Happy 90 years, Williams Arena!

From the Archivist: Occasional posts related to University history

By Erin George

From its dedication as the Field House in 1928 to its remodeling and re-naming as Williams Arena in 1950 to today, “The Barn” has held a special place on campus. The beloved raised floor has been home to Gopher basketball greats such as Mychal Thompson, Rachel Banham, Kevin McHale, Lou Hudson, Janel McCarville, Trent Tucker, Lindsay Whalen, and many more.

As a gathering place, Williams Arena has hosted special guests, campus events, and noted speakers. The Barn saved the day in May 1956 when demand for tickets to hear T.S. Eliot, Nobel prize-winning poet, critic, and playwright, surpassed the capacity of the then 7,000-seat Northrop Memorial Auditorium. Of the 16,000 reserved tickets, 13,700 people attended the event in Williams Arena in what was called by the University’s director of concerts and lectures the “largest audience in the United States, we think, to ever hear a literary speaker.”

Happy 90 years, Williams Arena!

Architectural sketch of the Minnesota Field House by C.H. Johnston Architects, November 1, 1926.
Architectural sketch of the Minnesota Field House by C.H. Johnston Architects, November 1, 1926.

 

During 1927, the Field House began to take form. The structure was still unrecognizable on August 4, 1927.
During 1927, the Field House began to take form. The structure was still unrecognizable on August 4, 1927.

 

The curved roof was beginning its ascent on September 6, 1927.
The curved roof was beginning its ascent on September 6, 1927.

 

The structure sprang to life in late September 1927.
The structure sprang to life in late September 1927.

 

By November 25, 1927, what we now know as The Barn began to take make its place on campus.
By November 25, 1927, what we now know as “The Barn” began to take its place on campus.

 

Construction of the raised court began in late 1927.
Construction of the raised court began in late 1927.

 

The Field House was dedicated February 4, 1928. In an unfortunate turn, the Gopher men’s basketball team lost to the Buckeyes 40-42 in double overtime.
The Field House was dedicated February 4, 1928. In an unfortunate turn, the Gopher men’s basketball team lost to the Buckeyes 40-42 in double overtime.

 

The dedication program extolled the financing of the Field House, which had been “erected without a cent of cost to the taxpayers for construction purposes.”
The dedication program extolled the financing of the Field House, which had been “erected without a cent of cost to the taxpayers for construction purposes.”

 

The back cover detailed the Field House’s dimensions, capacity, and future uses.
The back cover detailed the Field House’s dimensions, capacity, and future uses.

 

A week of celebrations was capped off with the dedication of Williams Arena in honor of Dr. Henry L. Williams on March 4, 1950.
A week of celebrations was capped off with the dedication of Williams Arena in honor of Dr. Henry L. Williams on March 4, 1950.

 

The day’s festivities on March 4 included tours of the recently remodeled building that now housed basketball and hockey arenas, a luncheon, a gymnastics meet versus Illinois (Gophers were defeated by the Illini), and a basketball game against Wisconsin (Gophers fell to the Badgers).
The day’s festivities on March 4 included tours of the recently remodeled building that now housed basketball and hockey arenas, a luncheon, a gymnastics meet versus Illinois (Gophers were defeated by the Illini), and a basketball game against Wisconsin (Gophers fell to the Badgers).

 

No matter the outcomes of the games or matches, the signature raised floor of Williams Arena, pictured in 1949, will keep a special place in the hearts of Gopher fans.
No matter the outcomes of the games or matches, the signature raised floor of Williams Arena, pictured in 1949, will keep a special place in the hearts of Gopher fans.

 

Goldie with wordmark

Erin George is the University Archives Research Services Archivist. To learn more about the University of Minnesota Archives, please visit www.lib.umn.edu/uarchives

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