New York Life Insurance Building – Madison Square Garden original site – stories of New York

When I was in New York, some of the photos I took were to remind me of things to check when I got back home because I couldn’t remember what was so special about it. There was a feeling like, “I know that place. I’ve read about it.” But, I couldn’t remember what was the thing I had studied. Here is one of those, which yielded the most interesting New York Stories . . .

New York Life Insurance Building Placard - New York City photo - by cricketdiane 2010

New York Life Insurance Building Placard - New York City photo - by cricketdiane 2010

New York Life Building

The New York Life Insurance Building, New York, located at 51 Madison Avenue, Manhattan, New York City, across from Madison Square Park, is the headquarters of the New York Life Insurance Company.


New York Life Building from wikipedia

New York Life Building from wikipedia

Roughly paraphrased – this was the last skyscraper designed by the architect Cass Gilbert in Manhattan. He also designed the Woolworth building and a number of other famous works, including the United States Supreme Court Building. The New York Life Insurance Company building was built in 1926 on the site where the first two original Madison Square Gardens existed until 1925. The New York Life Insurance Company held the loans on the second Madison Square Garden built by the architect, Stanford White and decided to use the land for their headquarters when the Gardens lost money for the backers and the loans went into default, (more or less).

Before that, the P.T. Barnum’s Hippodrome occupied the site, along with a concert garden and the Union Depot housing two of New York’s railroads, (from 1837 – 1889, about 52 years.)

So, when I was researching this, I found from the first listing on wikipedia about the New York Life Insurance Building that Cass Gilbert was the architect and clicked over to his entry on wikipedia. He designed a lot of phenomenal spaces, including

and the Woolworth Building, and several state capitols – there is a great list of these on the wikipedia site with pictures.

I had looked up the building on the National Historic Register – (The New York Life Insurance Building) and on the NY Architecture site which yielded these interesting facts –

Designed by Cass Gilbert, the famed architect who also designed New York’s Woolworth Building and the U.S. Supreme Court, the building was inspired by the Salisbury Cathedral in England and is sheathed by 440,000 cubic feet of Indiana limestone. Its Gothic-styled structure, complete with 72 gargoyles, 40 stories and 2,180 windows, occupies a full city block adjacent to Manhattan’s Madison Square Park.

On December 12, 1928, the company’s then President Darwin P. Kingsley formally dedicated the building, and President Calvin Coolidge pressed a button in the White House that unfurled a U.S. flag in the new building.
The site is steeped in history. In the 1860s, the property housed the Grand Roman Hippodrome, P.T. Barnum’s circus arena, and later became the home of the original Madison Square Garden. Additionally, Winston Churchill’s mother, Jenny Jerome, once lived in a home next door to the site.


The building also has a pinnacle that stands 617 feet above street level. The pinnacle has been lit up since 1985 for the 140th birthday and is sheathed in gold leaf ceramic tile which was done that way in 1967, to celebrate the 140th anniversary, then redone in 1995 to honor the 150th anniversary.

New York Life Insurance Company Building New York City Lighted Gold Pinnacle - wikipedia



Then I found this which describes the entryway where apparently the public can view the original grand stairway and massive ornate lamps – (good place to take pictures since these things are not made that way anymore.) – and there is no fee to get to see it.

Site of the original Madison Square Garden 1890-1925 by Stanford White (the scene of his murder).The History
Built in 1928 by Cass Gilbert, designer of the landmark Woolworth Building, this massive 40-story structure is topped by a golden pyramid roof and occupies a site with an equally grand history. From 1837-1889, the land was home to the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad depot, a concert garden and P.T. Barnum’s Hippodrome. Until 1925, the site housed the original Madison Square Garden, designed by architect Stanford White.

Architectural Features
Pass through the grand bronze entryway doors, and you’ll find yourself in a lobby that seems infinite, illuminated with the hushed glow of 18 enormous hanging lamps. Even if you’re just taking the grand stairway to the subway station in the bottom of the building, be sure to look up on your short journey, or risk missing the elaborate coffered and vaulted ceilings.

the author of this section notes a thanks to –

With the New York Life Insurance Company design, Gilbert melded the neo-Gothic embellishments of his earlier buildings with the cubic geometries of 1920s skyscrapers, making this building a significant transition from the historical revival-style skyscrapers of the 1900s to the Art Deco towers of the late 1920s.


I had taken a couple pictures of the elements from the sidewalk –

cricketdiane10 - 11-28-10 - Day 6 - New York City New York Life Insurance Building Lanterns - cricketdiane photo 2010

cricketdiane10 - 11-28-10 - Day 6 - New York City New York Life Insurance Building Lanterns - cricketdiane photo 2010

But, what caught my attention when I was reading through the different elements as the researching online unfolded, was the murder of Stanford White that occurred on this site when it was the home of the second Madison Square Garden. He was the architect for that building and then I got to wondering what happened –

apparently Mr. Stanford White was a bit on the racy side . . .

The opening night celebration was attended by 17,000 people, some of whom paid as much as $50 per head. In the audience were some of the wealthiest, most influential figures of the age: J.P. Morgan, the Pierponts, the Whitneys, General William Tecumseh Sherman, and the architect Stanford White.

White, ironically, would spend his last hours in the roof garden cabaret 16 years later. It is a story that still fascinates.

