intersection 02.3.11

Madison Square - Part 2

Baseball got its start in the Madison Square area in 1845. The Knickerbockers played what was then called the "New York Game," which evolved into baseball as we know it. Edith Wharton got her start here, too, having been born at 14 West 23rd Street (at that location is now—wait for it—a Starbucks). Jennie Jerome, daughter of tycoon Leonard Jerome, lived in a magnificent mansion at Madison and 26th, built in 1859. The home had a 600-seat theater and stables paneled in black walnut. The noted beauty later became Lady Randolph Churchill (Winston's mother). 

Another beauty, the Appellate Division of the NYS Supreme Court, is located a block south from the site of the now-demolished Jerome home. The exterior of the Beaux Arts building (1900) by James Brown Lord incorporates 30 figures by 16 sculptors of major lawgivers and ideas in the history of law. One of these is Justice by Daniel Chester French (who created Lincoln in marble for the Lincoln Memorial). [Photo: Beyond My Ken] In 1990, a moving memorial to victims of the Holocaust—a relief depicting the layout of Auschwitz—was placed on the courthouse's facade.

Sculpture is a major feature of the park. In addition to Admiral Farragut noted yesterday, you'll find Chester A. Arthur and New York Senator Roscoe Conkling. Conkling's placement in the park owes to the fact that he collapsed there in the Blizzard of 1888 on the way to his nearby home in the Hoffman House apartment annex. (He refused a cab's demand for $50 to take him uptown from his office and decided to walk it. The whole story here.) He died soon after from exposure. Another NY Senator, and later Lincoln's Secretary of State, William H. Seward, is memorialized in the park, the first New Yorker to get his own statue. Even the Statue of Liberty—at least part of her—called Madison Square Park home for a while. In 1876, Liberty's arm (with torch) was brought to the park for the purpose of raising harbor installation funds.

Hospitality has long been concentrated in this part of Manhattan. Two centuries before Eataly was a twinkling in Mario Batali's eye, Madison Cottage (image at the top of the article), a well-known tavern, stood at the site of the former Toy Building, where Eataly is now. The tavern was torn down in 1852, replaced by Franconi's Hippodrome (where you could see horse racing), which was razed and replaced in 1858 by the Fifth Avenue Hotel. The most elegant hotel of its day, it could accommodate 1000 guests and boasted a "vertical railway car"—what they called the first passenger elevator. In 1876, Delmonico's moved north to 26th between Fifth and Broadway. Nearby, on the west side of Broadway between 24th and 25th, was the swank Hoffman House, with its famous large painting Nymphs and Satyr (with, shockingly, nude women!) by William Bouguereau (now in The Clark Museum in Williamstown). Sarah Bernhardt had rooms upstairs.

In the last 20 years, Madison Square Park and environs has been restored to a high lustre after a decades-long decline, thanks to the the Madison Square Park Conservancy and restaurateur Danny Meyer's bear hug of the area.

Through February 28th, you can see three site-specific Conservancy commissions of work by Jim Campbell called Scattered Light. And every Sunday at 11am, there are free tours sponsored by the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership, meeting at the southwest corner of the park in front of William Seward. (Ignoring the Conkling lesson, they meet regardless of the weather). One of the tour guides is Miriam Berman, author of Madison Square: The Park and Its Celebrated Landmarks.

[Madison Square - Part 1]

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