Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Goodbye to The Gardens


There was never a better place to watch hockey in Cincinnati. The Gardens was classic. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.




- Highway signage for the Gardens as seen on the Norwood Lateral.


Utilitarian in design, it was cutting edge after World War Two. Although it lacked frills and modern amenities, the building made up for it with charm and history. Hockey and basketball may have been the mainstays, but the place was also a great building to take in monster trucks, roller derby, the circus, off-brand Arena Football, presidential campaigns, a band from England known as The Beatles, and so much more.

To me, it always had this oddly comforting scent of popcorn and stale beer. The only time it didn't was when I was there this week when most of the walls were gone, the outside air sweeping in around the wrecking ball. I didn't find myself becoming emotional at seeing it go, the sounds of the building's death were too loud and distracting. I felt fortunate that I had permission to be there, to have one last chance to see the place. I don't have as many memories as some, but I have a lot of recollections from the Gardens. I'm sure everyone in Cincinnati has at least one (those riding by in shuttle buses from nearby retirement homes during my last visit most certainly did). From the first time my parents took me to see the Shrine Circus to the last time I sipped a beer and watched roller derby, I enjoyed every moment of sitting in those wooden seats and now own one.

I've covered the former event palace on Seymour Ave. several times here at QC/D. I shot grainy black and white photos there as a college student, documented the set up and execution of a circus performance, lamented the building's lack of minor league hockey, put together stories about the Cincinnati Rollergirls, took in monster truck shows with good friends (one of whom has since passed away, that show being a treasured memory), and once climbed through the rafters to investigate "the press box that never was." This is the last story, at least the final one where I'll be able to visit the physical building.

I've given a more detailed attention to the Gardens' history in some of those past posts, so I'll let the photographs tell most of the story this time. As I wonder if the building could've survived, I find myself pondering the "what ifs:"

What if the NBA's Royals had never left?

What if the parent club in Anaheim hadn't pulled our minor league version of The Mighty Ducks?

What if the RailRaiders had taken the ice, unconcerned with season ticket deposits?

What if a few more people had come out to the occasional event and bought a ticket over the last few years?

Maybe it's best to not dwell on these theoretical questions too much, to not get bogged down in what it would've cost to update the place, who would've occupied it, and what moves throughout its nearly 70 year history would've saved it. The Gardens had a great life, filled with historical moments and personalities. While it lives on in memory, physical remains will be there too. The bas-relief sculptures by Cincinnati artist Henry Mott were saved and the iconic signage was donated to the American Sign Museum in Camp Washington. The Greater Cincinnati Redevelopment Authority (formerly The Port Authority) has done some good work in Bond Hill and Cincinnati as a whole. Hopefully the land the Gardens once occupied will still be an asset to the city.

So this is it, a goodbye to the Gardens: the best damn arena Cincinnati ever had or ever will have.


A few notes: 
  • The Port Authority sold ~1,100 seats from the arena before demolition began. It's my understanding no more are available and that the remaining seats will not be salvaged.
  • The talented folks at The Rivertown Inkery sell a font in the style of the building's iconic signage. It's worth every penny and available through their site.
  • Dayton, Ohio also lost its historic hockey barn in Hara Arena, that story was covered in 2016.
  • The Cincinnati Rollergirls are still skating and now hold their seasons at Schmidt Memorial Fieldhouse at Xavier University.


Thanks to Dad, Dave, Ed, Lauren, Ryan, Don, Ben, Chris, and so many others for the good times spent in this beautiful old building over the years.



The Cincinnati Gardens | 1949 - 2018

- Seats, stairways, and cement fall during demolition.

- The demolition as seen from the surrounding Bond Hill neighborhood.

- A wrecking ball slams into the building.

- Standing on the event floor. 

- The northwest wall mostly gone.

- The view from Section 60, southeast corner demolition visible in the back.

- View from section 60.

- Demolished stands.

- View from within the sole, retrofitted "luxury box."

- Event floor.

- The building's scoreboard. It's my understanding that the scoreboard itself was relocated from Louisville's Freedom Hall at some point with the addition of video boards coming from Miami's American Airlines Arena receiving a brand new scoreboard circa 2008 or 2009.

- Northwest wall demolition.

- Southern first floor concourse.

- Southeast turnstiles.

- Ticket windows.

- Northwest turnstiles.


- Upper concourse hallway.

- Steel outside as seen from a hole within the building.

- The iconic "round" lights in the main entrance.

- Entry to the event floor/sole accessible seating area.

- Discarded and mangled steel rests outside the walls.

- Faded outlines of the iconic signage that once overlooked Seymour Ave. The letters were donated to the local American Sign Museum.

- Entrance marquee.