Stanford White was not only America’s leading urban architect but also one of the most notorious of playboys. His name had been linked with many of the beauties of the age, including the Floradora Girls who performed nightly at the Garden’s Casino. One of those girls was a beautiful young woman named Evelyn Nesbitt who had married a Pittsburgh millionaire named Harry Thaw. White’s name had been romantically linked with Nesbitt before and after her marriage to Thaw. (and I found more about that story on some other sites.)

White designed the second of four successive buildings with the name Madison Square Garden, all built in the same place as the first. White’s massive facility featured the largest amphitheater in America, equipped with a tank for aquatic shows.

Madison Square Garden before 1925 - NYC Architecture site

Madison Square Garden before 1925 - NYC Architecture site



Also mentioned on that page –

Madison Square Garden II survived for 34 years until the New York Life Insurance Company which held a mortgage on the land, decided to demolish the building in 1924.


Apparently Stanford White had built himself an apartment in the Tower of the Madison Square Garden which was capped with a fully nude statue of Diana, the Roman goddess of the moon, the hunt and of love. (that statue ended up disappearing, but there is a copy of it that can be found – “In 1893 a hollow second version of the statue, 13 ft (4.0 m) tall and made of gilded copper, replaced the original. This is now at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and a copy is in the Museum of the City of New York.[2] Saint-Gaudens made several smaller variants in bronze, one of which was on display in the entryway of both Madison Square Garden III, built in 1925, and the current Madison Square Garden.” from wikipedia entry about Madison Square Garden 1890.)

Evelyn Nesbit

Evelyn Nesbit - the original Gibson girl - New York City 1901 - member of Floradora girls - wikipedia

1901 photograph by Rudolf Eickemeyer, Jr.

found on wikipedia

Eventually, Evelyn became one of the most in-demand artists’ models in New York. She was seductively beautiful with long, wavy red hair and a slender, shapely figure. Charles Dana Gibson, one of the most popular artists in the country at the time, rendered a pen-and-ink profile of Evelyn with her red hair arranged in the form of a question mark. The work, titled “The Eternal Question”[1], remains one of Gibson’s best known works and Evelyn entered the ranks of the famous turn-of-the-century “Gibson Girls.”


She is the Gibson girl whose portrait I’ve seen on many different things over the years – how amazing. The architect, Stanford White who was responsible for building the second Madison Square Garden which sat where the New York Life Insurance Building site is now, was enamored of Evelyn Nesbit –

As a chorus girl on Broadway in 1901, Nesbit was introduced to acclaimed architect Stanford White by Edna Goodrich,[2] who was a member along with Nesbit in the company performing Florodora at the Casino Theatre. White—a notorious womanizer known as “Stanny” by his close friends and relatives—was then 47 years of age to her 16.

White had a loft apartment on West Twenty-fourth Street above FAO Schwarz with its walkup doorway situated next to the toy store’s back delivery entrance. In her memoir Prodigal Days, Nesbit described her introduction to White at the apartment, decorated with heavy red velvet curtains and fine paintings, where White and a man named Reginald Ronalds poured her a glass of champagne and led her upstairs to a studio outfitted with a red velvet swing.[3]

as I said earlier – Mr. Stanford White was a bit on the racy side.



The wikipedia entry about Stanford White –

Stanford White (November 9, 1853 – June 25, 1906) was an Americanarchitect and partner in the architectural firm of McKim, Mead, and White, the frontrunner among Beaux-Arts firms. He designed a long series of houses for the rich and the very rich, and various public, institutional, and religious buildings, some of which can be found to this day in places like Sea Gate, Brooklyn. His design principles embodied the “American Renaissance“.

He also designed the Washington Square Arch in 1889 and the Century Club in New York City – among a long list of other things including the Boston Public Library. (and the Second Madison Square Garden in New York City 1890).

Washington Square Arch designed by Stanford White - New York City 1889 - wikipedia

Washington Square Arch

McKim, Mead and White also designed the American Academy in Rome, which crowns the Gianicolo hill, and looks across the city to the Villa Medici and the Borghese gardens. An imposing edifice, the American Academy is built in the style of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the north and south wings of which McKim, Mead, and White designed in 1911.

(note – Stanford White partner –

he joined Charles Follen McKim and William Rutherford Mead to create the firm, McKim, Mead and White, in 1879).

He also was the architect for the New York Herald Building built 1894 and which was demolished in 1921. from wikipedia –

When the Herald was still under the authority of its original publisher, Bennett, it was considered to be the most invasive and sensationalist of the leading New York papers at the time. Its ability to entertain the public with timely daily news made it the leading circulation paper of its time.

New York’s Herald Square is named after the New York Herald newspaper; in the north side of the square there is a sculpture commemorating the Bennetts. North of Herald Square is Times Square, which is named after rival The New York Times. (from)

James Gordon Bennett, Jr. (May 10, 1841 – May 14, 1918) was publisher of the New York Herald, founded by his father, James Gordon Bennett, Sr., who immigrated from Scotland. He was generally known as Gordon Bennett to distinguish him from his father.[1]

He was the youngest Commodore ever of the New York Yacht Club.In 1880, Bennett commissioned McKim, Mead, and White to design the Newport Casino in Newport, RI.

He did not marry until 73 to Maud Potter, widow of George de Reuter, son of Julius Paul Reuter, founder of Reuters news agency. He died on May 14, 1918 in Beaulieu-sur-Mer, Alpes-Maritimes, France.

And that is interesting because of how the Hearst papers handled it when Stanford White was killed by Evelyn Nesbit’s millionaire husband, calling it the “trial of the century.”

