HISTORY OF THE GARDENS
What do Madonna, Larry Bird, the Beatles, Dr. Billy Graham, Hulk Hogan, Frank Zappa, Richard Nixon and Barney have in common? One thing -- the Cincinnati Gardens.
All have appeared at Cincinnati's 25,000-square-foot landmark sports and entertainment arena in Bond Hill/Golf Manor built on the corner of Seymour Avenue and Langdon Farm Roads. Literally hundreds of the world's biggest name entertainers, celebrities and athletes have appeared at the Gardens in its illustrius 50-year run. Fact is, it's hard to find a veteran resident of Greater Cincinnati who hasn't seen at least one event at the Gardens.
Gardens Opened in 1949
The Cincinnati Gardens opened February 22, 1949; the first event was a hockey exhibition game -- the Dallas Texans (whose nucleus would form the new Cincinnati Mohawks of the American Hockey League) versus its parent club, the National Hockey League's Montreal Canadiens, which featured superstar right wing Maurice "the Rocket" Richard.
The first week of events at Cincinnati's new sports and entertainment center was staggering: following the exhibition hockey game was a U.C. - Butler basketball game, a Xavier-Kentucky basketball game and a heavyweight boxing match between Cincinnatian Ezzard Charles and Cleveland's Joey Maxim (Charles won in 15 rounds to become the #1 contender to Joe Louis' title).
Since that flashy beginning, the Gardens has hosted an exalted array of diverse events, including major and minor league sports, rock concerts, comedians, symphony orchestras, broadway-style musicals, political rallies, rodeos, tractor pulls, circuses, ice follies, dog shows, dirt tract auto racing, auto and baseball card shows and more.
7th Largest U.S. Arena
The brick and limestone Gardens -- with its six distinctive, three-dimensional carved athletic figures decorating the building's facing -- was built on 22 acres in Cincinnati's north and was modeled after the popular and historic Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, Ontario. At the time of its opening in 1949, the Cincinnati Gardens was the seventh largest indoor arena in the U.S. with a seating capacity of 11,000. Stock in the Gardens was widely held throughout the U.S. Cincinnati Gardens Inc.'s first president was Cincinnatian Charles Sawyer, U.S. Secretary of Commerce.
The Cincinnati Gardens was built using some 325,000 manhours by the Frank Messer & Sons general contractors for a cost of $3 million. It was constructed with no interior pillars or columns obstructing sight lines. Some 2,200 tons of structural and reinforcing steel were used in the project, and it was said that a 10-story tall building could fit under the Gardens' roof. A Cincinnati newspaper reported at the time: "The answer to Cincinnati's appetite for indoor sports and spectacles, the Cincinnati Gardens by its great expanse of uninterrupted space will awe the thousands of first-nighters."
Current owner is the Robinson family of Cincinnati -- father Jerry and son Pete. A real estate developer, Jerry purchased the Gardens in 1979. "It looked as if the grand old building could be destined for the wrecker's ball," he says, "and I didn't want that to happen. As so many others, I grew up in Cincinnati with great, great memories of the Cincinnati Gardens with hockey, the Cincinnati Royals and concerts. I loved the building's rich history and knew it was a tremendous Cincinnati asset to be saved for future generations."
Hosted More Sports and Concerts Than Anywhere Else
As a sporting venue, the Cincinnati Gardens has hosted minor and major league hockey, professional and college basketball, amateur and professional boxing, professional soccer, professional wrestling, roller derby, auto and motorcycle racing, karate championships, even swimming exhibitions.
As for entertainers, the Gardens has hosted them all, literally hundreds of the biggest name in show business -- Elvis, the Beatles, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan, Jeffrey Siebert, Sammy Davis Jr., Tom Petty, Neil Diamond, Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper, Metallica, Bon Jovi, Pearl Jam -- and even Lawrence Welk. Country singers appearing include Reba McEntire, Tammy Wynette, Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn, Hank Williams Jr., Randy Travis, Statler Brothers, Waylon Jennings, George Jones, Alan Jackson and many more. Though he didn't perform on stage, Garth Brooks visited the Gardens to enjoy some public ice skating.
For kids and families, there have been circuses, ice follies, and shows featuring Seasame Street, Snoopy, Bugs Bunny and Barney. There have been horse shows, dog shows, and baseball card shows with the sport's superstars, such as Mickey Mantle, Evel Knieval performed death defying motorcycle jumps at the Gardens, and the arena has even hosted political rallies -- Richard Nixon and Henry Cabot Lodge spoke to a huge throng on October 25, 1960. There was also an indoor "acqua-parade" starring Olympic swimmer and Tarzan movie star Buster Crabbe, and the musical play "Jesus Christ Superstar" was performed there, too.
