasant surprise, the college games became a lot more financially successful than anyone had anticipated. Along with making money, these college games were probably the number one factor in growing the game nationwide in general. College ball became the marquee (pun intended) event at MSG III, especially the double headers. This was a time, before the infamous point shaving scandals, that NYC college basketball was a force in the college game. It’s hard to believe now, but teams like NYU and CCNY were the equivalent of today’s Duke and UNC. By 1946, they were selling out the arena, and the city (and country) had fallen in love with the game of basketball. The NIT was started during this time, and even the first televised basketball game happened there in the form of a Fordham-Pitt / Georgetown-NYU doubleheader. The previously mentioned point shaving scandal involving the NYC schools hamstrung Irish’s ability to put on marquee matchups at MSG III, as a lot of the major teams were banned from playing there, and the NCAA reduced its use of the arena as a result.
Ned, being the promoter genius that he was, saw the success of the college game, knew his limitations with that now, and thought…Why can’t we do this with professional athletes and start a league? There had technically been professional basketball being played at MSG III since its inception, but it was traveling teams like the original Celtics, which weren’t associated with a league. People just didn’t think there was enough money in it, or a means and arenas to have such a league. So with other owners of hockey arenas around the US (and Canada!) They started the NBA in 1946. It wasn’t instantly as popular as the college game as you may suspect, with the Knicks even having to play at the 69th (nice) regiment armory when a college game was on that took priority over the NBA. Ironically, the armory was a few blocks away from the original location of MSG I and II, on Lexington between 25th and 26th, it’s still there for those NYers who happen to walk by and notice the building.
There were other major nationally news worth events that happened at MSG III, including a host of politically themed ventures including both a packed Nazi rally (really, and people were NOT happy about it as you may imagine) and an anti-nazi rally. There are some very famous photos and press about the pro Nazi rally, which happened in 1939 and was organized by the ‘German American Bund’. As Nazi's were wont to do, they recorded the thing, and for what it's worth, its some of the best and most crisp footage of the old garden although the Nazi's really spoil it - Here are the receipts.
If only they put their efforts into making beautiful videos of basketball games instead of hate. Too bad the guy who charged the stage didn't do any damage, and I hate to think of what they did to him. Anyways before I get too riled up, a few years later this group would be banned, but MSG certainly took some heat for allowing this to go down, and deservedly so. The tradition of MSG doing anything for a buck holds strong! Probably the most noteworthy event ever held in that venue was also somewhat a political event. The most famous version of ‘Happy Birthday’ ever sung took place at JFK’s birthday party, sung of course by Marilyn Monroe, at MSG III. Most people probably had no idea where this took place, and it may be realistically the most famous moment from any of the incarnations of MSG.
Another one of my favorite stories from that time is when they had first built MSG III there was a boxer, who’s name escapes me but this is the NBA sub so you all don’t care, that didn’t realize there was a new venue, so he showed up at the site of MSG II only to see that it had been demolished. He scooted uptown as quickly as he could, and won his fight. There is a whole host of boxing history that went down there, but I won’t bore you all with the details, just go look it up if you’re interested! The boxing events most of you have heard of, such as The Fight of the Century, would happen at the building that stands today, MSG IIII.
Now, on to the controversy. Madison Square Garden IIII (current arena) This is all just fact, and I won’t get into my biased opinion on why or why not this was the right thing to do. I’m going to lay out the full controversy before I get into some fun facts about the current arena…So here goes… Yes, there was an above ground Penn Station. It was thought of as one of the most iconic and beautiful landmarks in NYC. Look up some pictures, it’s very cool.