Also about Stanford White and his upper echelon friends –

He designed and decorated Fifth Avenue mansions for the Astors, the Vanderbilts (in 1905), and other high society families. His Washington Square Arch still stands in Washington Square Park, and so do many of his clubs, which were focal points of New York society: the Century, Metropolitan, Players, Lambs, Colony and Harmonie clubs. His clubhouse for the Atlantic Yacht Club, built in 1894 overlooking Gravesend Bay, burned down in 1934. Sons of society families also resided in White’s St. Anthony Hall Chapter House at Williams College (now occupied by college offices). [1][2] Pictured at: [3]

(from – )

So, what happened?

at the Madison Square Roof Garden (on the roof of a building that he had designed 15 years previously), White was shot point blank in the face and killed by Harry Kendall Thaw.[1] Thaw was the jealous millionaire husband of Evelyn Nesbit, a popular actress and artist’s model, with whom White had had a sexual relationship when she was 16 (to his 47).[3]

William Randolph Hearst‘s newspapers sensationalized the murder, and it became known as the Trial of the Century.

Years later, White’s son, Lawrence Grant White would write bitterly, “On the night of June 25th, 1906, while attending a performance at Madison Square Garden, Stanford White was shot from behind [by] a crazed profligate whose great wealth was used to besmirch his victim’s memory during the series of notorious trials that ensued.”

White was noted for his womanizing –  he had a red velvet swing installed in an apartment where Nesbit and other girls “in varying degrees of undress” would entertain him, which became a focal point of press coverage of the trial. There are conflicting accounts of whether this swing was in the “Giralda” tower at the old Madison Square Garden, or in a nearby building on 24th Street.[4]

(from –

Another interesting note –

White renovated the mansion at #16 Gramercy Park for actor Edwin Booth to be the headquarters for the Players Club. (there were a number of clubs in New York at that time, several of which included memberships for Stanford White – along with this one and the Century Club, also.)

The major archive for his firm, McKim, Mead, and White, is held by the New-York Historical Society.

Also, I found this very interesting about Mr. Henry Thaw who killed Stanford White, claiming it was because he wanted to defend his wife’s honor, Evelyn Nesbit . . .

Thaw has been credited with the invention of the speedball, an injected combination of morphine and/or heroin along with cocaine sometime between 1896 and 1906. He was also reported by newspapers at the time of his trial to have once consumed an entire bottle of laudanum in a single sitting and carry a special silver case full of syringes and other parts of a large “outfit” of injecting equipment.

After his expulsion from Harvard, Thaw bounced around between Pennsylvania and New York, injecting himself with both morphine and cocaine and frequenting Broadway shows, which he described as “studying.” In fact, Thaw made a habit of studying chorus girls, and this hobby first brought him into contact with noted architect Stanford White. White, who had a similar hobby, had made some disparaging remarks about Thaw to a group of chorus girls Thaw was engaged in wooing, and Thaw blamed their subsequent snub on White’s influence.

(from   – )


More about these things –

The Former New York Life Insurance Company Building, also known as the Clock Tower Building, located at 346 Broadway between Catherine Lane and Leonard Street, in Manhattan, New York City was built between 1894 and 1899.[2] The company’s headquarters building, originally built in 1868-1870, needed to be expanded eastward to Lafayette Street and Stephen Decatur Hatch was engaged for the job.[2]


Clock Tower Building New York City which had been the original New York Life Insurance Building - redesigned by Stanford White firm

Clock Tower Building New York City which had been the original New York Life Insurance Building - redesigned by Stanford White firm before the new building was built for the New York Life Insurance Company where the old Madison Square location had been

Hatch designed the extension, but died before construction could be completed.[3] The firm of McKim, Mead & White took over the work, and completed the extension in 1894, following Hatch’s design.[2] The company then decided to replace the original building as well, and McKim, Mead & White provided a “palazzo-like” design[2] with a clock tower whose clock was manufactured and installed by the E. Howard Clock Company.[4]

346 Broadway Tower Clock – Written by Marvin Schneider, 1985

The clock was manufactured and installed by the E. Howard Clock Company of Boston, New York and Chicago for the New York Life Insurance Company in 1897.

Prior to 1980 the clock had not worked for at least twenty years and had not been lighted for night-time viewing for over thirty years.

It was restored, as a gift to the City of New York, by Mr. Marvin Schneider of Brooklyn and Mr. Eric Reiner of Spring Valley, New York. Both are New York City employees who donated their services, working on this restoration on their lunch hours and days off for more than one year. The New York Daily News of December 4, 1979 described their effort: (please check the link for all of this.)

This clock is unusual, especially in New York City, in that it is completely original. Many clocks, including the New York City Hall clock and the Jefferson Market Courthouse clock, have been electrified. The 346 Broadway clock, in its original state, still lives up to the Howard Company’s guarantee to run accurate to within ten seconds a month.

A look inside (part of a series of photographs of the clock tower building / old New York Life Insurance Company building clock)

and the gears / works of the clock inside –


New York Life Building

The company was founded in 1845 as the Nautilus Insurance Company in New York City, with assets of just $17,000. It was renamed the New York Life Insurance Company in 1849. Its first headquarters were at 112-114 Broadway; the first president was James DePeyster Ogden. The current New York Life headquarters was designed by noted architect Cass Gilbert and completed in 1928. The New York Life building, at 51 Madison Avenue, was constructed during the presidency of Darwin P. Kingsley.

