Cincinnati Gardens

Cincinnati Gardens may be the oldest "unaltered" indoor professional sports arena of its size left in the United States. At the very least, it may be the best remaining example. Opened in 1949, Cincinnati Gardens seated 11,000 spectators and was the seventh-largest arena in the country at that time. According to the Gardens's own website, the building (in its interior layout) was modeled after Toronto's famed Maple Leaf Gardens (which was built in 1931 from plans designed by the Canadian firm of Ross and Macdonald). The Cincinnati Gardens website states that the architect/engineering firm A.M. Kinney of Cincinnati designed this arena. A drawing of the Cincinnati Gardens, on display in the Sports Legends Museum, is signed Robert A. Kennedy - Architect. (Could he be the individual designer, or someone who produced a later sketch?) Frank Messer & Sons general contractors built the arena.

The Cincinnati Gardens was the home of the Cincinnati Royals of the National Basketball Association, the Cincinnati Mohawks, Wings, Swords, Cyclones and Mighty Ducks of Minor Professional Hockey leagues, numerous concerts performed by major entertainers, and significant non-sporting events. Its first event was a game between the minor league Dallas Texans hockey team and their parent club the Montreal Canadiens. Boxing matches were held here. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, The Jackson Five, and other notable acts have performed concerts at the Gardens. The building has an illustrious history which I will not repeat in detail on this website, since the official Cincinnati Gardens website has several pages related to the history of the arena, its basketball and hockey occupants, largest crowds, the Sports Legends Museum, and other facts relating to the building. 

Cincinnati Gardens is currently the home rink of the Xavier University men's hockey team and the Cincinnati Rollergirls roller derby team. Local high school hockey teams also use the arena. Other events that occur here include circus and rodeo acts. Cincinnati city does have a Minor Professional hockey team, the Cyclones of the ECHL, who play at the downtown Riverfront Coliseum (US Bank Arena) which was built in 1975 and is located next to the Cincinnati Reds baseball stadium.

Devoid of luxury boxes, wraparound LED advertising boards, and other bells and whistles, Cincinnati Gardens is the one place that can evoke the feel of bygone arenas such as the Olympia in Detroit, Chicago Stadium, Boston Gardens, and other historical National Hockey League arenas. Even Maple Leaf Gardens no longer is as it was. The Toronto arena's exterior remains intact, but a grocery story now occupies the old ice level, shops occupy a second floor, and a smaller hockey rink fits in just below the arena's famous vaulted roof.

In addition to its design and state of preservation, I like the location of the Cincinnati Gardens. Although an industrial site adjoins one side of the building, residential neighborhoods are located just a couple of blocks away. Imagine being able to walk to a professional sporting event in your backyard. It must be cool, if you're a fan. It is a concept that is coming back into favor again as new arenas are built in urban centers, whereas stadiums and arenas from the 1960s through the 1990s were built primarily in previously undeveloped (or largely urban renewaled) locations and surrounded by vast surface parking lots. Cincinnati Gardens was also like Detroit's Olympia in respect to it's siting - the home of the NHL"s Red Wings also adjoined working class housing. It's a concept that doesn't work entirely the same today however, as new arena locations, it is deemed, must be near the interstate highways or major public transportation links, and the Cincinnati Gardens in not located adjacent to an interstate nor a train station.
I visited Cincinnati Gardens in December 2012 with the intention of being able to photograph as much as the arena as I would be allowed to see. I probably first read in detail about the Cincinnati Gardens on the Queen City Discovery blog. The idea sat in my mind for a couple of years, but I made it a point to eventually visit the arena and photograph it. In 2012, I reached out to arena staff and secured an invitation to visit later in the year. The arena became the last stop on a tour I took of various arenas and historic sites throughout New York, Ontario, Michigan, and Ohio. 

Upon arrival around noon on the appointed day I met Jerry Waddell and Greg Henderson. They provided me with a thorough tour of the arena, particularly the areas not accessible to the general public. This took about an hour and a half or two hours, as I took photographs along the way. After visiting the locker room, mechanical rooms, the tunnel under the ice surface, and the Sports Legends Museum, I was given free reign to wander the seating bowl. Around 3pm I went outside to take exterior photographs, and for that I had about as good light as there could possibly be. Since the west facade is the main, decorated, facade, afternoon light was essential for photography. 

After sunset, I went back inside and photographed the Sports Legends Museum and then went back into the seating area and upper concourse. I also visited the adjacent, newer, skating rink but opted to not take any photographs there. Before wrapping up for good, I went back outside for some night-time exterior photographs. By the time I left the arena, it must have been about 8:30 or 9:00pm. It was a great day. Many thanks to Greg Waddell and Jerry Henderson for their hospitality and for access to the arena.

Cincinnati Gardens is located online at and at 2250 Seymour Avenue in Cincinnati, Ohio, 45212.

I present my photographs of the arena in the following eight sections.

1. Exterior daytime
2. Ice surface
3. Seating sections
4. Concourses
5. Ceiling level control-rooms and above-ice views
6. Locker rooms, tunnel under ice surface, and mechanical rooms
7. Sports Legends Museum
8. Exterior evening

July 10, 2013 - "Beatles to Big O: Cincinnati Gardens full of memories."
July 8, 2013 - "Owner of Cincinnati Gardens looking to sell building and its 20-acre site." WCPO Cincinnati.


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