In 1959, Graham-Paige bought a 40% stake in MSG for $4 million. Then, in 1960, Graham-Paige president Irving Felt (old NYers will recognize the name, the Felt Forum, which was the original name for the theater under the arena floor) bought the right to Penn Station. The idea was always that he would tear the old station down, and build the sports complex. The Pennsylvania Railroad company sold the air rights to the property because passenger traffic was on the decline after WW2, and they weren’t making enough money to upkeep the station. I’m sure the Penn Railroad company wasn’t too keen on tearing the building down, but Felt made them an offer they couldn’t refuse. In exchange for the rights of a building they couldn’t support anymore, the Penn Railroad company got a brand new, smaller station completely below the street at no cost, and also a 25% stake in the new MSG complex. That probably worked out ok for them. People tried to save the old station, as it was a beautiful and a lot of people were outraged that the city would let this happen. At the end of the day, the city voted to demolish the building in 1963. A lot went into this, it was simply too much for the railroad company to upkeep, and like I said, they got a pretty great offer. Also, they had at first optioned the air rights to William Zeckendorf in 1954, and he had some plans which would reconfigure the train station into several different things including a ‘world trade center’ and a ‘Palace of Progress’. These things didn’t come to pass, again, this was a MASSIVE building. Now it should be noted, if NYC wanted to save the building, they could have saved the building
. It would not have been cheap, but they could have done it. However the city thought that since it was originally intended to be a ‘cost-effective and functional piece of the city’s infrastructure’ it was now mostly just a ‘monument to the past’. Pretty cold, but the city had a history of destroying historic buildings to build even more historic ones. A lot of the criticism from people after MSG4 was built, was that this was not the case in this instance, as opposed to say - tearing down the original Waldorf-Astoria to put up the Empire State Building. That one in retrospect, doesn’t have as much contention. The city thought they were being ‘progressive’ and from what I can gather, people didn’t believe they were actually going to tear the building down until they actually started doing it. When they actually started tearing it down, it sparked international outrage. As another user pointed out on the other thread, this led to the establishment of the NYC landmarks preservation commission, which did in fact save Grand Central from demolition in 1968. So that’s a silver lining to all of this. NYC didn’t step up to save the old Penn Station, but its demolition was not in vain. The outrage that it caused has surely saved plenty of other historic buildings from their demise. Like I said, I’m not trying to say it was right or wrong, this post is simply to state the facts on what happened and why it all happened. (((I realize that I may have been typing hastily and drunk when I responded with why the old landmark Penn Station building was torn down for the new MSG. Admittedly, my timeline was slightly off, as the ‘no property tax’ thing happened afterwards to keep the Knicks / Rangers / MSG in the city. I went back into my research and wanted to make sure I explained what happened 100% accurately. Even though nobody disputed this in the thread, my post may have been confusing and the timeline in my head was a bit skewed, as I said the threat of moving to NJ was a factor in them originally tearing the train station down. This was the reason for the property tax cut, but not the original demo of the train station, as you've just read. I wanted to make sure the accurate story was told. So this should clear up the timeline, and why and when things happened the way they did.)))
The next big controversy is what I had a little mixed up in my original post, as I clumped it together with the original controversy, and that is the threat of the teams moving to New Jersey. This did happen and this is where it gets very, very, VERY sketchy.
In 1982, when Gulf and Western owned MSG, they threatened to move the teams to NJ, as the Giants and Jets had done, and also the Devils although they didn’t come from Manhattan. NJ had proven a more than viable option for professional sports teams, as it was just a short train ride away to the new Meadowlands Sports Complex. The Garden was in need of renovation, so they made then mayor Ed Koch an ultimatum - give us a tax break to help us renovate the arena and add the new fangled luxury boxes that all the newer arenas had. That led to a full property tax exemption for the next 10 years.
Koch ‘didn’t realize’ that no one put in a sunset date for the tax exemption. Some think he confused the clause that stated the teams would be locked in for at least 10 more years, for a clause that said the tax exemption would only last for 10 more years. The first part of that is true, so interestingly enough the Knicks and Rangers are not allowed to play home games anywhere else but MSG, or they would break the agreement, so things like the NHL winter classic that the Rangers play in, even if in NY they have to be the away team. Knicks in London? Away team. Not that those teams would give up a home games worth of revenue, but still they technically have to be the away team. So the garden has saved somewhere around half a billion dollars, yes BILLION dollars in property tax payments. It’s around $50 Million now, and although there have been bills, most notably in 2014 to try and get this changed, so far it’s fallen on deaf ears.
