Monday, January 21, 2013

The Oldest College Basketball Arenas

The Gonzaga/Butler game on Saturday night brought extensive attention to historic Hinkle Fieldhouse as the ESPN crew played up the age, history and tradition of the facility.  Butler proceeded to win a nail biter.  However, ESPN left us in the dark as to other arenas, saying only that Hinkle was the 6th oldest arena in the country.   Leaving the true basketball purist to wonder what the five older ones were?  

The great thing about college basketball is that the older arenas have taken on an historic place rivaled only by major league baseball stadiums -- Wrigley Field and Fenway Park.  Universities and the communities around them have taken to refurbishing or remodeling the classic historic ones as opposed to opening new ones. 

Oregon shutdown its Mac Court only two years ago, facing extreme opposition and in fact tried to replicate its historic Mac Court when it replaced the 84 year old facility in 2011 with Matthew Knight Arena.  What every true Duck and college basketball purist knows is that you can't reproduce the history and tradition that these facilities have. sat down and did the homework.  Compiling the following list showing the gym/arena name, the year that it opened and the capacity as well as a significant or historic note where appropriate. 

1.  Rose Hill Gym, Fordham, 1925, Fordham University capacity of 3,470 -- Hosted the final high school game of Lew Alcinder's (Kareem Abdul Jabaar)  career. 

2.  The Palestra, January 1, 1927, University of Pennsylvania capacity of 8,722. -- The home of the Big 5 and "The Cathedral of College Basketball."  We have talked about the Palestra before.  (Link:

3.  Hec Edmundson Pavillion, 1927, University of Washington, capacity of 10,000.  Washington has the most wins of any school in its existing arena going into this season.  Now 85 years old, the Husky basketball team started playing there, in 1927.  "Hec Ed" hosted the 1949 (Kentucky wins title) and 1952 (Kansas coached by Phog Allen victorious) Final Fours.  The largest attendance at "Hec Ed", however, was the 1957 semifinals of the Washington State High School basketball tournament when 12,961 fans sold out "Hec Ed".  What is great about this is that at no point was the capacity of "Hec Ed" ever close to 12,961!    "Hec Ed's"most memorable game, however, may have been Seattle University's 1954 victory over the Harlem Globetrotters   (See link from this blog:

4.  Williams Arena, 1928, University of Minnesota, capacity of 14,625.  From 1950 to 1971, Williams Arena  had the largest seating capacity of any arena in the country. BYU's Marriott Center opened in 1971 and toped Williams.   In  1950, Williams was split to house both a hockey arena and a basketball arena in separate sections of the facility.   The unusual feature of Williams is the raised court, which puts the first row and fans sitting in it below court level.  Hinkle Fieldhouse and Memorial Gymnasium at Vanderbilt are the only two other college arenas with this feature.  Williams hosted the 1951 Final Four (Bill Spivey and Adolph Rupp lead Kentucky past Kansas State) and the 1958 and 1966 Frozen Four. 

5.  Hinkle Fieldhouse, 1928, Butler University, Capacity of 10,000.  The largest basketball arena in the country when it was constructed, Hinkle hosted the Indiana High School State Championships from 1928 (its construction date) to 1971.  Butler University still plays on the original floor.   In 1968 Hinkle hosted the East/West High School All Star game where Pete Maravich outplayed Indiana legend Rick Mount and of course Hinkle was where Milan's legendary Indiana State High School Basketball Championship took place -- which became the version of the movie "Hoosiers". 

6.  Payne Whitney Gym, John J. Lee Amphitheatre, Yale University 1932, capacity of 2,532.  Houses a swimming pool on in one wing and the basketball arena on the other.   Also features facilities for crew, gymnastics, fencing and four indoor basketball courts.  .

7.  Fogelman Arena, 1933, Tulane University, Capacity 3,600.  Opened December 15, 1933 when Tulane beat Southwestern Louisiana 38-34.  On February 11, 1966, Pete Maravich set a still standing building record by scoring 66 points.  Tulane, however, still won  the game 110-96.  Tulane did move some of its games to the Superdome, but after renovations returned a full slate of home games to Fogelman Arena. 

8.  Gallagher Iba Arena, 1938,  Oklahoma State University.  Capacity is 13,611  -- First game featured Phog Allen's Kansas Jayhawks against Hank Iba's Cowboys, Iba's squad won 21-15.  Called the Madison Square Garden of the Plains when it originally opened, Oklahoma State continues to play on the original maple floor from 1938. 

