Memories of the Wintergarden – Niagara Falls, New York

If you read the Wikipedia article on Niagara Falls, you’ll see the following mention of the Wintergarden within our City’s entry: The Wintergarden was an all-glass indoor arboretum designed by Cesar Pelli adjacent to the Rainbow Centre and over Old Falls Street. It operated as an arboretum from its 1977 opening until 2003, when it was closed due to rising maintenance costs. The city then sold the structure to local developer Joseph Anderson, who operated it as Smokin Joe’s Family Fun Center from 2003 to 2007. It was demolished in 2009 in order to improve vehicular and pedestrian traffic on Old Falls Street.

Easily summed up in a few quick sentences for a Wikipedia paragraph, but if you lived in and grew up in Niagara Falls during the late 1970s (into the 80s & 90s) like I did, the Wintergarden was always a fixture in the landscape of Downtown Niagara Falls.  I remember playing there during the Festival of Lights each year, coming to it for certain school events or weddings, and then having to walk through it on my lunch break at Teletech in order to get to what was left of the Rainbow Mall so I could wreck havoc on Chris Fortin during our daily bubble hockey showdowns at the game room.  Although during it’s final years, the Wintergarden was far from being the Niagara Falls icon that many may have remembered it as, becoming just a shell of its former, well, shell.  Although I am glad that the eyesore it became no longer exists, my memories of the big glass building will always be fond.  I hope a few of these photos help spark a bit of nostalgia… What memories do you have? 


  1. Luc says:

    I do not understand this. That structure of the Wintergarden along with the rest of the utter lunacy of Lackey’s so-called Urban Renewal closing off Main Street, the convention center, etc. etc. etc was but one of the massively stupid decisions, errors that led to the nightmare of Niagara Falls today. Anyone with a brain can look at photos of Niagara Falls in the late 1800s and compare to the current mess and what are people still doing in 2017? Going down memory lane or hand wringing.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Scruples, its Greek to me,

  3. Anonymous says:

    So many wonderful filled memories! I loved it so much and was heartbroken to see a part of history go like that. Precious memories.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I left NF in the 70’s before it was built. When I came back and saw it my first impression was that it was hideous. That impression for me never changed. It took away the charm and quaintness of Old Falls St and completely changed the complexion of what Old Falls street was. This monstrosity and Love Canal led to the demise of NF NY being a tourist destination.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I work in that winter garden 1977 to 2005 with paul dickson

  6. Paul Bellucci says:

    So many fine memories of this special place. First visit was in 1977-78 on a field trip from grade school. Visited annually in the following years while attending ” The Festival of Lights” every Christmas Season!!! My most special memory was in Feb 1996 when I purposed to my future wife in the Garden!!! Very sad that it’s gone. Thanks for GREAT times!!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Oh it made me feel like heaven every year at christmas. I would go with my parents and see the lights and how it all glissened. I wish i could pass this on but its sad its memory will live on.

  8. Phil says:

    My wife and I were married in the Wintergardens in 1986.

    Niagara Falls obviously has its head up its ass. You don’t destroy things that make your city special and unique. We will never visit Niagara Falls again.

    Why don’t you tear down the Falls next? It is in the way of a lot of new roads too, don’t you think?

  9. Anonymous says:

    The Wintergarden was beautiful, but unfortunately built in the wrong place. The street functions much better now without it and looks better too. I wish they could have found a way to dismantle it and reassemble it somewhere else instead of simply demolishing it. It would have worked better if it was situated on a building lot instead of over a street.

  10. Anonymous says:

    So sad , I was born and raised in NF, NY.
    I left in 1997. I did however come home to get Married in the Wintergreen in 1999.
    So many awesome memories of the Wintergreen, From school trips , hanging out listening to birds and flowing waters on a bad day (always helped to clear my head.
    So Glad my last memory of it is My wedding day.
    I was just in NF, NY last weekend . I was sad to see it so run down and dirty . Really mad me sad .

    • WNY Girl at Heart says:

      I too grew up in the area, and also came home to get married in the Wintergardens in 1992…such a great location for my winter wedding, with the snow falling on the glass…..I’ve been away a number of years and was telling someone about the area and Googled to find this icon is no longer there…how sad….I too am glad my last memory of being married in the Gardens on a snowy lovely December day…..

  11. Anonymous says:

    Loved the rainbow mall the cool elevator and the winter garden.It was awesome during the festival of lights. The outlet mall is great but the rainbow mall and summit park mall are the malls of my teenage years LaSalle class of 1993

  12. Frank & Mary says:

    We were married in the WIntergarden in June, 1984. Too bad it’s gone now.

  13. richard lynch says:

    I ran conferences in NF just as they were taking it down, and erecting the far more brilliant casinos. Let’s guess what was better for the culture and intellect of a beautiful place.

