Suzanne Hinman's The Grandest Madison Square Garden
reviewed by Paul Ranogajec, July 23, 2019
The Gotham Center for New York History, www.gothamcenter.org/blog
Madison Square Garden was among the premier places to see and be seen in New York City at the turn of the twentieth century. As Suzanne Hinman amply documents in her new book, this palace of popular entertainment was truly a modern wonder of architecture and spectacle. Like the old Penn Station (another McKim, Mead and White building that sadly no longer graces the city's streets) the Garden helped define the aesthetic and social landscapes of New York in the years around 1900.
Hinman devotes substantial space to documenting the design and construction process, the Garden's numerous functions and social uses, and the surprisingly complex history of its tower-topping Diana sculpture. On these counts, hers is a typical building biography. But Hinman is equally interested in the personal lives of architect Stanford White and sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. And by recounting details of their private (and often not-so-private) affairs in relation to the building and the sculpture, she constructs an engaging story centered in and around an important Gilded Age monument.
The book presents a wealth of facts and storylines on two tracks: the first an art-historical concern with designs, precedents, art production, and critical reception; the second a more journalistic account of the sometimes salacious doings of a group of privileged men. Scouring the personal papers of White held at the Avery Library at Columbia University and the New-York Historical Society and those of Saint-Gaudens at the Baker Library at Dartmouth College, in addition to substantial reliance on the contemporary press, Hinman gives an unusually detailed account of these men's artistic and carnal passions. And Diana is there among it all, weaving in and out among the chapters on the artists' social milieu, acting to cohere the disparate threads of art and social history into a fascinating story that swirls around the gilded figure.
....The Grandest Madison Square Garden will appeal to a wide audience. It tells an inherently fascinating story and does so with evident enthusiasm. . . .its account of the design and construction of the Garden and its crowning Diana will make it an obligatory reference for future work on White and Saint-Gaudens, and anyone interested in New York's social and cultural history in the Gilded Age will find fascinating details and copious references.
"Highly Recommended." Choice, the official publication of the Association of College and Research Libraries
The Minneapolis Star Tribune / Washington Post
Business bookshelf: The storied history of Madison Square Garden
The Grandest Madison Square Garden
'The Grandest Madison Square Garden'
Suzanne Hinman, Syracuse University Press, 472 pages, $39.95. The building that today bears the name of Madison Square Garden dates to the 1960s, and is a mile or so from the actual Madison Square. Suzanne Hinman's book, "The Grandest Madison Square Garden," tells the story of the second of Madison Square Garden's four incarnations: the building that made the site world-famous as a venue for Barnum & Bailey's circus, Wild West shows, championship prizefights, six-day bicycle races, religious revivals and musical concerts. Hinman uses the construction of the second Madison Square Garden as an armature upon which to hang a depiction of the Gilded Age. Two artists form the core of Hinman's narration: the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens — the maker of statuary that today is the pride of Central Park, Boston Common and Lincoln Park in Chicago — and the architect Stanford White, principal architect of the Garden and the designer of many of the settings of his friend Saint-Gaudens's sculptures. The story of these two friends and their associates accounts for at least half of the book, and Hinman was undoubtedly wise to make it so. A book concerned solely with the $1.5 million of capital stock needed to get the project going, the inevitable cost overruns and the engineering challenges that had to be conquered would have been interesting to a limited audience. Far more entertaining is the colorful description of the venue itself, White's scandalous murder and then the decline of that second incarnation of the Garden. Two other venues would bear its name elsewhere, but the magic was long gone.
"What a splendid book! This scholarly history of the second Madison Square Garden (1890-1925) provides an important addition to the story of New York City Gilded Age architecture, entertainment, and popular culture . . . This book is especially rich in expanding our knowledge of the work of the architect Stanford White and the sculptor Augustus Saint- Gaudens. This is a book for scholars and lay readers alike." - Paul R. Baker, author of Stanny: The Gilded Life of Stanford White
"Hinman's skillful narrative hand, sense of structure, and the incredible amount of historical detail she weaves into every chapter make a wonderful book for anyone who enjoys a great read."—Esther Crain, author of The Gilded Age in New York, 1870–1910
"Leaving no stone—or brick—unturned she weaves together every tantalizing aspect of the creation of Stanford White's magnificent Madison Square Garden. I found this in-depth work by Suzanne Hinman quite remarkable."—Miriam Berman, author of Madison Square: The Park and Its Celebrated Landmarks
"Using the building as an armature Suzanne Hinman narrates a detailed and wide-ranging account of the Gilded Age from its picaresque characters, social choreography, and cultural preferences to its volatile economy, favorite restaurants, and even construction technology, with Stanford White and his beloved Madison Square Garden at the center of it all. That armature can support a great deal of information and Dr. Hinman uses it to full and entertaining advantage." - Samuel G. White, Architect and co-author of Stanford White, Architect
"A fascinating book, as engaging and enthralling as a novel." Annarella review at GoodReads.com