A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from July 04, 2008
Mecca (Madison Square Garden)

Madison Square Garden is often called the “mecca,” a puzzling term to many today. However, the term “mecca” was first applied to the third Madison Square Garden at 50th Street and Eighth Avenue; “mecca” was later used to describe the fourth Madison Square Garden—the one that exists today at 33rd Street and Eighth Avenue (at Penn Station). The current Madison Square Garden is described as a “boxing mecca” (or “mecca of boxing” or “fight mecca") and a “basketball mecca” (or “mecca of basketball").

New York City Center is located at 55th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues; it was built in 1923 and was originally called the Mecca Temple. The third Madison Square Garden (at 50th Street and Eighth Avenue) opened in 1925. The Mecca Temple held some sporting events, such as boxing and wrestling, but it is not difficult to see how the name of one building became applied to the other building. A Mecca Arena at Fourteenth Street and Avenue A also held some sporting events in 1936-1937.

Madison Square Garden is perhaps better-known today as “The World’s Most Famous Arena.”

Wikipedia: Madison Square Garden
Madison Square Garden, often abbreviated as MSG, and known colloquially simply as The Garden, has been the name of four arenas in New York City. It is also the name of the entity which owns the arena and several of the professional sports franchises which play there. There have been four incarnations of the arena. The first two were located at the Northeast corner of Madison Square (Madison Ave. & 26th St.) from which the arena derived its name. Subsequently a new 17,000-seat Garden (opened December 15, 1925) was built at 50th Street and 8th Avenue, and the current Garden (opened February 14, 1968) is at 7th Avenue between 31st and 33rd Streets, situated on top of Pennsylvania Station.

The arena lends its name to the Madison Square Garden Network, a cable television network that broadcasts most sporting events that are held in the Garden, as well as concerts and entertainment events that have taken place at the venue.

It is controlled by the Madison Square Garden, L.P. subsidiary of Cablevision.

Madison Square Garden derives its name from the park where the first two gardens were located (Madison Square) on Madison Avenue at 26th Street. As the venue moved to new locations the name still stuck, although since 1925 Madison Square Garden has been neither a garden nor on Madison Square.

The location of the first Madison Square Garden (now known as Madison Square Garden I), was at 26th Street and Madison Avenue. The site was formerly occupied by the passenger depot of the New York and Harlem Railroad. When the depot was moved to what is now the site of Grand Central Terminal in 1871, the old depot was sold to P.T. Barnum who converted it into “Barnum’s Monster Classical and Geological Hippodrome.” In 1876 Barnum’s was converted into “Gilmore’s Garden,” an open air arena named in honor of Patrick Gilmore. Gilmore was America’s most well-known bandmaster at the time. His most famous composition was “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.”

Finally, Gilmore’s Garden was renamed “Madison Square Garden” by William Henry Vanderbilt and the facility was reopened to the public on May 31, 1879. The first Garden was originally designed for the sport of track cycling. This is still remembered in the name of the Madison event.

The second Madison Square Garden (now known as Madison Square Garden II), also located at 26th and Madison Avenue was designed by Stanford White, who would later be killed at the Garden’s rooftop restaurant. White kept an apartment, site of the famous red velvet swing, in the building.

The new structure was 200 feet (61 m) by 485 feet (148 m) of Moorish architecture with a minaret-like tower soaring 32 stories over Madison Square Park and was the city’s second tallest building. The Garden’s main hall, which was the largest in the world, measured 200 by 350 feet (110 m) with permanent seating for 8,000 people and floor space for thousands more.

Topping the garden was a statue of Diana, by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The original bronze statue was 18 ft (5.5 m). tall and weighed 1,800 lb (820 kg)., but spun with the wind. It was placed on top of the tower in 1891, but was soon thought to be too large by Saint-Gaudens and White, the architect. (It was removed and placed on top of a building at The World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago - the bottom half was destroyed by a fire after the close of the Exhibition, and the top half was lost.) In 1893 a gilded, hollow copper, 2nd version of Diana, replaced the original on top of the Garden tower. This 2nd version was 13 ft (4.0 m). tall and is now at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and a copy is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Saint-Gaudens made several smaller variants in bronze, one of which was on display in the entryway of Madison Square Garden III, and also in a similar location in the current Garden, MSG IV.

It hosted the 1924 Democratic National Convention, which nominated John W. Davis after 103 ballots. Afterwards, it was torn down to make way for the landmark New York Life Insurance Building.

White was a member of the architecture firm McKim, Mead and White which designed Pennsylvania Station which was torn down to make way for MSG IV. The firm also designed the James Farley Post Office which is being proposed as the anchor for the proposed new Pennsylvania Station.The New York Life Insurance Company decided to demolish Madison Square Garden.

