The 1807 plan set aside 240 acres in this vicinity as The Parade, to be used for
military training. By 1814, when it was named Madison Square after the current
president, it had been reduced to 90 acres. In 1847, when Madison Square Park was
opened, less than seven acres remained.
The park, which was laid out in its current form in 1870, was the center of
New York society in the 1860s and '70s. "The vicinity of Madison Square is the
brightest, prettiest and liveliest portion of the great city," James McCabe
wrote in 1872.
When the star-shaped luminaire atop the Eternal Light flagpole lit the evening
sky above Madison Square Park, it marked a momentous memorial for America's military
heroes on June 7, 1924. It would commemorate, according to the New York City
Department of Parks & Recreation website, "those victorious forces of the United
States Army and Navy who were officially received at this site following the armistice
and the conclusion of World War I."
For the Flatiron District, the structure had also become a notable destination
highlight. Reported The New York Times on August 22, 1926, "The flagpole in the
centre of the Fifth Avenue side of the Square gains point when seen from Madison
Avenue across Twenty-fourth Street and acquires a dignity and meaning which none
of its neighbors in the Square can boast."
Designed by high-profile architect Thomas Hastings, who built New York City's Public
Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, and sculptor Paul Wayland Bartlett, the
flagstaff project received a $25,000 commission from department store heir and PGA
founder Rodman Wanamaker. The original Oregon pine pole was situated a top a base
featuring a Milford pink granite ornamented bronze cap with images of rams heads and
garlands. For a number of years, the light was serviced every 28 days, wrote The
New York Times on November 14, 1999, and "it was dimmed intentionally in a blackout
drill in 1942, then went dark for several days in 1957 because of a defective wire."
After falling into disrepair, the memorial was removed in 1973, to be replaced with a
steel flagpole in 1976.
In September 2002, the Eternal Light Star received an electrical update with assistance
from the Department of Parks & Recreation, Con Edison, and Sentry Electric Corp.,
according to the Madison Square Park Conservancy website. The implementation of
LED-based lighting, reported Electrical Construction & Maintenance magazine on December
9, 2002, would then support the star’s “unique and continuous lighting requirements”
to honor the individuals who fought for America's freedom.
This year (2018), the Madison Square Park Conservancy is working to relight the
Flagstaff to mark the centennial of the outbreak of World War I.