The argument against this is pretty plain to see, the Knicks and the Rangers are the most profitable teams in their respective sports, and that they don’t need this tax break. Let’s make one thing clear, Jim Dolan definitely does NOT need the tax break. Everyone has to pay property taxes. Except, Dolan and MSG. It’s a hard pill to swallow, even as the most diehard Knicks fan. The City Council almost unanimously voted to take it to state legislature in 2014, which has authority over the cities tax rules. There is sketchy stuff all through this, like state assembly leader at the time Sheldon Silver having his daughter and one of his former top aides on MSG payroll. Oh yeah, Sheldon Silver was convicted of federal fraud and extortion charges sometime after that focused on large payments that Silver received for years from Goldberg & Iryami, a law firm that specialized in seeking reductions of New York City real estate taxes for real estate developers. Silver was alleged to have persuaded developers who had business with the state to use the firm, which in turn generated $700,000 in referral fees to Silver
. Totally not sketchy at all.
Here’s where it stands today, as controversy will be back to a fever pitch in a few years.
In 2013, the NYC council voted unanimously to give MSG a ten year permit, as opposed to their current agreement which gave them operating rights in perpetuity. This means that MSG’s operating permit is up in 2023. Penn Station is in dire need of renovation. Like, more-so than the Knicks are in need of talent. Dolan also spent a couple billion on renovating the arena into the state of the art facility it is today. He’s not planning on moving it. If the city wants Dolan to move the garden so they can renovate the station, it would be massively complicated, and the city would be forced to offer huge subsidies to get MSG out of the way. So chances are, everything goes on, status quo. Now I will say, from my time receiving internal emails at MSG, Dolan does not want a fight with the city. They realize that there can potentially be a compromise here. Also, he has a ton of money, and politicians tend to respond to that.
One thing that is a step in the right direction, is the massive building across 8th avenue, the iconic post office, which just like the old Penn Station has gone largely unused but BECAUSE of Penn Stations demolition has been protected itself from demolition. It has already begun to be repurposed for the train station, and by 2021 they are supposed to finish the construction on the inside to a huge, new, modern train hub. This will do a lot honestly in reducing the congestion in the old underground station.
The other internal rumblings, were that Dolan was going to let them build into the theater. Cuomo actually announced this plan, which would leave the arena intact. I will explain the layout of the current building later, but underneath the arena floor up on the 5th floor, sits the 2nd largest theater in all of NYC. In my time there it was being used less and less, mostly because the garden also owns Radio City and The Beacon theater, which are much nicer venues. There have been iconic events down in the theater also, including many NBA drafts, and some epic Eddie Murphy stand up specials, but it is in need of renovation. It is the only area that they didn’t touch during the renovation, because the thought process is that they’d just be competing with themselves in Radio and The Beacon. So The idea is that Dolan will throw the city a bone, and let them build up into the theater, in exchange for keeping the status quo, which would give Penn a much larger footprint. Admittedly, I’m not sure what progress has gone into this plan, and if the Amtrak plan for the post office has changed any of that. Basically, we’re just going to have to wait until 2023 to see what the future really holds for MSG, but knowing a bit about NYC politics, I wouldn’t count on anything changing. Ok, now that that’s all out of the way, lets talk about the fun side of MSG4, if it hasn’t already left too sour of a taste in your collective mouths.
