December 4, 2020 / No.30

The Landmarks that Defined the New York Auto Show

For 120 years, generations of car buyers have flocked to Manhattan (and sometimes the Bronx) to see the incredible vehicles being produced by the world's automakers. To welcome them, and display their products properly, the New York Auto Show has made use of some of New York City's most iconic venues.

From the hotels and exhibition halls known the world over to the incredible architecture of the city's armories and its current home in the I.M. Pei designed Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, here's a celebration of some of them.

A rendering of the 'new' Javits Convention Center, currently under construction, that will be completed in time for the 2021 New York Auto Show in August. The new space includes an expanded show floor, a rooftop farm, ultra-modern 53,000 sq.ft. event space and a rooftop pavilion overlooking the Hudson River.
The Garden
Compared to the building atop the rubble of Pennsylvania Station that bears this name today, the Madison Square Garden that hosted New York City’s first car show was an eye-poppingly ornate arena that occupied an entire block bordered by Madison Avenue, Fourth Avenue and 26th and 27th Streets when it was completed in 1890. At the first Show in 1900 there were 69 exhibitors displaying 160 vehicles.
The Square
The Show made a brief move to the Herald Square Exhibit Hall in 1905 in response to overcrowding at Madison Square Garden. According to the New York Times under the headline 'Automobile Salon Opens Auspiciously', the paper reported that 'Society turned out in royal numbers in the Herald Square Exhibition Hall, to do honor and obeisance to the automobile.'
The Armory
In 1906, 1924 and 1948 the New York Auto Show favored the immense size of New York City's armories. The 1924 Show at the massive 258th Field Artillery Armory in the Bronx featured a 600-foot-long and 300-foot-wide drill hall floor offering 180,000-square feet of unobstructed space on a single level for the 71 automakers and 283 accessory exhibitors participating.
The Palace
The Grand Central Palace occupied the block of Lexington Avenue between 46th and 47th Streets and was the exhibition hall for the 1906, 1907 and 1912 New York Auto Shows.
The Hotel
One of the world's most iconic hotels, the Waldorf-Astoria on Manhattan's Park Avenue become home to the New York Auto Show in 1952 as the Grand Central Palace closed its doors and the New York City Coliseum was yet to be built. The hotel provided a luxurious background for the 116 exhibitors that included Chrysler, Dodge, DeSoto, Plymouth, Packard, Nash, Hudson, Kaiser, Studebaker and Willys models.
The Coliseum
Home to New York Auto Show's from 1956 to 1986, the New York Coliseum featured more than 300,000 sq.ft. of exhibition space over four floors, making it the world's largest structure build specifically for trade shows when it was built at the cost of $35 million. The 1956 Show opened immediately after the Coliseum's ribbon-cutting ceremony with Mayor Robert Wagnor and New York Governor Averell Harriman in attendance and featured 220 auto and accessory displays.
The Convention Center
Constructed between 1979 and 1986 and named for the much-beloved social reformer and civil rights champion who served New York as U.S. Senator from 1957 to 1981, the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center gave the New York Auto Show the space it dreamed of. Spread over five blocks, the 815,000 sq.ft facility spread over two big floors had enough space to display more than 1,200 cars. The dramatic facility, designed by I.M. Pei, will be fully re-born just in time for the 2021 New York Auto Show.
The Steering History series includes information and images from the New York Auto Show's archives.