Key Dates:
1841: Nautilus Insurance Company is chartered to sell fire and marine insurance.
1849: A product shift is marked by name change to New-York Life Insurance Company.
1868: The company opens its first international office.
1892: A branch office system is implemented by company president John A. McCall.
1905: New York state investigation of insurance industry results in new regulations subsequently fought by New York Life.
1929: The company moves to Madison Avenue corporate headquarters.
1951: The first group insurance policies are issued.
1969: A separate entity is created to manage growing commercial and residential real estate holdings, (called Nautilus Realty Corporation, my note)

and –

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 45. St. James Press, 2002.


Salisbury remains the tallest church spire in the UK. To this day the large supporting pillars at the corners of the spire are seen to bend inwards under the stress. The addition of reinforcing tie beams above the crossing, designed by Christopher Wren in 1668, arrested further deformation.[6] The beams were hidden by a false ceiling, installed below the lantern stage of the tower.

The chapter house also displays the best-preserved of the four surviving original copies of Magna Carta. This copy came to Salisbury because Elias of Dereham, who was present at Runnymede in 1215, was given the task of distributing some of the original copies. Later, Elias became a Canon of Salisbury and supervised the construction of Salisbury Cathedral.

The design of the New York Life Insurance Building by Cass Gilbert was fashioned on the Salisbury Cathedral design according to the wikipedia entry about it. Surprisingly, one of only four surviving original copies of the Magna Carta are kept there.


About the first Madison Square Garden that sat on the site of the 1926 building for New York Life Insurance – owner of the property is listed as –

William Kissam Vanderbilt

Madison Square Garden (1879)

The building that became Madison Square Garden was originally the New York and Harlem Railroad passenger depot before being leased[1] to P.T. Barnum when the depot moved uptown in 1871. Barnum converted it into an oval arena 270 feet (82 m) long, with seats and benches in banks, that he called the “Great Roman Hippodrome”,[1] where he presented circuses and other performances. The roofless building, which was also called “Barnum’s Monster Classical and Geological Hippodrome,” was 420 feet (130 m) by 200 feet (61 m).[1]

In 1876 the open-air arena was leased to band leader Patrick Gilmore, who renamed it “Gilmore’s Garden” and presented flower shows, beauty contests, temperance and revivial meetings, and the first Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, called at the time (1877) the “First Annual N.Y. Bench Show.”[1] Gilmore also presented boxing, but since competitive boxing matches were technically illegal at the time, he called then “exhibitions” or “illustrated lectures.”

Note that Susan B. Anthony story and her attendance as well as membership in a number of temperance society goings on and her father at one point worked for the New York Life Insurance company – ( just as an aside) –

A little more from that wikipedia entry –

After the death of Commodore Vanderbilt, who owned the site, his son William Kissam Vanderbilt took back control and announced the renaming of the arena to “Madison Square Garden” on May 31, 1879.[1] Vanderbilt presented sporting events such as indoor track and field meets, a convention of Elks, the National Horse Show and more boxing, including some bouts featuring John L. Sullivan, who began a four-year series of exhibitions on July 1882, drawing over-capacity crowds.[1] P.T. Barnum also used the Garden to exhibit Jumbo, the elephant he had bought from the London Zoo; he drew sufficient business to recover the $10,000 pricetag.[1]

Another notable use of the first Garden was as a velodrome, an oval bicycle racing track with banked curves. At the time, bicycle racing was one of the biggest sports in the country. “Races testing speed and endurance drew huge crowds, with the top riders among the sports stars of their day. The bike races at Madison Square Garden were all the rage around the turn of the 20th century. A velodrome circuit flourished around the country, with the best racers earning $100,000 to $150,000 a year at a time when carpenters were lucky to make $5,000.”[3] Madison Square Garden was the most important bicycle racing track in the United States and the Olympic discipline known as the Madison is named after the original Garden.

(from  –

This entry also describes the group who purchased the Garden from Vanderbilt to create the second Madison Square Garden there –

Vanderbilt eventually sold what Harper’s Weekly called his “patched-up grumy, drafty combustible, old shell” to a syndicate that included J. P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, James Stillman and W. W. Astor, who closed it to build a new arena designed by noted architect Stanford White. Demolition began in July 1889,[1] and the second Madison Square Garden, which cost more than a half-million dollars to build, opened on June 6, 1890. It was demolished in 1926, and the New York Life Building, designed by Cass Gilbert and completed in 1928, replaced it on the site.

The new building, which replaced an antiquated open-air structure which was previously a railroad passenger depot, was built by a syndicate which included J. P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, P. T. Barnum,[2], Darius Mills, James Stillman and W. W. Astor. White gave them a Beaux-Arts structure with a Moorish feel, including a minaret-like tower modeled after Giralda, the bell tower of the Cathedral of Seville [2] – soaring 32 stories – the city’s second tallest building at the time – dominating Madison Square Park. It was 200 feet (61 m) by 485 feet (148 m), and the main hall, which was the largest in the world, measured 200 feet (61 m) by 350 feet (110 m), with permanent seating for 8,000 people and floor space for thousands more. It had a 1200-seat theatre, a concert hall with a capacity of 1500, the largest restaurant in the city and a roof garden cabaret.[3] The final cost for the building, which the New York Times called “one of the great institutions of the town, to be mentioned along with Central Park and the bridge of Brooklyn” was $3 million.[3]

Here is the part about the statue of Diana that had originally been set atop the Madison Square Garden Giralda Tower –