  14. Beth says:

    Had our wedding pictures done there. Sad. Time the city did something positive instead of always negative. Hopefully some new blood will come into office one day and turn it around instead of always taking care of the same people/issue

  15. Ray says:

    I really miss the Boxing Shows we use to put on there. Back in the early 2000’s Smokin Joe and Casal’s Boxing Club packed the place. It was at the end of the Garden’s run but it was a blast.

  16. Beth S, says:

    I had a really weird experience at the Rainbow Mall — does this count? About 9 years ago, my then 12-year old daughter and I decided to spend a summer afternoon at the Falls. I knew the parking garage at the mall was free, so we pulled in and parked. There weren’t many cars, but we weren’t the only ones. I hadn’t been to the mall in ages, but remembered you could walk through it and go out the other side. We had no idea it was completely closed. The door wasn’t locked, so we just walked inside. It was totally deserted. We stood there in shock and then ran like hell outta there. It was CREEPY! I still can’t believe the door wasn’t locked and we just walked right in…

  17. Anonymous says:

    I get sad whenever I come home and see what they have done to this city!

  18. Anonymous says:

    this was my go to spot to take chicks in high school lol

  19. Anonymous says:

    Born and raised in the falls a lot of memories

  20. Roseann says:

    I grew up in the Falls in the 70-80’s and remember going to the winter gardens for many school trips . I remember how amazing it was and”cool” the first time going there. It was just so different.. It’s alawys great seeing these old images . thanks for sharing them

  21. Kim Pickett says:

    I was surprised to see this had been demolished. We have fond memories of visiting it on our honey moon trip to Niagara Falls back in 1979. Such a shame. It was beautiful then.

  22. richard says:

    Back in 2002, I remember flying into Buffalo and renting a car for a wedding in Toronto. Decided to make a stop in Niagara on the way up. Walked around the falls a few hours on a brisk October day; a bit overcast and chilled. While wandering back towards the car I happened upon this glass structure. I wasn’t even entirely sure it was open to the public – somewhat forlorn looking. But to my pleasant surprise upon entering, I was completely transported into a sultry, tropical haven. Lush warm greens and the sounds of water and birds chirping (if I recall correctly). A complete – and welcome – contrast to the cold and dry outside. Admittedly, I briefly wondered how they maintained this place – it couldn’t be cheap!

    Still, a simple, 30minute meditation in this winter respite was all it took to keep the memory recorded forever. Even for this outsider, it was special. Sorry to hear it’s gone!

  23. Heather Anderson says:

    So sad! My husband and I were married there nearly 15 years ago.

  24. Anonymous says:

    I don’t RemeMeer this I left there April 75 after my dad died. I helped mom move to Cape coral fla.

  25. porcupine73 says:

    I was sad to see it was demolished. I remember many sunny days in the winter going there with my parents in the early/mid 1980’s. I loved the elevators and raised walkways that ran through it. It was such a nice place to visit when it was cold outside but sunny. It was a nice little ‘tropical getaway’.

  26. I spent much of my childhood and youth playing around in the Winter Garden. My grandmother was a manager at Beirs department store (Rainbow Center, far end) and I was a model for their children’s clothes so I spent a lot of time in the building. Later in life I worked for many years at the State Parks there at the falls and spent my lunch breaks sitting at the tables on the second floor of the Winter Garden. Now years later a designing game called Minecraft comes out and one of the very first thing that I recreated is the Winter Garden and much of downtown Niagara Falls circa 1980-early 90’s. Anyone out there interested in seeing my recreation send a xbox friend request to weekoldpizza.

    Every month or so I will google image the Winter Garden, Rainbow Center, etc. and see if there is anything new that I’m missing from my image collection. I’m so glad I found this article as it had many images I haven’t seen before. I also have the Caesar Pelli book that features the Winter Garden on its cover. It’s the holy grail of my collection. I’m trying to preserve the history of this place as well as the Rainbow Center so I can show my daughter a piece of her father’s own childhood.

  27. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for memorys. What is prompting us to think of the WIntergarden now? Did not know it was demolished. Took my kids there for fun and teaching. Such an amazing place. So bummed.

  28. Anonymous says:

    I remember the spiral stair case they had and that concrete platform they used for weddings we used to hop from one side to the other lol.

  29. See Above says:

    I remember going to city council and asking them not to tear it down; and to reduce the maintenance (heating) costs by exchanging tropical flora with indigenous ones that could weather the winter. Could you imagine NCCC running it as a horticultural school — with a culinary center nearby.

    My arguments to the government is that we are a poor city, and so many people come there for their weddings, who cannot afford to go elsewhere.

    When I was unsuccessful at saving it, I asked that it be moved to Hyde Park for the aforementioned purposes; but found that it would not only be cost prohibitive, but also the asbestos abatement and other environmental issues would get in the way.

    Could you image the Veterans Monument being placed under glass so that there could be access year-round for events. Veterans Day would not be so weather sensitive, people could get married and have other ceremonies there, the monument could be secured and a host of other opportunities?

    • Fred says:

      What was the name of the restaurant in the rainbow mall in the late 70’s and 80’s. Morgans? Or something like that?

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