CINCINNATI – For the first time in more than 50 years, the Cincinnati Gardens is losing its signature letters that adorn the arena entrance.
O’Rourke Wrecking Company, which won the demolition bid from the Greater Cincinnati Redevelopment Authority in early November, started to remove the exterior letters Monday afternoon.
BELOW: Sky9 captures the letter removal
The letters are scheduled to be completely removed Tuesday morning and will be donated to the American Sign Museum in Camp Washington.
Tod Swormstedt, President and Founder of the museum, plans to eventually display the letters on the exterior of his building facing Monmouth Street.
Demolition of the Gardens building is still planned to start by the end of this year. The GCRA (formerly the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority) plans to re-purpose the 19-acre site into parcels attractive for advanced manufacturing.
WCPO.com previously reported the site has a potential economic impact worth 300 jobs and a new $20.5 million capital investment.
The GCRA is also working with the family of Henry Mott regarding the relocation of the six unique bas-relief sporting figures on the outside of the Gardens building.
Those figures have stood at the main entrance since the building opened in 1949. There are two figures each of a boxer, basketball player and hockey player cut in a three-dimensional pattern, each standing about 10 feet high flanking the entrance.
The exterior letters have likely adorned the Gardens since sometime in the early 1960s, according to former Gardens spokesperson Greg Waddell. There had been variations of a main exterior sign (or no visible main sign) prior to the early 1960s.
In 1960, the main sign had an NBA logo and mentioned it was home to the Cincinnati Royals basketball team. The building management officially changed the building from "Cincinnati Garden" to "Cincinnati Gardens" in the early months of 1961, according to Gardens historian John Perin.
In previous decades, the Gardens staff previously would power wash the letters every year using a ladder, hose and a high-powered compressor.
The letters have seen countless events in the Bond Hill neighborhood of Cincinnati.
Earlier this year, the port sold 1,035 of the estimated 10,000 arena seats during a public sale from mid-December 2016 to early January 2017.
The unsold seats from last winter were in the building as of mid-September.
The Gardens was built in 1949 and was the seventh largest arena in the country at the time. The Montreal Canadiens played an exhibition game Feb. 22, 1949 in front of 11,500 to open the Gardens.
The arena hosted countless sporting events and concerts along with comedians, symphony orchestras, Broadway-style musicals, political rallies, roller derby, circuses, dog shows, dirt track auto racing and faith events.
In addition to the Beatles, Jackson Five, Jimi Hendrix and Elvis Presley performed there. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rev. Billy Graham spoke there.
The largest recorded crowd in Gardens history occurred Oct. 25, 1960 as 19,000 attended a Richard Nixon and Henry Cabot Lodge campaign rally.
The NBA’s Cincinnati Royals played there from 1957 to 1972. The franchise moved after the '71-72 season and became the Kansas City-Omaha Kings in 1972-73. The team was known as the Kansas City Kings from 1975-85 and later became the current Sacramento Kings.
The Gardens hosted the 1966 NBA All-Star Game, which included Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Jerry West, Oscar Robertson and Jerry Lucas, among others. Legendary coach Red Auerbach coached the East squad.
The Gardens also hosted UC basketball games featuring the 'Big O' prior to his arrival with the Royals, and Middletown High School basketball games featuring Lucas prior to his arrival with Cincinnati's NBA team. The Ohio high school state basketball finals were played there in 1953 and '55.
Xavier University used the Gardens as its home court starting with the 1983-84 season. The final Xavier game at the Gardens was an NIT first round game against Marquette on March 15, 2000.
The facility most recently served as home to Cincinnati Rollergirls, the city's first amateur, all-female, flat track roller derby team. The Rollergirls had the final event in the history of the arena June 11, 2016.