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This Used To Be Here — Duquesne Gardens

An occasional series of things that no longer exist in Pittsburgh

The Duquesne Gardens held significant history in its Oakland confines until its demolition in 1956.
Photo via Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Interactive

When people think of iconic sports venues in Pittsburgh many will conjure up thoughts of Forbes Field, Three Rivers Stadium, the Civic Arena, or even Pitt Stadium. However, there is one venue that is often overlooked, but has historical significance both locally and nationally. That venue is the Duquesne Gardens.

Located at 110 North Craig Street in the Oakland section of town, the Duquesne Gardens opened in 1890 as a car barn, but was converted into multi-purpose sports and entertainment venue in 1896. While numerous teams called the Gardens home, its hockey teams were its most famous tenants.

On November 26, 1925 an overflow crowd paid $1 for a ticket to watch as the city of Pittsburgh hosted its first NHL game; the inaugural game of the Pittsburgh Pirates professional hockey team. Although this was the first NHL game, there were many predecessor professional hockey games played at Duquesne Gardens before the Pirates came into existence. In fact, in 1899 the rink hosted its first professional ice hockey game, which featured the Pittsburgh Athletic Club and the University of Pittsburgh.

Perhaps the most famous team to call Duquesne Gardens home was the Pittsburgh Hornets of the American Hockey League. The team won two Calder Cup championships in 1952 and 1955 during their tenure at Duquesne Gardens. Fans packed the Gardens to watch the Hornets and even got the opportunity to skate on the ice after each game.

Another historic event involving ice hockey happened at the Gardens on March 16, 1920. It was on that date that USA Hockey, the governing body for amateur youth and adult ice hockey in the United States, was founded within its walls.

There were several things that made the rink inside Duquesne Gardens unique. First, the ice surface was almost 50 feet longer than the size of a modern NHL rink. It also had a state-of-the-art refrigeration and resurfacing technology. The rink was also believed to be the first to ever utilize glass above the dasher boards. The glass was developed right here in Pittsburgh by the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company. Additionally, it is also believed that the Duquesne Gardens was just the fourth ice rink in the world to use a Zamboni ice resurfacing machine.

While the arena was most famous for hockey, many other teams called the Gardens home. The building was home to both Duquesne University and University of Pittsburgh basketball. The Dukes called Duquesne Gardens home 1914-1956. For the Panthers, Duquesne Gardens was their very first home, but their tenure in the building only lasted seven years, 1905-1912. The building was also home to the Pittsburgh Ironmen for one season, 1946-47. The Ironmen competed in the Basketball Association of America (BAA). That league would merge with National Basketball League in 1949 to form the National Basketball Association (NBA).

Back to the ice for a moment, another famous ice team was founded at the Duquesne Gardens. Times were tough during the Depression and venue owner/operator John H. Harris was looking for new and innovative ways to get crowds to the building. This being said, he hired legendary skater Sonja Henie to entertain crowds between periods of hockey games, which was met with positive fanfare. Based on this success, Harris developed the idea of the Ice Capades, which premiered in 1940 with an initial investment of $85,000. Needless to say, the Ice Capades quickly gained popularity and the franchise was sold in 1963 for $5.5 million.

By the end of its run, the Duquesne Gardens was badly antiquated and no longer viable as a professional sports venue. Realizing this, the city began construction of the world-class Civic Arena. Duquesne Gardens closed in 1955 and demolition started on August 13, 1956 to make way for the Plaza Park Apartments and Stouffer's Restaurant. In 1979 Duranti's Restaurant moved into Stouffer's Restaurant, but did not touch the only remaining evidence of the Gardens ' two eleven-foot wide sections of exposed red brick wall, which would have been the back wall of the Gardens' visiting dressing room. Those original Duquesne Gardens bricks served as the accent wall in the restaurant's main dining room. Duranti's closed in 2008 and the remaining bricks from the Gardens were carefully removed and placed into storage. The historic bricks eventually found their way to the Captain Morgan Club inside PPG Paints Arena where they are displayed along with other historical artifacts from the venue.

Pittsburgh has seen its fair share of historical sports moments that occurred in equally historic venues. While no major league championships were ever won within its confines, make no mistake that the Duquesne Gardens was a venue deeply rooted in Pittsburgh sports history.

Professional sports writer, fluent in sarcasm and other humorous arts. Bachelor and Master degrees from Duquesne University. Member of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association. Have previously written for many outlets, including the AP, Sports Xchange, PA SportsTicker, etc. Regularly appear as a guest on local sports radio. Expert at Name That Tune and proficient in many other areas of useless knowledge.

7 Comments on This Used To Be Here — Duquesne Gardens

  1. Thank you for this thoughtful article.

  2. Bob Stover // August 16, 2018 at 12:03 PM //

    Duquesne Gardens was abandoned only a year after I was born, so I never got to see an athletic event there. My father often told me of events he saw there while attending college in the late 1940’s.

  3. Went to many hockey games to watch the Pittsburgh Hornets with my dad and an uncle. Also saw the Ice Cspades several times. People laugh when I say I was a hockey fan even before we had the Penguins. Alas I now live in Atlantic – the Hickey Killer City

  4. Raymond A Comunale // August 16, 2018 at 9:12 PM //

    My question is how much was parking and a hot dog

  5. Vince Comunale // August 16, 2018 at 11:17 PM //

    Jean, thanks for sharing. I wish I could've seen a game there (and Forbes Field for that matter). I was born too late.

  6. Thanks for the great piece I really enjoyed reading about it. I myself never got to see it being born in 1963. My mother told me many of stories about goin there with her father as a girl to watch hockey.
    So seeing that picture and reading about it has brought back a lot of fond memories. Thanks so much !!

  7. Vince Comunale // August 30, 2018 at 11:55 AM //

    Thank you, Dennis. I’m glad you enjoyed the piece. I enjoy writing historical pieces every now and then. You can only break down the Penguins’ power play or the Pirates’ batting order so much, so a piece like this provides a nice break from the norm.

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