Created on Saturday, 13 July 2013 Written by Cliff Radel,The Cincinnati Enquirer
CINCINNATI (AP) — If the old cast-concrete sculptures on Cincinnati Gardens' facade could talk, the guy dribbling the basketball, the boxer with his dukes up and the hockey player wielding his stick would say:
"This place is for sale. Who will buy the memories created here by the Beatles and Elvis and the Big O?"
The Gardens, set to turn 65 on Feb. 22, is on the market, along with its vast 20-acre footprint of weed-dotted parking lots. No price has been set for the building. Or its memories.
"You can't put a clear-cut dollar amount on property that's as unique as this," Pete Robinson said Tuesday. The arena's president sat in his favorite seat in the house - at the end of the first row of the press box on the building's northern grandstand.
"I sat here for nine years of Cincinnati Mighty Ducks hockey," said the son of Gerry Robinson, the man who rescued the building in 1979 from an uncertain future that could have turned it into a warehouse or a parking lot.
"So many memories, so many events," said the younger Robinson as he patted the counter top. "This seat means a lot to me."
This place means a lot to Cincinnatians. No other Queen City sports and entertainment venue, still boasting its original wooden seats, can claim such a heritage, such a cast of characters that has trooped across its stage.
The Gardens - based on Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens - has seen and heard the likes of: the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Madonna, Michael Jackson, George Jones, Hank Williams Jr., Alan Jackson, Neil Young and Evel Knievel.
Politicians from a president, George W. Bush, to presidential hopefuls, Richard Nixon and Barry Goldwater, spoke from the Gardens' stage to the party faithful. Preachers from Billy Graham to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered messages of another faith from the pulpit of the structure, which was the seventh-largest arena in the United States when it opened on Feb. 22, 1949. The then-13,600-seat Gardens held the honor of being Cincinnati's largest arena until 1975, when Riverfront Coliseum, now U.S. Bank Arena, opened.
The longtime home of the Shrine Circus has also played host to enough ice shows to create a glacier. The facility, built with 470,000 bricks at a cost of $3 million, has provided the home-court advantage for Xavier University and University of Cincinnati basketball games as well as one big-league franchise, the NBA's Cincinnati Royals, led by Oscar Robertson, the Big O.
The Gardens has been home to three minor-league sports - hockey, roller derby, indoor football - and professional boxing. The Feb. 28, 1949, bout between Cincinnati's Ezzard Charles and Joey Maxim drew a standing-room-only crowd of 14,062. That fight still stands as the 12th-largest crowd ever to see an event at the Pleasant Ridge arena. The top spot belongs to an Oct. 25, 1960, Nixon campaign rally. That love fest attracted 19,000 people to see the jowly then-vice president.
"This building has had a great run," Robinson said, gazing around the empty seats. "My family has been proud to own the Gardens since 1979," he added. "She's a great lady."
Robinson's family dolled up the old girl in 1999. For its 50th anniversary, the Gardens received a new paint job and a thorough cleaning. That removed the arena's characteristic aroma, a potent perfume of peanuts, beer, cigars and hot dogs. Now, she smells clean.
"Times have changed in the last few years," Robinson noted. "Fewer and fewer opportunities exist to bring in our blend of shows. It's become difficult to sell tickets to anything."
That has not stopped him from booking shows for 2014, the Gardens' 65th season.
"For us, it will be business as usual," Robinson said. "But the building will also be on the market. We're hoping the next buyer keeps the place as a sports and entertainment venue."
He thinks the old girl can still make more history. Only time, and those sculptures in front of the building, will tell.