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Chicago Stadium, 1930
The old Chicago Stadium — known throughout the Windy City as the “Madhouse on Madison” — was home to the Chicago Blackhawks from 1929 until it closed in 1994. It may have been the loudest hockey arena in the history of the game — when Chicago fans got excited, you could probably hear them in outer space. And over the years Chicago Blackhawks fans had plenty to be excited about.
The Old Chicago Stadium — History
Chicago Stadium was built specifically for hockey and specifically for the Blackhawks, who joined the NHL as an expansion team in 1926. Chicago sports promoter Paddy Harmon believed hockey could be big in Chicago and wanted to buy an NHL team. When Frederic McLaughlin beat him to the punch, Harmon decided to do the next best thing — build the Blackhawks an arena. Harmon completed Chicago Stadium for $9.5 million in 1929, with the Blackhawks playing their first game there in December of that year in front of more than 14,000 fans.
Harmon was right … the Blackhawks were going to be big. Unfortunately, he died in a car accident a year later and never saw his beloved stadium in all its glory. His funeral, however, took place at the Stadium — his last wish.
The old Chicago Stadium had a capacity of 16,600 seats, which made it the largest indoor sports venue in the world at the time, almost twice the size of Madison Square Garden. It had all the modern architectural and functional bells and whistles, including state-of-the-art ventilation with air conditioning.
The Stadium was an all-purpose arena which over the years hosted political conventions, concerts, boxing matches and even a football game one time — when Wrigley Field was iced over and the Bears had to move indoors! Last but not least, the Stadium was the home court for the Chicago Bulls.
By the mid-1990s, the Stadium was showing its age. It was one of three NHL arenas to still have a smaller-than-regulation ice surface (along with Boston Garden and Buffalo Memorial Auditorium). It was razed in 1995 and is now the site of the parking lot for United Center, an arena that was just as state-of-the-art when it opened as the old Stadium was in 1926.
The Madhouse on Madison (Street)
Three reasons why Blackhawks fans believe you should go loud or go home:
The Stadium's Barton Organ
1. Between the pipes. Raucous Chicago Blackhawks fans weren’t the only thing to make noise in Chicago Stadium. The Bartola Musical Instrument Company, manufacturer of theater pipe organs in the silent movie era, made a special Barton organ for the Stadium. It was the biggest organ the company ever made, with 3,663 pipes, 800-plus stops and a console that made an airplane cockpit look like a TV remote. It put out enough sound to rattle the walls, which longtime Stadium organist Al Melgard often did. With the organ, noisy fans and interior acoustics, people began calling the arena the Madhouse on Madison. (The famous Barton was salvaged before the Stadium was demolished, but most of it was later destroyed in a fire.)
2. O say can you hear? A Chicago Blackhawks tradition that continues to the present day is that of fans cheering through The Star-Spangled Banner. Wayne Messmer, who was the Stadium’s permanent anthem soloist from 1980-81 through 1993-94, had a booming voice, but it was nearly drowned out in every Blackhawks home game. The tradition started in 1985 and reached its highest point in terms of volume at the 1991 NHL All-Star Game, which took place two days after the Gulf War started. (Messmer, by the way, was fired by the Blackhawks because he had a “conflict of interest” as an owner of the AHL Chicago Wolves — but he’s still belting out anthems at Wolves home games.)
3. Blow it out your horn. As if the organ and anthem weren’t enough to make the old Chicago Stadium a literal madhouse on Madison, in 1973 the Stadium became the first NHL arena to blast a horn after a home-team goal. The horn reportedly reminded then-owner Bill Wirtz of his yacht.
Blackhawks Memories at Chicago Stadium
- In 1934, the Blackhawks beat the Red Wings 1-0 in double overtime to conclude a four-game sweep and win their first Stanley Cup.
- In 1938, the Blackhawks did it again, concluding a sweep of the Toronto Maple Leafs with a 4-1 victory. The Hawks wouldn’t win another Cup at the Stadium.
- Next best thing to winning the Stanley Cup on home ice: In 1961, Bobby Hull scored two goals in game one of the Final at home against the Red Wings, leading the Blackhawks to a 3-2 win. Chicago would eventually win the Cup in Detroit, 4 games to 2.
- The list of great Chicago Blackhawks to take the ice at the old Chicago Stadium is about as illustrious as such a list can get, and includes Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Glenn Hall, Pierre Pilote, Keith Magnuson, Denis Savard and Tony Esposito.
Thanks for the memories, Paddy Harmon.
(Image Credits – Wikimedia Commons)