Topping the Garden’s tower was a statue of Diana, by noted sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, which caused Madison Square Park to become known as “Diana’s little wooded park”. The original bronze statue was 18 ft (5.5 m) tall and weighed 1,800 lb (820 kg), and spun with the wind; Saint-Gaudens had draped the statue in cloth, but this was soon blown away.[2]

The statue was put in place on in 1891, but was soon thought to be too large by Saint-Gaudens and White. It was removed and placed on top of a building at The World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, but the bottom half was destroyed by a fire after the close of the Exhibition, and the top half was lost.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens statue of Diana originally on the Madison Square Garden tower

Augustus Saint-Gaudens' statue of Diana originally set on the top of an orb on the Madison Square Garden tower where Stanford White had an apartment

In 1893 a hollow second version of the statue, 13 ft (4.0 m) tall and made of gilded copper, replaced the original. This is now at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and a copy is in the Museum of the City of New York.[2] Saint-Gaudens made several smaller variants in bronze, one of which was on display in the entryway of both Madison Square Garden III, built in 1925, and the current Madison Square Garden.

The opening of the new arena was attended by over 17,000 people – who paid up to $50 for tickets to the event – including J.P. Morgan, the Pierponts, the Whitneys and General William Tecumseh Sherman.[3]

Despite its importance to the New York cultural scene in the early 20th century, Madison Square Garden II was never any more of a financial success than the original Garden was,[4] and the New York Life Insurance Company, which held the mortgage on it, decided to tear it down to make way for a new headquarters building, which would become the landmark Cass Gilbert-designed New York Life Building. Construction on the new building began in 1926, and was completed in 1928.

Cass Gilbert (1859–1934)

Cass Gilbert was highly regarded by politicians and other luminaries of the day. President Theodore Roosevelt made him chairman of the Council of Fine Arts, and President Wilson reappointed him. Gilbert received many gold metals in the United States and Europe. The Society of Arts and Sciences awarded him for inaugurating the age of skyscrapers. He served as president of the American Institute of Architects in 1908 and 1909, and helped found the Architectural League of New York, serving as its president for two years.

The Foley Square Courthouse was designed by Cass Gilbert, one of the most prominent architects of his day. Gilbert (1859-1934) was born in Zanesville, Ohio and began his architectural career as an apprentice in the office of Abraham Radcliff of St. Paul. In 1878, he enrolled in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he spent a year studying architecture. In 1880, he spent several months travelling and studying in England, France and Italy before returning to New York and joining the prestigious firm of McKim, Mead and White as Stanford White’s personal assistant.


Aha – so Cass Gilbert was Stanford White’s personal assistant before White was killed by Henry Thaw – Hmm…..

Also –

Madison Square is probably best known around the world for providing the name of Madison Square Garden, a sports arena and its successor which were located just northeast of the park for 47 years, until 1925. The current Madison Square Garden, the fourth such building, is not in the area. Notable buildings around Madison Square include the Flatiron Building, the Met Life Tower, and the New York Life Building.

Madison Square is formed by the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Broadway at 23rd Street in the New York City borough of Manhattan. The square was named for James Madison, fourth President of the United States and the principal author of the United States Constitution.[1]

“Madison Cottage”, also known as “Corporal Thompson’s Roadhouse”[4] at Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street, in 1852

The area where Madison Square is now had been a swampy hunting ground, and first came into existence as a public space in 1686. In 1807, “The Parade”, a tract of about 240 acres (97.12 hectares), was set aside for use as an arsenal, a barracks, and a potter’s field. There was a United States Army arsenal there from 1811 until 1825 when it became the New York House of Refuge for the Society for the Protection of Juvenile Delinquents, for children under sixteen committed by the courts for indefinite periods. In 1839 the building was destroyed by fire.[1][5][6] The size of the tract was reduced in 1814 to 90 acres (36.42 hectares), and it received its current name.

In 1839, a farmhouse located at what is now Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street was turned into a roadhouse under the direction of William “Corporal” Thompson (1807–1872), who later renamed it “Madison Cottage”, after the former president. This house was the last stop for people travelling northward out of the city, or the first stop for those arriving from the north. Though Madison Cottage itself was razed in 1853 to make room for forst Franconi’s Hippodrome[4] and then the Fifth Avenue Hotel,[7] Madison Cottage ultimately gave rise to the names for the adjacent avenue (Madison Avenue) and park, which are therefore only indirectly named after President James Madison.

The roots of the New York Knickerbocker Base Ball Club, one of the first professional baseball teams, are in Madison Square. Amateur players began in 1842 to use a vacant sandlot at 27th and Madison for their games and, eventually, Alexander Cartwright suggested they draw up rules for the game and start a professional club. When they lost their sandlot to development, they moved to Hoboken, where they played their first game in 1846.[1][6]

On May 10, 1847, Madison Square Park opened to the public. In 1853, plans were made to build the Crystal Palace there, but strong public opposition and protests caused the palace to be relocated to Bryant Park. From the 1850s to the 1870s the square was the center of an aristocratic neighborhood of brownstones, where Theodore Roosevelt, and Edith Wharton were born.[1]

The Fifth Avenue Hotel, a luxury hotel built by developer Amos Eno, and initially known as “Eno’s Folly” because it was so far away from the hotel district, stood on the west side of Madison Square from 1859 to 1908. The first hotel in the city with elevators, which were steam-operated and known as the “vertical railroad”, it had fireplaces in every bedroom, private bathrooms, and public rooms which saw many elegant events. Notable visitors to the hotel included Mark Twain, famed Swedish singer Jenny Lind, U.S. Presidents Chester A. Arthur and Ulysses S. Grant and the Prince of Wales.