- Entry to the arena floor/only accessible seating area in the building. Typically, this entrance was closed off with curtains during events.

- Southeastern corner of the building coming down.


- Around 1,100 seats were salvaged and put up for sale about a year before demolition began. They were the original seats from 1949.

- Steel from the building's structure, note the handwriting on the center beam.

- Demolition as of March 12, 2018.


- The red and black sign is believed to have once read: "Ducks VIP Only," the sign below read: "Free Parking."


 

37 comments:

  1. I just realized this must have been where I went to see the circus when I was little. I am from Eastern Kentucky and Cincinnati was the Big City then.

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    1. It very well could've been. Shrine Circus performed here and at 5/3 aka Schumacher at UC for awhile. I think Ringling always focused on the Riverfront Coliseum ever since that opened.

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  2. Such a shame that no economic use can be found for this historic structure... and they are tearing it down for single story industrial space. Sad.

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    1. I'm not entirely sure on this and have heard conflicting information over the year about "grandfathering," but my understanding is that if ownership of the building changed hands, certain ADA requirements that the building had grandfathered in would be lost, thus requiring substantial cost to update it. Allegedly, this is what caused any potential buyers to steer clear.

      Personally, I wish they would've just given hockey one last go with the RailRaiders before ceding the market back to the Cyclones. Could still be open today as a hockey arena.

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  3. Gut-wrenching. Thank you for the photos. It's surreal to see a place that holds so many memories cut down to a box of steel and bricks.

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    1. Thank you for taking the time to check out the post.

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  4. So sad I spent most of my teen years in and around this building, a lot of the time on ice skates and so much more.

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    1. Cincinnati's hockey community definitely lost some good ice.

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  5. Great job as usual, Ron!

    Neil Ferdelman

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    1. Thanks, Mr. Ferderlman! Hope you and the family are well!

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  6. Why were the seats not sold? Would love to have had some to go with my Riverfront seats. Never saw that seats were ever being sold. I drove by the other day and saw the seats still in the building. Very sad.

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    1. From above:

      "A few notes:
      The Port Authority sold ~1,100 seats from the arena before demolition began. It's my understanding no more are available and that the remaining seats will not be salvaged."

      Looks like they did, but not all of them.

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  7. Enjoyed many of a Ducks hockey game there. And the author is correct, the building had a strangely comforting scent of popcorn and stale beer.. but it was all good...

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  8. Thank You Mr.Salerno for the pics.I lived on Carthage ct. most of my younger life. Moved to N.C in 1985.It was a great place to live. I have a lot of Great Memories of the Gardens. I hate to see it gone! Thanks again for all the Info.

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  9. Our hockey seats for years. Section 21 Row D Seats 1-2.

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  10. I agree, a lot of "what ifs" regarding this place and while it was a great place once inside, there's no arguing the surrounding area was a questionable at best.

    Thanks for one final view from Section 60

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  11. Thanks for sharing the photos. Total bummer :(

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  12. Thank you Ronny for this amazing eulogy of the Gardens. It was truly touching. I've shared a link to this on my own blog as well, just because I think that everyone deserves to read it.

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    1. Thanks so much, Adam. Love Cardboard clubhouse!

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  13. Nice report. I missed the Beatles but between a 1966 Cavalcade of Customs and a 2016 Roller Girls match I saw a bunch of other musicians and a goodly assortment of other stuff there. I never developed an emotional attachment to the place but I sure developed some memories.

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    1. It's astounding the amount of unique and traditional things that came through that building.

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  14. I saw many a Xavier game there with my dad. Those are some of my favorite memories with him. Well done Ronny, aka Jim Adkins.

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    1. Dan, so good to hear from you! Hope you're doing well!

      Love,
      JIm

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  15. One of your saddest posts...Thanks for the reminder of what fun was had at the Cincinnati Gardens!

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  16. Thanks for the great photos. Sad to see it go. I went to my first rock and roll show there in 1960. Before that P&G used to have Winter Dividend Days there and brought in the Ice Capades and, of course, the circus. Lots of good memories there. R.I.P. Cincinnati Gardens, I'll never forget you.

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  17. I can't remember if I ever went there or not. I grew up in Greenhills 1974-1992 and at one point, went to the Ice Capades show as someone above mentioned. I seem to remember seeing all my arena shows (Ice Capades, the circus, Kenny Rogers, John Denver, Yes, etc) at Riverfront Coliseum. If only your pictures insinuated they were turning the Gardens into a semi-open air venue...

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    1. Seeing it preserved as some sort of venue would've been great. Doubt those seats could've held up in the elements, though.

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  18. Glad the dump is gone.

    Go Cyclones!

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    1. Enjoy the dump on the Riverfront with the tens of fans who bother to show up, Joe!

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