The new building is actually a pretty fascinating piece of architecture in its own right. Some people think the facade is ugly, and that’s fair, but the inner workings are pretty cool. Charles Luckman was the architect, and he also designed the Forum out in LA, owned now by MSG as well. In my opinion, the most fascinating part of the structure is the cable system which supports it. 48 cables connect from the outer circumference of the building, meeting at the middle in a center tension ring. This allows the arena to not have visual support beams, like the arenas before it all boasted. No visual beams means better sight lines, and less obstructions. This is a cool article
from the time about it if you care to know more about the actual construction. If you’re ever at The Garden, look for little circular plaques on the wall, numbered 1-48. These mark where the cables line up in the arena, and security can actually use these to dictate where they are in the building. You’ll probably never notice them, unless you’re looking for them.
The other cool thing about the roof, is that if you look closely you’ll see that the actual ceiling which sits between the cables, you’ll see that it has tiny holes all through it. Thats because the ceiling is designed to absorb sound, its filled with sound absorption material so when the sound passes through the holes it helps deaden the room. Usually arenas are the worst place to see a concert, and the general rule of thumb is - the bigger the room, the louder and boomier it will be. It’s certainly not as good sounding as a smaller concert venue but it is better than any arena you’ll find. As opposed to oracle arena, which has a concrete ceiling meant to amplify sound for sporting events etc. Which makes it even more impressive how loud it gets in there, despite the ceilings best efforts.
When the building was built there was a 48 lane bowling alley, an art gallery, a hall of fame, and a 501 seat cinema. Thats right, a 48 lane bowling alley. It closed in the 80s, but had a lot of bowling events including some sort of bowling TV show apparently. I haven’t been able to confirm this, but this was what I was told by a reliable source! Someone older than myself can probably speak to that.
Unlike most arenas, the arena floor of MSG is actually 5 floors above street level, which allows for the theater underneath the arena floor.
Theater at Madison Square Garden doesn’t have as many events as it used to, they still have events and even at the same time that there are events going on up in the main arena. When I was working there, we had plenty of instances where there were crazy concerts or games going on upstairs, and other events going on in the theater. You would have never known the other was going on, and there is no sound transmitted from one venue to the other. Also if you’re familiar with the theater, the rumor is the lights (probably its defining characteristic) that pattern the theater ceiling, equates exactly to the number of seats in the theater. I never was bored enough to count, so that’ll just have to be a rumor for now!
The floor of the arena itself is pretty cool, and if you’re not familiar with how these multi-sport arenas work, the ice lives underneath the court all through hockey and basketball season. It’s pretty remarkable to watch the ice crew make the ice, and pretty sad when it gets melted. The fun fact here is, not only can they switch over in under 3 hours from one sport to the other, but they WILL do it and have to do it several times a year to do a Knicks and Rangers home game on the same day. All four sides of the arena have expandable seating, think high school gym, which allows for almost 2 thousand more seats during Knicks games as opposed to rangers games. They cover the ice with a fiberglass/plastic compound material, and then the floor fits together like a giant puzzle over top of the material. This current material has been used since the renovation, and the ridiculous thing is before the new material, supposedly they had to melt the ice once during the season - to accommodate for the longest running event in MSG history, the dog show. Apparently the dogs could sense the ice! I wasn’t there at that time, but that was what I was told was the scenario.
Another ridiculous thing is seeing them set up for professional bull riding. It’s insane, they bring in literally 20 something dump trucks of dirt and they do a ‘running of the bulls’ where all the bulls run up the ramp that goes to the street, and into their pens. It’s probably the wildest thing you’ll see being set up there, and also leaves the arena smelling like, well, you know, for several weeks. Not as bad as it smells after Phish comes through for NYE, and no I’m not talking about reefer. That would be one thing, but it just smells…grimy.
As much as we all collectively have some disdain for James Dolan, it hasn’t been all bad. He has hosted 3 of the biggest benifit concerts of all time, for 9/11, Katrina, and Sandy. All the proceeds from these shows went towards victim relief. But what people don’t realize is that the first ever benefit concert happened at MSG, in George Harrison’s ‘The Concert For Bangladesh’.