Madison Square was also the site in November 1864 of a political rally, complete with torchlight parade and fireworks, in support of the Presidential candidacy of Democrat General George B. McClellan, who was running against his old boss, Abraham Lincoln.

Madison Square Park was relandscaped in 1870 by William Grant and Ignatz Pilat,[8] a former assistant to Frederick Law Olmstead. The new design brought in the sculptures that now reside in the park. One notable sculpture is the seated bronze portrait of Secretary of StateWilliam H. Seward, by Randolph Rogers (1876), which sits at the southwest entrance to the park. Seward, who is best remembered for purchasing Alaska (“Seward’s Folly”) from Russia, was the first New Yorker to have a monument erected in his honor.

Other statues in the park depict Roscoe Conkling, who served in Congress in both the House and the Senate; Chester Alan Arthur, the twenty-first President of the United States; and Admiral David Farragut, who is supposed to have said “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” in the Battle of Mobile Bay during the Civil War. The Farragut Memorial (1881), which was first erected at Fifth Avenue and 26th Street and moved to the Square’s northern end in 1935,[12] was designed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens (sculpture) and architect Stanford White (base).

Other park highlights are an ornamental fountain added in 1867 and the Eternal Light Flagpole, dedicated on Armistice Day 1923 and restored in 2002, which commemorates the return of American soldiers and sailors from World War I.

In 1876 a large celebration was held in Madison Square Park to honor the centennial of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and from 1876 to 1882, the torch and arm of the Statue of Liberty were exhibited in the park in an effort to raise funds for the building of the base of the statue.

The second Madison Square Garden, designed by Stanford White

Madison Square was the site of some of the first electric street lighting in the city. In 1879 the city authorized the Brush Electric Light Company to build a generating station at 25th Street, powered by steam, that provided electricity for a series of arc lights which were installed on Broadway between Union Square (at 14th Street) and Madison Square. The lights were illuminated on 20 December 1880. A year later, 160-foot (49 m) “sun towers” with clusters of arc lights were erected in Union and Madison Squares.[6]

America’s first community Christmas tree was illuminated in Madison Square Park on December 24, 1912, an event which is commemorated by the Star of Hope, installed in 1916 at the southern end of the park.

In 1936, to commemorate the centennial of the opening of Madison Avenue, the Fifth Avenue Association donated a tree from the Virginia estate of former president James Madison. It is located toward the center of the eastern perimeter of the park.

The building that became the first Madison Square Garden at 26th Street and Madison Avenue was originally the passenger depot of the New York and Boston Rail Road. When the depot moved uptown in 1871, the building was sold to P.T. Barnum who converted it into the open-air “Hippodrome” for circus performances. In 1876 it became “Gilmore’s Garden,” where Patrick Gilmore presented marathon races, temperance and revival meetings, balls, the first Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show (1877), as well as boxing “exhibitions” or “illustrated lectures”, since competitive boxing matches were illegal at the time. It was finally renamed “Madison Square Garden” in 1879 by William Kissam Vanderbilt, the son of Commodore Vanderbilt, who continued to present sporting events, the National Horse Show, and more boxing, including bouts by John L. Sullivan that drew huge crowds. Vanderbilt eventually sold what Harper’s Weekly called his “patched-up grumy, drafty combustible, old shell” to a syndicate that included J. P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, James Stillman and W. W. Astor.[6][15]

The building that replaced it was a Beaux-Arts structure designed by the noted architect Stanford White. White kept an apartment in the building, and was shot dead in the Garden’s rooftop restaurant by millionaire Harry K. Thaw over an affair White had with Thaw’s wife, the well-known actress Evelyn Nesbit, who White seduced when she was 16. The resulting sensational press coverage of the scandal caused Thaw’s trial to be one of the first Trials of the Century.

Madison Square became known as “Diana’s little wooded park” after the huge bronze statue of the Roman goddess Diana by Augustus Saint-Gaudens that stood atop the 32-story tower of White’s arena – at the time it was the second-tallest building in the city.

The Garden hosted the annual French Ball, both the Barnum and the Ringling Brothers circuses, orchestral performances, light operas and romantic comedies, and the 1924 Democratic National Convention, which nominated John W. Davis after 103 ballots, but it was never a financial success.[6] It was torn down soon after, and the venue moved uptown. Today, the arena retains its name, even though it is no longer located in the area of Madison Square.

Nearby, on Madison Avenue between 26th and 27th Streets, on the site of the old Madison Square Garden, is the New York Life Building, built in 1928 and designed by Cass Gilbert, with a square tower topped by a striking gilded pyramid. Also of note is the statuary adorning the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court on Madison Avenue at 25th Street.

Also the first skating rink in New York City was at the Madison Square Garden complex, (my note).


Harry Kendall Thaw

Education Harvard University
Known for Murder of Stanford White
Spouse Evelyn Florence Nesbit

He was born on February 12, 1871 to Pittsburgh coal and railroad baron William Thaw.[1][2]

Violent and paranoid from a very young age (his mother claimed his problems had started in the womb), Harry spent his childhood bouncing from private school to private school in Pittsburgh, never doing well and described by teachers as unintelligent and a troublemaker. Still, as the son of William Thaw, he was granted admission to the University of Pittsburgh, where he was to study law, though he apparently did little studying. After a few years he used his name and social status to transfer to Harvard University.