The third garden, now known as Madison Square Garden III, was built on 50th Street and Eighth Avenue by boxing promoter Tex Rickard and was dubbed “The House That Tex Built.” The New York Rangers, owned by Rickard, got their name from a wordplay on his name (Tex’s Rangers). It was built in 249 days on the site of the city’s streetcar barns. However, the Rangers were not the first NHL team to play at the Garden; the New York Americans had begun play in 1925 and were so wildly successful at the gate that Rickard wanted his own team as well. The Rangers were founded in 1926 and both teams played at the Garden until the Americans folded in 1942, the Rangers having stolen their commercial success with their own success on the ice (winning three Stanley Cups between 1928 and 1940). This was the basis for the Curse of 1940 that supposedly prevented the Rangers from winning the Stanley Cup again until 1994.

Wikipedia: New York City Center
New York City Center, historically known as City Center of Music and Drama, and also known as New York City Center 55th Street Theater, is a 2,750-seat Moorish Revival concert hall located at 131 West 55th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues in Manhattan, New York City. It is one block south of Carnegie Hall. City Center is especially known as a performing home for several major dance companies as well as the Encores! series and most recently the Fall for Dance Festival.

Early history
The New York City Center, built in 1923, was designed by architect Harry P. Knowles and the firm of Clinton & Russell, and was originally called the Mecca Temple, by the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, more commonly known as Shriners. The Shriners had previously held their meetings at Carnegie Hall. According to Broadway lore, Carnegie Hall management was disturbed by the amount of cigar smoke generated during Shriners meetings and evicted them.[citation needed]

Although the Shriners owned a clubhouse at 107 West 45th Street, large meetings had earlier been held in Carnegie Hall and in the concert hall of Madison Square Garden (the 1890 Stanford White building). In 1921, Mecca Temple bought the Famous Players-Lasky Corporation movie studio site from Yale University for $400,000.[4] The cornerstone (visible today on West 56th Street) was laid on December 13, 1923 by Judge Arthur S. Tompkins, Grand Master of Masons in NY State. The dedication ceremony took place onstage, December 29, 1924, with the invocation offered by Episcopal Bishop William T. Manning. The first public musical concert took place late the next year, by John Philip Sousa’s (a Mason) band, with Walter Damrosch and Willem Mengelberg among the audience.

15 December 1934, New York (NY) Times, pg. 19:
Mecca Temple, 130 West Fifty-sixth Street, 8:15 P.M.

15 October 1936, New York (NY) Times, pg. 39:
Mecca Arena, Avenue A and Fourteenth Street...8:15 P.M.

8 January 1945, New York (NY) Times, pg. 13:
Madison Square Garden may be the Mecca of college basketball—one would be amazed to learn the number of teams that would like to break into the act—but one quintet that has no Eighth Avenue aspirations stole the past week’s headlines, namely Columbia.

26 January 1947, New York (NY) Times, pg. SM22:
Madison Square Garden in New York is the mecca of the nation’s topflight basketballers.

1 February 1953, New York (NY) Times, pg. SMA56:
Even before the new Madison Square Garden was finished in 1926 the old Garden had been the fight mecca.

23 January 1968, New York (NY) Times, pg. 30:
It was in this Garden, not the new one, that basketball received its main stimulation for national attention, when college double-headers were introduced in the nineteen thirties; it was this court, “the Mecca of Basketball,” that created the conditions for the establishment of a stable professional league in the nineteen-forties and nineteen-fifties; and it was in this Garden that the All-Star game itself came of age, on Jan. 21, 1954, in a spectacular overtime contest that did as much as anything to give the young N.B.A. national prestige.

18 August 1974, New York (NY) Times, pg. 178:
King then turned to Madison Square Garden, the mecca of boxing, to sell the package, but the Garden turned it down because of the prohibitive price.

10 July 1975, New York (NY) Times, pg. 23:
The Garden will act as promoter and matchmaker, but none of the five programs already scheduled will emanate from the Garden, once the mecca of boxing.

21 April 1978, New York (NY) Times, pg. 23:
A return to the days when Madison Square Garden was the mecca of championship boxing is being planned in the expectation that the court-imposed restraints will soon be eased.

16 January 1989, New York (NY) Times, pg. C1:
What’s more, after years of hapless play in front of dwindling, often truculent crowds, the Knicks have returned the lustre to the Garden as both a basketball mecca and a social hub.

1 July 2001, New York (NY) Times, pg. SP7:
They will give their best “Madison Square Garden is the mecca of basketball” spiel and pile on thick talk of the city’s intense love affair with the game.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityBuildings/Housing/Parks • (1) Comments • Friday, July 04, 2008 • Permalink

Nice write up on the history of the arena. I have heard many athletes and announcers mention MSG as the Mecca during televised basketball games and was always curious where the name was derived.

Posted by cybertroll  on  12/21  at  02:29 PM

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