Incredible Sports History
Of course, the Cincinnati Gardens will forever be linked to great sporting events, especially hockey, basketball and boxing.
The long hockey history includes the Cincinnati Mohawks ('49-'57), the popular Cincinnati Swords ('71-'74), the Cincinnati Cyclones ('90-'97) and today's Cincinnati Mighty Ducks.
But another minor league hockey team played at the Gardens, too -- one perhaps lost in the annals of history. The Cincinnati Wings of the Central Hockey League played nine games in the Gardens in the 1963-64 season. The Indianapolis Capitals team moved from that city to the Queen City during the season when the Indiana Fairgrounds Coliseum in Indianapolis, the team's home arena, exploded and caught fire, killing 67 people and injuring more than 300 -- thus, the Cincinnati Wings were born.
The Cincinnati Mohawks, affiliated with the Montreal Canadiens, played three seasons in the American Hockey League and six seasons in the International Hockey League. From 1952-1957, the Mohawks ruled the IHL, winning five straight Turner Cup Championships, an IHL record that still stands today.
The Cincinnati Swords, a Buffalo Sabres affiliate in the American Hockey League, were immensely popular with fans in the early 1970's -- with players like Gary Bromley, Rick Dudley, Billy Inglis and Rocky Farr. The Swords won the Calder Cup Championship in 1973, marking the last time a Cincinnati-based professional hockey team has captured a league title.
The Cincinnati Cyclones performed successfully on and off the ice in both the East Coast Hockey League and the IHL over seven year span before electing to vacate the facility, paving the way for today's Cincinnati Mighty Ducks team of the American Hockey League. Affiliated with the Disney-owned Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Cincinnati's AHL entry is entering its third full season at the Gardens, and has kept professional ice hockey excitement alive and well in the region.
In addition to hockey, basketball -- high school, college and the pros -- will forever be linked with the Cincinnati Gardens. One of Cincinnati's favorite teams, the NBA Cincinnati Royals -- with such stars as Oscar Robertson, Jerry Lucas and Wayne Embry -- called the Gardens home from 1958 to 1972. The old Royals are now the NBA Sacremento Kings. The Gardens even hosted the NBA All-Star Game in 1956, where the best of the best competed and the Royals' Adrian Smith was named game MVP. Another professional basketball team -- the Cincinnati Slammers of the Continental Basketball League -- played in the Gardens from 1985-87.
College basketball has been a main staple of the Gardens' offering since the arena's inception, with both the University of Cincinnati and the Xavier Musketeers playing on the Gardens' hardwood. The Gardens ws the home to dozens of Bearcats' games and continues to be the Musketeers' home floor, as it has since 1983. Many hotly contested high school basketball games have played the Gardens, including state championships, and who can ever forget the great basketball entertainment provided by Meadowlark Lemon and his Harlem Globetrotter teammates during their many appearances at the Gardens?
Boxing has always been a favorite with Gardens' fans, and they've seen the best from Golden Gloves championships to professional champs like Ezzard Charles and Aaron Pryor, both hometown products.
As for other sports and entertainment, consider the Gardens legacy of the ever popular wrestling, with such stars as The Sheik, Handsome Johnny Baron, Roddy Piper, Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold Steve Austin and hundreds of other big time wrestlers who have entertained ardent Gardens' crowds for decades. Other sporting events hosted by the Gardens include professional indoor soccer (Cincinnati Silverbacks, 1995-97), roller derby, rodeos, monster truck rallies, horse shows, indoor auto races, and more.
Not Resting On Its Laurels
The Cincinnati Gardens is not resting on its laurels. For its 50th year of operation, the Gardens underwent a beautification program to take it into the new century.
Outside the building, there is new landscaping, with dozens of new trees and flowerbeds, new lighting and wrought iron fencing and a 50th anniversary logo etched in marble in a coutyard area. Inside, visitors will find a fresh new paint scheme throughout the lobby and two concourse levels -- painted in the Mighty Ducks colors of eggplant and jade. Improvements have been made to the arena's sound system, ad the concession stands will offer new food items this season. There is also modernized restrooms, new lighting and the press box has been remodeled and is now considered to be among the best in minor pro hockey.
One of the most exciting new additions to the Gardens in the past year is the Legends Museum. The Legends Museum is a virtual memorabilia treasure trove of the thousands of exciting events that have taken place at the Gardens during its extraordinary 50-year history. Located on the second level of the building's east side, the Legends Museum is open to the public free of charge before, during and after all events.