Thaw later bragged that he had studied poker at Harvard. He also went on long drinking binges, attended cockfights, and spent much of his time romancing young women. He was expelled after being picked up for chasing a cab driver through the streets of Cambridge with a shotgun, though he claimed it was unloaded.

Thaw has been credited with the invention of the speedball, an injected combination of morphine and/or heroin along with cocaine sometime between 1896 and 1906. He was also reported by newspapers at the time of his trial to have once consumed an entire bottle of laudanum in a single sitting and carry a special silver case full of syringes and other parts of a large “outfit” of injecting equipment.

After his expulsion from Harvard, Thaw bounced around between Pennsylvania and New York, injecting himself with both morphine and cocaine and frequenting Broadway shows, which he described as “studying.” In fact, Thaw made a habit of studying chorus girls, and this hobby first brought him into contact with noted architect Stanford White. White, who had a similar hobby, had made some disparaging remarks about Thaw to a group of chorus girls Thaw was engaged in wooing, and Thaw blamed their subsequent snub on White’s influence.

In the spring of 1906, Harry and Evelyn decided to travel to Europe and New York. On June 25, while in New York, Evelyn and Harry saw Stanford White while dining at the Cafe Martin. After learning that White was to attend the premiere of Mam’zelle Champagne, a show the Thaws were also planning to attend, Harry took Evelyn back to their hotel and disappeared, returning just in time to pick up Evelyn and head to the show — curiously dressed in a black overcoat, though it was a hot evening. At the rooftop theatre of Madison Square Garden, the hat check girl repeatedly tried to relieve Harry of his heavy coat, but he refused. He wandered through the crowd during the show, approaching White’s table several times, only to back away on each occasion. During the finale, “I Could Love A Million Girls”, Thaw produced a pistol and fired three shots at close range into Stanford White’s face, killing him.[2]

The crowd initially suspected the shooting might be part of the show, as elaborate practical jokes were popular in high society at the time. Soon, however, it became apparent that Stanford White was dead. Thaw, holding the gun aloft, walked through the crowd and met Evelyn at the elevator. When she asked what he’d done, Thaw said that he had “probably saved your life.”

For his part, Thaw continued to live as he had always lived. The year after his release, he was accused of sexually assaulting and horsewhipping Fred Gump, Jr., a high-school student he brought from Kansas City to New York. When Thaw was indicted for the assault, he fled to Philadelphia, where he was found with a self-inflicted slash to the throat. He was again adjudicated insane, and sent to an asylum. After seven years, he was declared sane and released in 1924.[1]



An interesting note about the Florodora Girls – ( Evelyn Nesbit was a Florodora Girl when she met Stanford White and Thaw.)

  • In the film On the Town, Chip (Frank Sinatra) rides with Brunhilde Esterhazy (Betty Garrett), a female cab driver, who sings that she wants him to “Come Up to My Place.” He is picking sights to see from an out-of-date guidebook and tells her that he wants to see the Florodora Girls. She informs him that the show closed many years ago.

The famous double sextet, “”Tell Me Pretty Maiden”, in the NY production, 1900

FloroDora Girls NYC 1900 - wikipedia

FloroDora Girls NYC 1900 - wikipedia - The famous double sextet, ""Tell Me Pretty Maiden", in the NY production, 1900 which became the most successful show tune of its time

Florodora’s famous double sextet, “Tell Me Pretty Maiden“, became the most successful show tune of its time. Other songs ranged from traditional waltzes (“The Silver Star of Love” and “The Fellow Who Might”) to the more quirkily rhythmic and long-lined numbers for which Stuart was known. A good part of the success of the musical was attributed to its lovely sextet of chorines, called “the English Girls” in the score, but soon popularly dubbed the “Florodora Girls”.

These six roles were filled by identically sized women, all 5 ft. 4 in. (about 1.63 m) and 130 lb (59 kg), and were the object of popular adoration: young male admirers persuaded many to leave the show to marry them, and more than 70 women played these roles in the first run of the play in New York. The six women who were the original sextet members in New York were: Marie Wilson, Agnes Wayburn, Marjorie Relyea, Vaughn Texsmith, Daisy Green and Margaret Walker. A 1930 MGM film starring Marion Davies was called The Florodora Girl.[3]

Florodora was the first of a series of successful musicals by Stuart, including The Silver Slipper (1901), The School Girl (1903), The Belle of Mayfair (1906), and Havana (1908).



Century Association

Official name: Century Association Clubhouse
Designated: July 15, 1982
Reference #: 82003369[1]
Location: 7 West 43rd St, Manhattan, New York City
Coordinates: 40°45′16″N 73°58′52″W / 40.75444°N 73.98111°W / 40.75444; -73.98111
Built: 1889-1891[2]
Architect: McKim, Mead & White
Architectural style: Italian Renaissance Revival

The Century Association is a New York City club with a distinguished history. It evolved out an an earlier organization – the Sketch Club, founded in 1829 by editor and poet William Cullen Bryant and his friends – and was established in 1847 by Bryant and others as a club to promote interest in the fine arts and literature[3] which was open to “Artists, Literary Men, Scientists, Physicians, Officers of the Army and Navy, members of the Bench and Bar, Engineers, Clergymen, Representatives of the Press, Merchants and men of leisure.”[4]