9.  McCalister Fieldhouse (originally The Citadal Armory), opened in 1939, The Citadel, capacity 6000, renovated in 1989, farthest seat is only 24 rows from court level.  The arena where Conroy played.  The same arena where on February 13, 1967, Conroy and The Citadel played "in one of the most exciting games I'd ever seen.  I watched the boys on both teams honor the character and nature of their schools by playing a game that glitters in remembrance."   Conroy's words on the epic contest.  In this game, Pat Conroy, as The Citadel's team captain led the Cadets past VMI in a four overtimes.

I pump-faked, and put the basketball high off the backboard with an underhand scoop.  I was on the ground when I saw the ball slip through the net.  The Armory approached meltdown.  The score was 72-70....I looked out to the Corps and I drank in their applause through the pores of my skin as I tried to memorize how I felt as the happiest, most fabulous moment of my life.  I sank the free throw.  In what seemed like seconds later, the buzzer sounded to end what is still the longest basketball game in Southern Conference history.  We won, 73-70.

Conroy on his game winner at The Armory. 

10.  Cameron Indoor Fieldhouse, Duke University, 1940, capacity 9,314, dedicated January 6, 1940, at the time Cameron was the largest basketball facility south of The Palestra.  In fact the same architectural firm that designed The Palestra designed Cameron.

It's the intimacy of the arena, the unique seating arrangement that puts the wildest fans right down on the floor with the players. It's the legends that were made there, the feeling of history being made with every game. And it's something more than either of these, something indescribable that comes from the building itself. No one who has experienced it will ever forget it.   From the Duke University website on Cameron Indoor Arena. 

There is obviously more on Cameron, see:   "Home Court - Fifty Years of Cameron Indoor Stadium" by Hazel Landwehr. 

Those are the top 10, however, like any other list, there is a subjectivity to it as the above arenas feature teams that have played in the facilities consecutively from their inception. 

The four arena's below would all rank high on the list however, their basketball programs did not start playing in these facilities until much later.   So the building might actually be older than those facilities shown above, but the school/university has not played in the building as long as those listed above.   Accordingly, they don't appear on the list above, however some have an extensive tradition and history that rivals anything on the list.

Lundholm Gymnasium,  1930, New Hampshire, capacity of 3,000.  Originally, UNH played in the Field House, Lundholm Gym was added as a component of the Field House and was opened in 1960. So technically Lundholm has not been the homecourt of New Hampshire since 1930, only since 1960. 

Matthews Arena, opened in 1910, Northeastern University.   Capacity 6,000.  Formerly, Boston Arena, technically, it could be argued that this is actually the "oldest" active arena and I'm certain that the ESPN research crew was counting Matthews when it stated the Hinkle was the 6th oldest active arena.  However, Northeastern didn't actually start playing here in the facility until 1981 and even played at Solomon Court at the Cabot Center from 1997 through 2005.  Matthews was the original home court of both the Boston Celtics and Boston Bruins.  Matthews also was the home arena for The Beanpot Tournament and hockey teams of Boston University, Boston College, MIT, Northeastern, and Tufts and is still the oldest indoor hockey arena in the world.

Rod Laviates Basketball Pavillion at Briggs Athletic Center, 1926, Harvard University.  Did not become a basketball facility in November 26th 1982 when the men's and women's programs began playing games here.  Capacity is 2,195.

Municipal Arena, University of Missouri-Kansas City, 1936, capacity is 9,827; UMKC has fielded a basketball team since 1969 so technically not in use as a college arena since 1936, however, the history of Municipal Arena rivals that of any arena in the country.  It was opened in 1936 and has a storied basketball history having hosted the NAIA Tournament from 1937 to 1975 as well as the three of first four Final Fours (1940 Indiana over Kansas), (1941 Wisconsin over Washington State) and (1942 Stanford over Dartmouth).  Kansas City itself is home to the college basketball hall of fame. 

Other arenas.  There is a large gap between these 14 and the next "wave".  Not until 1950 do we see arenas built that are still in use.   Likely due to World War II, when most programs did not field teams or only fielded teams on a limited basis.   The next series would include, although not entirely complete:  Elon College Alumni Gym, 1950, featuring all chair back seating; Niagara University Gallagher Center, 1949; Gill Coliseum, Oregon State, 1949, and St. Joe's Memorial Fieldhouse (present day Michael J. Hagan Arena), opened in 1949.  St. Joe's played in the Palestra prior to this period.   


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