"The Madhouse on Madison"
Chicago Stadium in 1984
|Address||1800 West Madison Street|
|Owner||Chicago Stadium Corp.|
|Operator||Chicago Stadium Corp.|
17,317 (ice hockey)
18,472 (ice hockey with standing room)
|Broke ground||July 2, 1928|
|Opened||March 28, 1929|
|Closed||September 9, 1994|
|Construction cost||$9.5 million|
($141 million in 2019 dollars)
|Architect||Hall, Lawrence & Ratcliffe, Inc.|
|Chicago Blackhawks (NHL) (1929-1994)|
Chicago Stags (BAA/NBA) (1946-1950)
Chicago Majors (ABL) (1961-1963)
Chicago Bulls (NBA) (1967-1994)
Chicago Sting (NASL/MISL) (1980-1988)
Chicago Stadium was an indoor arena in Chicago, Illinois, that opened in 1929 and closed in 1994. It was the home of the National Hockey League's Chicago Blackhawks and the National Basketball Association's Chicago Bulls.
The Stadium hosted the Chicago Blackhawks of the NHL from 1929 to 1994 and the Chicago Bulls of the NBA from 1967 to 1994. The arena was the site of the first NFL playoff game in 1932; the 1932, 1940, and 1944 Democratic National Conventions; and the 1932 and 1944 Republican National Conventions, as well as numerous concerts, rodeo competitions, boxing matches, political rallies, and plays.
The Stadium was first proposed by Chicago sports promoter Paddy Harmon. Harmon wanted to bring an NHL team to Chicago, but he lost out to Col. Frederic McLaughlin. This team would soon be known as the Chicago Black Hawks (later 'Blackhawks'). Harmon then went on to at least try to get some control over the team by building a stadium for the Blackhawks to play in. He spent $2.5 million and borrowed more funds from friends, including James E. Norris, in order to build the stadium.
Opened on March 28, 1929 at a cost of $9.5 million, Chicago Stadium was the largest indoor arena in the world at the time. Detroit's Olympia stadium, built two years earlier, was a model for the Chicago Stadium and had a capacity of over 15,000 people. It was also the first arena with an air conditioning system. However, the system was fairly rudimentary by modern standards, and was memorably given to filling the arena with fog during late-season basketball and hockey games.
The Stadium sat 17,317 for hockey at the time of closure, though standing room pushed the "actual" attendance beyond that figure. The official attendance figures in the published game summaries were often given in round numbers, such as 18,500 or 20,000. The largest recorded crowd for an NHL game at the stadium was 20,069 for a playoff game between the Blackhawks and Minnesota North Stars on April 10, 1982.
In addition to the close-quartered, triple-tiered, boxy layout of the building, much of the loud, ringing noise of the fans could be attributed to the fabled 3,663-pipe Barton organ, boasting the world's largest theater organ console with 6 manuals (keyboards) and over 800 stops, and played by Al Melgard. Melgard played for decades during hockey games there, earning the Stadium the moniker "The Madhouse on Madison". For years, it was also known as "The Loudest Arena in the NBA", due to its barn-shaped features. When the Stadium closed in 1994 the organ was removed and prepared to be installed in the 19th hole museum. Soon after the museum closed, sending the organ along with another theatre organ to a warehouse in Phoenix Arizona. In October 1996, a propane tank explosion melted and destroyed both pipe organs, excluding the console. The organ is currently in the residence of Phil Maloof and is in good working condition with new pipes.
In the Stanley Cup semifinals of 1971, when the Blackhawks scored a series-clinching empty-net goal in Game 7 against the New York Rangers, CBS announcer Dan Kelly reported, "I can feel our broadcast booth shaking! That's the kind of place Chicago Stadium is right now!" The dressing rooms at the Stadium were placed underneath the seats, and the cramped corridor that led to the ice, with its twenty-two steps, became the stuff of legend. Legend has it a German Shepherd wandered the bowels at night as "the security team."
During the 1973 Stanley Cup Final against Montreal, Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz had the horn of his yacht installed in the building, and had it sound after Blackhawks goals. This practice would, in the ensuing years, become commonplace in professional hockey.
Nancy Faust, organist for 40 years at Chicago White Sox games, also played indoors at the Stadium, at courtside for Chicago Bulls home games from 1976 to 1984, and on the pipe organ for Chicago Blackhawks hockey there from 1985 to 1989. She was replaced at the keyboard in 1990 by Frank Pellico, who serves as Hawks organist to this day.
