Cincinnati Gardens opened February 22, 1949. It took $3 million and 325,000 man-hours 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 Cincinnati Gardens has hosted some 68 million people in its illustrious history. At the time of its opening in 1949, Cincinnati Gardens was the seventh largest indoor arena in the U.S. with a seating capacity of 11,000.
The first-ever event at Cincinnati Gardens -- a hockey exhibition between the Dallas Texans and Montreal Canadiens 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! Cincinnati Gardens got off to a fast start. Following the February 22 opening exhibition hockey game (see above), in quick succession came February 23 - U.C. vs. #7 ranked Butler University basketball; February 24 - Xavier vs. powerhouse Kentucky basketball; February 28 - Cincinnatian Ezzard Charles vs. Clevelander Joey Maxim in a heavyweight title contender fight. Now that's a way to open a venue!
Over the years, the Cincinnati Gardens has been the scene of a number of basketball games. From the pro games of the Royals, the college encounters of area colleges and high school games, both regular season and post-season. The question may be asked, "Who scored the first basket at the Gardens?".
The answer is Ralph Richter. He was a junior on the University of Cincinnati team who met eleventh-ranked Butler University in the first basketball game at the Gardens on February 23, 1949. Having posession of the ball early in of the contest, Richter dropped in a short shot as the Bearcats went on to defeat the visiting Bulldogs, 49-44. Ironically, it was his only field goal of the game as he scored just six points. An Elder High School grad, Richter was actually a more prolific scorer than was seen on that evening as he wound up scoring 1,053 points in his UC career. He went on to become an orthopedic surgeon.
The original Cincinnati Mohawks played their first game games with question marks on their jerseys because the team hadn't been named. The name was chosen by the fans in a name-the-team contest.
The largest single crowd to visit Cincinnati Gardens was October 25, 1960, when Republican Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates Richard Nixon and Henry Cabot Lodge spoke to a reported crowd in excess of 19,000 in the arena. Another 2,000 patrons stood outside the building that night and listened to the speeches.
Two thousand disappointed fans were turned away at the gate for a sellout Truck & Tractor Pull November 6, 1982. Cincinnati Gardens entertainment reached new heights October 11, 1997. On that date, Delilah Wallenda (granddaughter of the legendary wire walker Karl Wallenda) walked a high wire 330' across the Cincinnati Gardens' arena floor during an intermission of a Cincinnati Mighty Ducks hockey game. Delilah walked a wire suspended 70' above the ice and walked, 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 the next season.
Ever wonder where the six unique bas-relief sporting figures on the outside of Cincinnati 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 Cincinnati Gardens' main entrance. These unique figures were the result of a design competition held in 1948 by the Art Academy of Cincinnati and the Cincinnati Gardens' architect/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.