As for the new renovation, they really did a nice job in a lot of ways. It took 3 years, from 2011-13. First of all, if you’ve never sat on the bridge for a game, do it. It’s truly a one of a kind view. If you’re not familiar with the bridge, they are 2 suspended walkways that were added during the renovation, with several rows of seating that stretch across the arena. One side is the ‘Media bridge’ where there are TV’s with full cable, all kinds of plugs for laptops and internet and all that. They will sell tickets to this side when it’s a game that the media isn’t hogging the whole thing. I like hanging up there during games because there are advanced stats on some of the channels, anything you would need to be covering the game from a journalistic perspective, so it’s pretty cool. Also that’s where the radio, and the hockey TV broadcast booths are, since the vantage point is better up there for hockey than on the glass.
Pro tip - sometimes on stub hub or wherever, those seats can be cheaper than the ones further back not on the bridge. This is because they’re the ‘300’ level, where as the seats all the way up on the sides are the 200 level. However there really isn’t a bad seat in the house. And there are bars INSIDE the seating area, so if you’re up in the top of the 200’s, you can hit the bar without ever leaving the arena bowl and missing a single second of that can’t miss Knicks basketball. The 400 level is cool too, that’s the blue seats, which were the original color of all the 400 level seats.
Back in the day, when there were paper tickets, the seats in the different levels were different colors, and the tickets for those seats would be the same color as your seats!
The suite situation is very insane now a days. There are the event level suites, which are 20 suites located literally on the arena floor, underneath the seating. They have no view of the game, but they come with 8 seats each right in the first few rows. It’s the best of both worlds, so you’ll see the first few rows CLEAR OUT during half time to go into their little luxury caves. There are also suites all through the mid level of the arena, and then a 3rd level of suites up on the 9th floor, facing the stage.
There are also luxury clubs, including the Delta Club, which if you’ve never had a ticket with access to it, and can afford it - I highly recommend it. Everything (minus alcohol of course!) is free, and the food is honestly ridiculous. Further down the hall and down the stairs is the JP Morgan club (throwback!) where an even more elite club (closest 100 or so seats) can hang out. And even more so, there is a place called ‘suite 200’. I never knew about this until I worked there. You can only go there if you’re invited, which means you’re very famous. For some reason, my keycard had access to this, and I explored it a few times. It’s ridiculous. Original trophies, huge original paintings, etc.
Speaking of trophies - everyone used to ask me where the Knicks championship trophies are - and the truth is, back when the Knicks won it was so long ago, that the NBA trophy was like the Stanley cup and changed hands every year. So…no Knicks championship trophies. However if you go to MSG you’ll notice the defining moments collection, the top moments in MSG history that line the walls of the 2 main concourses. There is one dedicated to the 1970 championship, and it has the eastern conference trophy in it. Now this I can confirm is true - if you examine the trophy you’ll notice that the little basketball player on top is a different hue than the rest of the trophy. That’s because apparently when they were compiling these displays a few years ago, they found the trophy in storage with the basketball man broken off the top of it, so they had to replace it. That’s why you can visibly tell that there is a difference between him and the rest of the trophy, if you really examine it.
Obviously there have been so many huge events at The Garden, I don’t really need to get into that here.
Also if you ever get the chance, visit the 9th floor where the signature suites are located. The coolest memorabilia in the building is up there, including one of those signed 50 greatest lithographs, Patrick Ewing and Wayne Gretzky’s locker, and even the statue of Joe Gans, a legendary African American boxer. This statue has the patina pretty much gone from his outstretched left arm is it was tradition for boxers to tap gloves with Joe for good luck before they took the ring. Now it sits up there, right next to the scale that was in use during the time of the fight of the century featuring Frazier and Ali. They also have an old school ice resurfacer up there, which is pretty cool.
Well, I’m sure there’s a ton that I left out - If you made it this far, you’re a champ. TL;DR - Boston Garden was originally called Boston Madison Square Garden and was named after the arena in NY. There is only one 'The Garden' and it's super duper important. ;)
Edit - I should have mentioned wrestling. It’s intimately tied to MSG, but really deserves its own thread and I have no more characters!
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