It also became traditional for Blackhawk fans to cheer loudly throughout the singing of the national anthems, especially when sung by Chicago favorite Wayne Messmer. Denizens of the second balcony often added sparklers and flags to the occasion. Arguably, the most memorable of these was the singing before the 1991 NHL All-Star Game, which took place during the Gulf War. This tradition has continued at the United Center. Longtime PA announcer Harvey Wittenberg had a unique monotone style: "Blackhawk goal scored by #9, Bobby Hull, unassisted, at 6:13." The Chicago Stadium also provided a unique fan experience. On the west side of the building was the Players/Employee/VIP Visitors Parking Lot. It is also where Teams/Bands/Politicians/Performers would enter the building through the legendary Gate 3 1/2 (Appropriately placed between Gates 3 and 4 on the North and South Sides). Although protected by fencing, it was where fans could see the talent get out of their cars or teams exit their buses before going into the building. It was also a great autograph and informal "meet and greet" opportunity.
In 1992, both the Blackhawks and the Bulls reached the finals in their respective leagues. The Blackhawks were swept in their finals by the Pittsburgh Penguins, losing at Chicago Stadium, while the Bulls won the second of their first of three straight NBA titles on their home floor against the Portland Trail Blazers. The next time the Bulls clinched the championship at home, was in the newly built United Center in 1996 (when they did so against the Seattle SuperSonics), their second season at the new arena, and the Blackhawks would not reach the Stanley Cup Finals again until 2010 (in which they defeated the Philadelphia Flyers in six games), their 16th season in the new building, although they won their first championship since 1961 in Philadelphia. The Blackhawks last won the Stanley Cup at the Stadium in 1938; they did not win the Cup again at home until 2015 at the United Center.
It was also the last NHL arena to retain the use of an analog dial-type large four-sided clock for timekeeping in professional hockey games. Boston Garden and the Detroit Olympia (as well as the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium in its pre-NHL days) had identical scoreboards but replaced them with digital timers in the mid-1960s, with Boston having their digital four-sided clock in use for the 1969-70 NHL season. After removing the balcony-edge game clocks at either end and at mid-ice zones of the Stadium, the replacement four-sided game clock suspended over center ice of the Stadium, built by Bulova as their "Sports Timer", was installed in Chicago in 1943. Each side of the clock had a large diameter 20-minute face in the center that kept the main game time for one period of ice hockey, with a set of shorter black-colored minute and longer red-colored sweep-second hands, and a pair of smaller, 5-minute capacity dual-concentric faces for penalty timekeeping, to the left and right of the primary 20-minute face -- with each of the 5-minute penalty timers having its own single hand and each clock face, both the central main timer's dial and flanking penalty timer dials (when a penalty was counting down) illuminated from behind during gameplay. The "outer" face of each penalty timer had a single hand that avoided obscuration of the "inner" face and its own, "solid" single hand, through the use of metal rods forming the outer hand's "shaft", holding its hand's "pointer" head -- the set of two concentric faces for each penalty timer dial could handle two penalties for each set, with an illuminated "2" on each penalty timer dial lighting up to display a minor penalty infraction. It was difficult to read how much time was left in a period of play on the main game timer's large face, as each minute of play was marked by a longer line on every third "seconds" increment on the central main dial, due to the minute hand's twenty-minute "full rotation" timing capacity for one period of ice hockey. The difficulty was compounded on the main central dial from the aforementioned minute and sweep-second hands being in constant motion during gameplay. The "Sports Timer's" only digital displays were for scoring and for penalized players' numbers, each digit comprising a six-high, four-wide incandescent light dot matrix display.
That clock eventually was replaced by a four-sided scoreboard with a digital clock, first used on September 21, 1975 in Blackhawks preseason play, crafted by the Day Sign Company of Toronto, much like the one used at the end of the 1960s (and constructed by Day Sign Company) to replace the nearly identical Bulova Sports Timer game-timekeeping device in the Boston Garden, and then in 1985 by another, this one with a color electronic message board. That latter scoreboard was built by White Way Sign, which would build scoreboards for the United Center.
The Stadium was also one of the last three NHL arenas (the others being Boston Garden and the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium) to have a shorter-than-regulation ice surface, as their construction predated the regulation. The distance was taken out of the neutral zone.
After the Blackhawks and Bulls moved to the United Center, the Chicago Stadium was demolished in 1995. Its site is now a parking lot for the United Center across the street. CNN televised the demolition, showing devoted Blackhawks and Bulls fans crying as the wrecking ball hit the old building. The console of the Barton organ now resides in the Phil Maloof residence in Las Vegas, Nevada. Also, the center of the Chicago Bulls' floor resides in Michael Jordan's trophy room at his mansion in North Carolina.
Two of the Stadium's main parking lots, which are still used for United Center parking, retain signs that read "People's Stadium Parking".