McGaw Memorial Hall was built through the generosity of Northwestern University trustee and donor Foster G. McGaw, founder of the American Hospital Supply Corporation. The building, named in memory of McGaw's father, Presbyterian minister and missionary Francis A. McGaw, to house sporting events and large-scale meetings. With a seating capacity of about 13,000, McGaw Memorial Hall was one of the three largest auditoriums in the Chicago area at the time of its construction. Designed by the architectural firm of Holabird & Root & Burgee and built of reinforced concrete, McGaw Memorial Hall contained 54,000 square feet of interior space. The lighting system, consisting of 180 mercury vapor lights, was said to simulate pure daylight.
Partitions, portable bleachers, and a removable basketball floor made the building suitable for a wide variety of uses. While the intent was to provide a space large enough to hold the entire student body of Northwestern University at once during convocations and other such campus occasions, the auditorium was also used by the North Shore Music Festival and, soon after its opening, by the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches. This event, held from August 15-30, 1954, featured a convocation address by U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
In 1983 Northwestern completed extensive renovations on the interior of the McGaw Hall. In recognition of major contributions to the work, the principal interior spaces of the building have been named Welsh-Ryan Arena and the Ronald J. Chinnock Lobby.
Architect: Holabird & Root & Burgee
Named for: Rev. Francis A. McGaw