The site upon which Madison Square Garden was eventually established was originally occupied by a small passenger depot of the New York and Harlem Railroad. The site was vacated by the railroad in 1871 when it was moved uptown. The site was vacant until 1874 when it was leased to P. T. Barnum who converted it into an open oval arena 270 feet (82 m) long, with seats and benches in banks, which he named the Great Roman Hippodrome where he presented circuses and other performances. The roofless building was also called Barnum’s Monster Classical and Geological Hippodrome and measured 420 feet (130 m) by 200 feet (61 m).
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, music concerts, temperance and revival meetings, walking marathons and the first Westminster Kennel Club Dog Scalled at the time (1877) the “First Annual N.Y. Bench Show.” Gilmore also presented boxing, but since competitive boxing matches were technically illegal at the time, he called them “exhibitions” or “illustrated lectures.”
1939 Nazis held meeting in the garden.