It was originally intended to have a limited membership of 100 men.[3] Its early members included Bryant, painters Asher Durand, Winslow Homer, and John Frederick Kensett, architect Stanford White, judge Charles Patrick Daly [5], author Lewis Gaylord Clark [4] and architect Calvert Vaux,[6] the co-creator with Frederick Law Olmstead of Central Park. However, by the middle 1850s, the membership primarily consisted of merchants, businessmen, lawyers and doctors.[4]

43rd Street clubhouse

The Century Association, which at the time had about 800 members,[3] left 15th Street in 1891 for a McKim, Mead & White-designed Italian Renaissance-style palazzo at 7 West 43rd Street, which is also a New York City landmark, designated in 1967,[2] as well as on the National Register of Historic Places since 1982. McKim, Mead & White’s design established a preferred style for private clubhouse buildings all over the United States in the following decades.[2] The building was restored by Jan Hird Pokorny in 1992.[2]

Century Association

Century Association Clubhouse in 1892
Century Association Clubhouse in 1892


another look at the Madison Square Garden in place before the New York Life Insurance Company building was built from the view of Madison Square Park –

Madison Square Park 1908 - Madison Square Garden Tower - wikipedia

The tower of Madison Square Garden dominates the skyline over Madison Square and Madison Square Park in this 1908 image. - from wikipedia


A little bit more –

Construction of the arch

Washington Square Arch framing the Empire State Building

In 1889, to celebrate the centennial of George Washington‘s inauguration as president of the United States, a large plaster and wood Memorial Arch was erected over Fifth Avenue just north of the park. The temporary plaster and wood arch was so popular that in 1892 a permanent marble arch, designed by the New York architect Stanford White, was erected, standing 77 feet (23 m) was built just inside the park. During the excavations for the eastern leg of the arch, human remains, a coffin and a gravestone dated 1803 were uncovered 10 feet (3 m) below ground level.[4] The inscription on the arch reads:

Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair. The event is in the hand of God. — WashingtonWhite modeled the arch after the 1806 Arc de Triomphe in Paris. In 1918 two statues of George Washington were added to the north side.

The first fountain was completed in 1852. The fountain was replaced in 1872. The monument to Giuseppe Garibaldi was unveiled in 1888.[4]



Dateline – (mine for this stuff)

wed – April 4, 1905 (Evelyn Nesbitt and Thaw) she was 21 years old? five years after Stanford White invited her over – and took her virginity

Thaw killed White on June 25, 1906 (fourteen and a half months after he married Evelyn Nesbit)

but he had been seeing her awhile before marrying her

Thaw was very jealous – one of the men she was dating – a polo player named Waterbury died young at 45 – in 1920 – She also dated John Barrymore and newspaper magnate son, Robert J. Collier

Evelyn Nesbit was born on Christmas Day, December 25, 1884

She was 16 when first introduced to Stanford White and he was 47 – she lost her virginity to him while drunk in his room of mirrors in his apartment above FAO Schwartz toy store – on 23rd St?

She was barely 17, in 1901 when John Barrymore was courting her and her mother didn’t believe he and his stage family had enough money to be appropriate for her.

As White moved on to other young, virginal women, Nesbit was courted by the young John Barrymore, beginning in 1901. The two met when Barrymore caught a performance of The Florodora Girls and sent flowers backstage. Barrymore, who was from a well known theatrical family, was then 19 and seeking a career in cartooning. He was considered too poor by her mother to be a suitable match for the 17-year-old Nesbit. Her mother and White were enraged when they found out about the relationship. However, Nesbit was finally smitten with someone her own age and often returned to Barrymore’s apartment after hours. White, still a strong influence in her life, arranged to send her away to a boarding school in Wayne, New Jersey (run by the mother of film director Cecil B. DeMille) in part to extricate her from John Barrymore. Barrymore in the meantime proposed marriage to Nesbit, in the presence of Mrs Nesbit and White, but Evelyn turned down his offer.

Before that –

Stanford White had endeared himself to Nesbit’s mother by making arrangements for her son to be admitted to the Chester Military Academy near Philadelphia, and she placed so much trust in the architect that when she arranged an out-of-town trip, Stanford White and Evelyn Nesbit saw her off at the train station, where she left her daughter in his care.[5]

Several nights after her mother left for Pittsburgh, Nesbit was summoned to the apartment by White, where the two shared dinner and several glasses of champagne before she was given a tour that ended in the “Mirror Room.” On the same upper floor as the studio featuring the velvet swing, the ten-by-ten room held a green velvet-covered couch and walls and ceilings covered with mirrors. Later, after more champagne, the two returned downstairs and Nesbit tried on a yellow satin kimono before she “passed out.” She recounted that she awoke in bed, nearly naked with White lying beside her, and that she “entered that room a virgin,” but did not come out as one.[6]

Later, Nesbit related this story to millionaire Harry Thaw after he repeatedly hounded her to know why she refused to marry him. She later did, but at the end of her life, Nesbit claimed that the charismatic “Stanny” was the only man she had ever loved.

In later life –

She lived quietly for several years in Northfield, New Jersey. She overcame suicide attempts, alcoholism, and an addiction to morphine, and in her later years taught classes in ceramics. She was a technical adviser on the 1955 movie The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing.

Nesbit published two memoirs, The Story Of My Life (1914), and Prodigal Days (1934).

Very interesting . . .

4 Responses to “New York Life Insurance Building – Madison Square Garden original site – stories of New York”
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  3. Abbey Sales says:

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