As Ranger fans take in the transformed Madison Square Garden, we remember back 50 years to a time when New York fans clambered for the new version of the hockey shrine to be built.
There’s something about turning 50 that gets you feeling a little nostalgic about people and places. First there’s the surprise birthday party at work and the getaway weekend in Washington. That’s all good. Then there’s the bad and the ugly – reminders that come with being 50. The stiff back in the morning, the assassination of JFK.
From time to time this season, I’m going to present past stories from the archives of The Hockey News. They’re guaranteed to either make you chuckle, scratch your head or just pause and think how much we’ve changed in half a century.
The first is a tribute to New York’s Madison Square Garden. After a $1 billion renovation was completed this October, the building has never looked better. It includes two new 600-foot big screens and two high bridges that run parallel to the playing surface. The Transformation is something to behold.
Fifty years ago, hockey fans got word a new Madison Square Garden was coming. Here’s a story from the Nov. 9, 1963 edition of The Hockey News written by Stan Fischler:
Work Begins on New Garden Arena
On Sunday, October 27th, more than 15,000 patrons jammed into Madison Square Garden to see the Chicago Black Hawks play the New York Rangers.
There weren’t enough seats to accommodate all who wanted to see hockey. Many fans were compelled to stand one and two-deep in the mezzanine and end arena. Others were turned away because there were no seats left.
“When are they going to build a place big enough for hockey,” one mezzanine standee muttered.
On Monday, October 28th, he had his answer.
At 10:30 a.m., some 15 blocks from the present Garden, Irving Mitchell Felt, chairman and president of Madison Square Garden Corporation, launched construction of the new $70 million Garden which will be built atop Pennsylvania Station.
With a capacity of 25,000 for hockey, the new Garden is expected to be ready in three years.
Mr. Felt and leading civic and business leaders watched as a giant crane slowly lowered the first of six 5,700 pound stone eagles that have been perched on a ledge above the Penn Station entrance since 1910.
The eagles and other elements of the station above the surface will be removed to allow construction of the Garden, but the train terminal below will remain undisturbed.
In fact, during construction, the station’s 550 daily trains will continue carrying 200,000 passengers to and from the city.
The futuristic Garden will be built owned and operated by the Madison Square Garden Center Inc., which is 75 percent owned by the Madison Square Garden Corp. and 25 percent by the Pennsylvania Railroad.
Upon completion, the Rangers will move from the present Garden to the new palace. The current home of the Blueshirts opened in 1925 when the New York Americans were the only local hockey club in the NHL.
The Rangers moved in a year later and have been around ever since. The Amerks folded in 1942.
The need for new and larger quarters for hockey has become apparent in recent years as enthusiasm for the ice game described an upward spiral.
Attendance at the first three games this season showed no change as the box office rung up 15,000, 15,000 and 15,000, respectively.
It is hoped that planners for the new Garden don’t omit an important item left out of blueprints when the present structure was designed.
After the building was complete in 1925, the men discovered they had forgotten to install a box office.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior editor and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Brian Costello on Twitter at @BCostelloTHN