Our construction division’s first project for an outside firm, Madison Square Garden.
Marilyn Monroe had famously sung “Happy Birthday.” But by then that structure had become antiquated, and Irving and Jack Felt, enterprising real estate brothers, made a deal to erect a new Madison Square Garden above Pennsylvania Station at 33rd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues.
A study showed that 90 percent of people who came to the Eighth Avenue Garden did so by public transportation, and the Felts reasoned that since two subway lines and the Long Island Railroad commuter lines went through Penn Station, siting the new Garden at Penn Station would mean even more business for the new facility.
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In addition to the Garden, the complex was to include a linked office tower known as Two Penn Plaza—linked, in that the basic equipment for the both buildings’ heating and air-conditioning systems were to be in the office building.
The Felts, real estate owner/brokers of long standing in the city, had good connections to City Hall, and the combination of their deep knowledge of the real estate market and their political savvy had produced the opportunity to create the new Madison Square Garden. As their architect for the Garden, they engaged Charles Luckman. Earlier, as the president of Lever Brothers, Luckman had had much to do in the designing of Lever House, the Lever Brothers’ modern glass skyscraper headquarters on Park Avenue in New York; after that feat, Luckman had retired as a corporate executive and had once more taken up his first love, decorating.
As joint venture partners in the construction of the new Madison Square Garden, two other big players were involved: Turner Construction, a New York-based general contractor, and the Del Webb construction firm. Webb’s firm was not only a well known general contracting firm in the West, but Webb himself was a recognized figure in the sports field, and was at that time a part owner of the New York Yankees.