November 28, 1925: Madison Square Garden, the 3rd building with the name, opens between 49th and 50th Streets, between 8th and 9th Avenues, in Midtown Manhattan, at the northern end of the Theater District. The front entrance is on 8th Avenue, topped by a marquee that will soon be world-famous.
The 1st Garden was built at the northeast corner of 26th Street and Madison Avenue, catty-corner from Madison Square Park, in 1879. It had no roof. It was replaced in 1890 with a Moorish-style building, designed by the renowned architect Stanford White, that not only had a roof, but a tower with a roof garden where shows were hosted, and an apartment for White atop that.
(White would take showgirls up there, for a pre-movies version of a "casting couch." One was Evelyn Nesbit, whom he then made a star. She left him for a man named Harry Thaw. On June 25, 1906, jealous over Evelyn still having feelings for "Stanny," Thaw went to the roof garden during a show, and shot White. Evelyn's star faded: Late in life, she said, "Stanny White died. My fate was worse: I lived.")
The New York Life insurance company owned the mortgage on the 2nd Garden, and decided to tear it down to build their new headquarters. George "Tex" Rickard, the top boxing promoter of the era, decided to build his own arena, where he wouldn't have to worry about anybody else's whims. He was lucky that New York Life was willing to sell him the rights to the name "Madison Square Garden": It was already a valuable brand name, which is a big reason why the "new Garden" has never sold naming rights.
When his Garden proved successful, he decided to build 6 copies, all over America. It didn't work out that way: He built the Boston Madison Square Garden in 1928 -- soon, it became simply "The Boston Garden" -- but died early the next year. He had gone to Miami to escape the cold New York weather, and to make a deal on a prizefight featuring up-and-coming heavyweight Jack Sharkey (who would hold the title from mid-1932 to mid-1933), but came down with appendicitis. This was before antibiotics, and he was dead at age 59.
The 1st event at The Garden was a six-day bicycle race. It sounds ridiculous today, but this kind of competition was huge in the "Roaring Twenties," especially in Europe, where it's still popular 100 years later. Teams of 2 men take turns riding for 6 days straight, from 6:00 PM to 2:00 AM, and the winner is the team that completes the most laps.
The 1st prizefight was held on December 8, and the arena became known as "The Mecca of Boxing." Heavyweight Joe Louis, light heavyweight Archie Moore, middleweight Sugar Ray Robinson, lightweight Henry Armstrong, and more became internationally-known superstars from their fights at The Garden.
It would also be known as "The Mecca of Basketball," with collegiate doubleheaders starting in 1934. It became a secondary home court for the City's college teams: New York University (NYU), City College of New York (CCNY), Long Island University (LIU), Columbia, Fordham and St. John's.
It also hosted the annual National Invitational Tournament (NIT), starting in 1938. And it hosted what would now be called the NCAA Final Four in 1943, 1944, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1948 and 1950, the last of these won by CCNY, which also won the NIT that year, the only time this "double" was ever achieved.
The point-shaving scandal the next year crippled college basketball in New York City, and not only led to St. John's, not accused in the scandal, being the only major program that has survived on that level, but the NCAA ruling that teams could no longer compete in both their tournament and the NIT. The Final Four did not return to the New York Tri-State Area until 1996, when it was held at the Meadowlands.
That scandal coincided with the 1st trip to the NBA Finals for the New York Knicks, who debuted at The Garden in 1946. The scandal may have saved the Knicks, and thus may also have saved the NBA: Hoop fans needed something to turn to.
Rickard, who didn't always do things on the up-and-up, offered The Garden to Big Bill Dwyer, a bootlegger, who founded a hockey team, the New York Americans. The 1st NHL team in New York debuted on December 15, 1925, losing to the Montreal Canadiens 3-1.
The "Amerks" did so well at the box office that Rickard, noting that New York had 3 Major League Baseball teams, decided that it could support 2 hockey teams. So he founded his own team, and when the media found out, they nicknamed the new team "Tex's Rangers." He decided to go with it, and the New York Rangers debuted at The Garden on November 16, 1926, beating the Montreal Maroons 1-0.
With Rickard's promotional skills, the Rangers proved even more successful than the Americans. World War II knocked the Amerks out, as the manpower drain caused by the American and Canadian military drafts forced them to suspend operations after the 1941-42 season, and they never returned.
But the Rangers, the Knicks, college basketball games, prizefights, circuses, musical performances, and an event that predated even the 1st Garden, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, continued at The Garden through the 1930s, the '40s, and the '50s. Madison Square Garden was right up there with the Empire State Building and Grand Central Terminal as the most famous building in the City.
But poor sight lines, and the need for more space and more dates, proved the arena's undoing. In 1960, the Pennsylvania Railroad, desperate for money, sold the air rights above Pennsylvania Station, between 31st and 33rd Streets and 7th and 8th Avenues, to the Madison Square Garden Corporation. The plan was to build a new station on the site, and a new arena on top of that.
On the afternoon of February 11, 1968, the Rangers played their last game at "the Old Garden," a 3-3 tie with the Detroit Red Wings, which was followed by a final skate with several NHL legends, including the Wings' still-active Gordie Howe. That night, "the New Garden" opened with "The Night of the Century," a salute to the USO, the United Service Organizations, which since 1941 has worked with the armed forces to provide supplies and entertainment. The co-hosts were old film partners and golfing buddies Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.
The last event at the Old Garden was 2 days later, February 13, the Westminster Dog Show. Demolition soon began. The site became a parking lot while various parties haggled over what to build on the site. Finally, in 1989, the 778-foot office and residential tower Worldwide Plaza opened there. The Subway station at 50th Street includes a mural dedicated to the Old Garden.
November 28, 1925 was a Saturday. It was the off-season for baseball. It was the 1st season for the American Basketball League, but that could hardly be called "major league," and I can't find a list of games played there that day. For all I know, there might not have been any. The NHL season hadn't started yet, either.
There was, however, 1 NFL game played on that Saturday. The Frankford Yellow Jackets beat the Green Bay Packers, 13-7 at Frankford Stadium in Northeast Philadelphia. The Jackets won the NFL Championship in 1926, but the Great Depression did them in, and they folded in 1931.
The Cleveland Bulldogs were an NFL team. The Atlantic City Roses were not: They were a semipro team run by the Melrose Athletic Club of Atlantic City, New Jersey. But the Bulldogs played the Roses on this day, winning 12-0 at Bader Field, a minor-league ballpark next to the airport of the same name, where The Sandcastle, later the home of the minor-league Atlantic City Surf, was built.
And there was college football on this Saturday after Thanksgiving. The University of Washington finished its regular season 10-0-1, by beating the University of Oregon 15-14 at Husky Stadium in Seattle. Brown University played Colgate University to a 14-14 at Brown Stadium in Providence, Rhode Island. And the Army-Navy Game was played at the Polo Grounds in New York. Army beat Navy 10-3.