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Photo Essay: The Cincinnati Gardens - 67 Years, 67 Memories

John Kiesewetter

Was it a Cincinnati Royals game with Oscar Robertson and Jerry Lucas, or the Ice Capades? I can't remember the first time I went to the Cincinnati Gardens as a kid in the late 1950s or early 1960s.

It might have been for one of the big, showdown Middletown Middies-Hamilton Big Blue basketball games on my birthday in late February.

The Gardens – a special place for 67 years -- will be bought for $1.75-million and demolished by the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority.

But it wasn't so special that the empty building should be saved, in my opinion. It hasn't been economically viable for years, probably even before the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks stopped skating in 2005.

Credit John Kiesewetter
Ticket windows in Cincinnati Gardens lobby.

It's never been air-conditioned. Yet it was a special place for the biggest indoor events in the 1950s,'60s and '70s.

I loved watching hockey (Swords, Cyclones, Mighty Ducks) in that old brick barn, just as my dad saw the old Cincinnati Mohawks in 1949, the year it opened.

Credit John Kiesewetter
Gardens floor, marked for the Cincinnati Rollergirls track

Dad and Mom took us to the Gardens to see the Harlem Globetrotters, Ice Capades, circus and Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass. In winter of 1966, after the Reds traded Frank Robinson to the Baltimore Orioles, I saw Robinson and the Reds' VadaPinson watching a Royals game there. Somewhere I have a program with their autographs.

Credit John Kiesewetter
Skate worn by Cincinnati Swords (1971-74)

We'd drive down from Middletown to ice skate in the annex next door, and sometimes on the arena floor. Years later I went to model railroad swap meets there.

My parents didn't take us to see the other famous folks who played there.

Here's a list of 67 memories from the Gardens' 67 years, and my photos from a recent tour of the Gardens arena and Legends Museum.

Credit John Kiesewetter
Expenses for the Beatles concert Aug. 27, 1964, displayed in the Cincinnati Gardens Legends Museum.

 1. Beatles  (First North American tour, Aug. 27, 1964)

2. The Rolling Stones

3. The Big O  (Oscar Robertson, the greatest player for the Cincinnati Royals NBA franchise 1958-72)

4. Big Bird (Sesame Street Live)

5. Tiny Nate Archibald (Cincinnati Royals rookie 1970)

6. Guns & Roses

Credit John Kiesewetter
Boxer relief on front of Gardens.

7. Ezzard Charles & Joey Maxim (First Gardens boxing match Feb. 28, 1949, six days after opening)

8. Gorgeous George

9. George W. Bush (May 4, 2002)

10. George Jones

11. Tom Jones

12. Hall & Oates

13. Jerry Lucas & Jack Twyman  (Jerry Lucas & Jack Twyman (1960s Cincinnati Royals stars with Oscar Robertson)

14. Alan Jackson

15. Michael Jackson

Credit John Kiesewetter
Recording of Dr. Martin Luther King's 1964 Gardens speech.

16. Madonna

17. Dr. Martin Luther King (His "The Great Revolution" speech May 8, 1964 at the Gardens was recorded and distributed on a record album with his "I Have A Dream" speech three months later.)

18. Dr. Billy Graham

19. Evil Knievel (indoor motorcycle jumps April 27-29, 1973)

20. Elvis Presley

21. Xavier & The Midwestern City Conference (Xavier played in the MCC when it moved home games off campus to the Gardens in 1983, and beat Ohio State and Nebraska in the 1984 NIT in the Gardens)

Credit John Kiesewetter
South stands

22. Bon Jovi & Molly Hatchet

23. Shipstads & Johnson Ice Follies

24. Stone Cold Steve Austin

25. Cedric the Entertainer, Steve Harvey & Bernie Mac (Kings of Comedy tour, 1998)

26. The Kinks

27. KISS

28. Sting

Credit John Kiesewetter
Lobby sign above entrance to arena

29. Snoopy

30. Richard Nixon (Rallies during the 1960 and 1968 presidential campaigns)

Credit John Kiesewetter

31. Rick Dudley & Floyd Smith (Cincinnati Swords hockey star and coach, respectively)

32. Ric Flair & Junkyard Dog  (Professional wrestling May 19, 1999)

33. Chuck Berry & Chubby Checker

Credit John Kiesewetter
The St. Xavier High School hockey team dresses in the room where the Beatles held their press conference Aug. 27, 1964, before taking the stage.

34. Jimi Hendrix (May 22, 1970)

35. Sammy Hagar

36. Sammy Davis Jr.

37. Harlem Globetrotters

38. Baltimore Bullets (Frequent foe of Royals, now NBA Baltimore Wizards)

Credit John Kiesewetter
Old Cincinnati Gardens scoreboard in Gardens Legends museum.

39. Sugar Ray Leonard & Robert Duran (One of the Gardens' first closed-circuit TV fights on June 20, 1980)

40. Bob Dylan (1968)

41. Bob Cousy (Royals player-coach who traded away Oscar Robertson in 1970)

42. Byron Larkin (Xavier star played home games at the Gardens 1984-88)

43. Pearl Jam

44. Pink Floyd

45. Lawrence Welk

Credit John Kiesewetter
The Big O basketball shoe box in Gardens Legends Museum.

46. Peter Gabriel

47. Pete Gillen (XU basketball coach 1985-94)

48. Syrian Shrine Circus (The Cincinnati Swords won the Calder Cup in March 1973  playing a "home" game in Buffalo, in their parent's club arena, because the Gardens had booked the circus the week of the finals.) 

49. Sportservice (Royals owner which moved team to Kansas City in 1972)

50. Bad Company

51. Minor league hockey (Mohawks, Swords, Wings, Cyclones, Mighty Ducks)

Credit John Kiesewetter
If you ever attended a Gardens event, you walked up and down steps.

52. Ozzy Osbourne

53. Bucky Buckhorn (Royals guard 1958-65)

54. Everly Brothers

55. Righteous Brothers

56. Allman Brothers

57. Statler Brothers

58. Public ice skating in the Gardens and annex next door

59. Martina McBride

60. Walt McBride (1980s XU basketball player)

61. Waylon Jennings

62. Loretta Lynn & Tammy Wynette

63. Silverbacks & Commandos (Indoor pro soccer team in 1995-97 & arena football team in 2010-12)

64. Cincinnati Slammers (Continental Basketball League, 1985-87)

65. Cincinnati Rollergirls jammers (Cincinnati Rollergirls, 2006-2016)

66. AC/DC

67. No AC! (Never installing air conditioning or becoming handicap accessible sealed Gardens fate?)

Credit John Kiesewetter
This old photo on display in the Gardens shows a gas station along old Carthage Avenue in upper right corner running behind the new arena.

John Kiesewetter, who has covered television and media for more than 35 years, has been working for Cincinnati Public Radio and WVXU-FM since 2015.