With the thousands of different events in its colorful annals, there was one event bigger than them all at the Gardens. On September 29, 1964, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater visited the Gardens for a political rally. More than 16,000 supporters showed up to cheer on the Republican Presidential candidate, and that attendance record still stands today as the largest single event staged during the Gardens fantastic 50-year history.
CINCINNATI GARDENS FUN FACTS
The Cincinnati Gardens opened February 22, 1949. It took $3 million and 325,000 manhours to complete the project. Construction included nearly 2,300 tons of structural and reinforcing steel; 7,300 cubic yards of concrete; 204,000 feet of square mesh; 470,000 face brick; 295,000 cinder block units; 26,000 glazes tiles and 776 glass blocks. It was constructed with no interior pillars or columns obstructing sight lines. It was said that a 10-story tall building could fit under the Gardens' roof.
The original name proposed -- and later rejected -- was "The Cincinnati Winter Garden."
It is estimated that the Gardens has hosted some 65 million people in its illustrius history.
At the time of its opening in 1949, the Cincinnati Gardens was the seventh largest indoor arena in the U.S. with a seating capacity of 11,000.
The first-ever event at the new Cincinnati Gardens -- the hockey exhibition game between the Dallas Texans (whose nucleus would make up the first Cincinnati Mohawks team) and the Montreal Canadiens on February 22, 1949 -- drew 11,144 fans, at the time the largest crowd gathered under one roof in the history of the City of Cincinnati!
What a week! The Cincinnati Gardens got off to a fast start. Following the February 22 opening exhibition game (see above), in quick succession came February 23 - UC vs. #7 ranked Butler University basketball; February 24 - Xavier vs. powerhouse Kentucky basketball, and February 28 - Cincinnatian Ezzard Charles vs. Clevelander Joey Maxim in a heavyweight title contender fight. Now that's a way to open a venue!
The Cincinnati Mohawks played their first three games with question marks on their jerseys because the team hadn't yet been named the Mohawks. The name was chosen by the fans in a name-the-team contest.
The largest single crowd to visit the Gardens was on September 29, 1964, when 16,025 ardent supporters jammed into the venue to hear Presidential Candidate Barry Goldwater speak.
Two thousand disappointed fans were turned away at the gate for a sellout Truck & Tractor Pull on November 6, 1982.
Cincinnati Gardens' entertainment reached new heights on October 11, 1998. On that date, Delilah Wallenda (granddaughter of legendary wire walker Karl Wallenda), walked a high wire 330' across the Gardens' arena floor during an intermission of a Mighty Ducks' game. Delilah walked a wire suspended 70' above the ice and worked, as in family tradition, without a safety net below, the only way the Fabulous Wallendas will perform. Ms. Wallenda performed her sensational skywalk again at a Mighty Ducks game last season.
The Cincinnati Gardens features some 2,500 parking spaces surrounding the building. Parking is FREE for all Mighty Ducks' games, a customer benefit virtually non-existant at other sports and entertainment venues today.
Many cities are spending millions of dollars today to construct modern venues to duplicate the "retro" look. The Gardens IS retro, a true original that has all of the feel and conveniences of a modern venue.
Ever wonder where the six unique bas-relief sporting figures on the outside of the Gardens came from? There are six figures -- two each of a boxer, basketball player and hockey player -- cut in a three dimensional pattern, each standing about 10 feet high, flanking the Gardens' main entrance. These unique figures were the result of a design competition held in 1948 by the Art Academy of Cincinnati and the Gardens' architech/engineering firm A.M. Kinney of Cincinnati. Design winner was Cincinnatian Henry Mott of Kennedy Heights, whose original design was enlarged and placed in concrete for millions of people to enjoy for generations to come.
May 29, 1997 - Gerry Mildner writes: A Bit of History: Construction of the Cincinnati Gardens was completed late in the year of 1948. The Gardens was built specifically to house hockey. This arena was built for the Cincinnati Mohawks who dominated the International Hockey League from 1952 thru 1958 winning the Turner Cup in 5 of their 6 seasons in existance. The Cincinnati Gardens was deemed "The Gardens" because it was modeled after the Maple Leaf Garden in Toronto.
It is rare in this day and age of multi-purpose sports arenas for a minor league team to play in a building that was built specifically for hockey. The Cyclones are lucky enough to be able to do just this. While the Gardens is quite old, and it lacks all the luxiories of many of the newer arenas, it still remains an great place to watch a hockey game. The atmosphereis great, tickets are cheap, and there are very few bad seats!!!