Editor’s Note: This is the 329th in a series of articles recalling vanished Huntington scenes.
HUNTINGTON — Located at 7th Avenue and 1st Street, Arena Gardens was the city’s “civic center” of its day. It served as a venue for ice skating, hockey, roller skating, small circuses and other traveling shows.
Of steel and wood construction, the structure was built in 1938 and for its first few years was used only for ice skating. In 1940, it was the home court for an ice hockey match between the Huntington Stars and a Penn State University team.
Arena Gardens was operated by colorful local promoter Dick Deutsch, who also ran Radio Center, the former Vanity Fair arena in the 600 block of 4th Avenue. (Today, the old building houses efficiency apartments for low-income residents, operated by the Cabell-Huntington Coalition for the Homeless.)
Until Veterans Memorial Field House was built in 1950, Marshall College (now University) played its home basketball games at Radio Center. But when Radio Center was otherwise booked, Marshall played at Arena Gardens.
Shortly before midnight on April 7, 1945, Arena Gardens was destroyed in a spectacular fire that claimed the life of a Huntington firefighter, Lt. Jess Hensley. Three other firefighters narrowly escaped with their lives as the roof of the burning building collapsed.
Six fire companies fought the fire, but after 30 minutes firefighters realized there was no hope of saving the structure and so confined their efforts to saving nearby buildings, which the fierce heat threatened to ignite. Fire Chief Brooks McClure told the Huntington Advertiser there was nothing to indicate how or precisely where the fire started, and there would be no chance of discovering those facts from the ruins.
Arena Gardens was owned by F.C. Sammons and Pearl Rardin. Deutsch estimated the loss of the building at “about $100,000,” most of which was covered by insurance.