Patten Gym: New

In the spring of 1939, as the original Patten Gymnasium was being demolished to make way for the Technological Institute, construction was beginning on the new gymnasium building. The groundbreaking ceremony for the new gymnasium, which would continue to be named Patten Gymnasium in honor of Northwestern benefactor and former mayor of Evanston James A. Patten, was held on June 10, 1939 at Sheridan Road and Lincoln Street (a few blocks north of the old gymnasium).

The new gymnasium was intended to meet the needs of the growing program of intramural sports at Northwestern, as well as to hold physical education classes. The location of the new building, directly across the street from Roycemore Field, where outdoor intramural activities took place, would provide a convenient site for indoor intramurals. Designed by the noted Chicago firm of Holabird & Root, the building was designed to harmonize with the collegiate Gothic style of the Deering Library and Scott Hall (both designed by James Gamble Rogers), and of the proposed Technological Institute. The Patten Gymnasium was built at a cost of $425,000, and measured 136 feet wide (fronting on Sheridan Road) by 252 feet long. Although the new building was very different in style from Old Patten, a few items were brought from the demolished building; most notably sculptor Herman MacNeil’s bronze statues, fondly known as “Pat” and “Jim,” which had marked the entrance to the old gymnasium, did the same for the new building. The black and chrome doors from Old Patten were also installed in the new building, along with the bronze plaque commemorating the brave actions of alumnus Edward Spencer, who rescued seventeen people from the wreck of the schooner Lady Elgin in 1860.

The building’s exterior was of Lannon stone; gray marble with inset trophy cases covered the walls in the main lobby. On the first floor were seventeen Athletics Department offices, a hardwood-floored gymnasium large enough for three basketball games to be played simultaneously, an exercise room, and the men’s shower rooms. A highlight of the new building was its swimming pool, seventy-five feet long by six lanes wide, with depth ranging from four to eleven feet, and featuring the latest technology in underwater lighting. The pool area provided seating for 400 spectators. The gymnasium’s second floor held two exercise rooms, each thirty-two by fifty feet, a gymnastics area, and the women’s shower rooms. Activities such as fencing, dancing, and volleyball would be accommodated in the three exercise rooms. In the basement were a rifle range for the use of the men’s and women’s rifle teams, a gun room for the Naval ROTC, and space for golf and tennis practice.

The Patten Gymnasium was dedicated November 2, 1940, during Homecoming Weekend. Ceremonies began with a swimming and diving exhibition, and a concert by the University Band; the speeches that followed were broadcast over radio station WGN. Northwestern Director of Athletics, Kenneth Wilson, spoke about the growing importance of intramural sports, noting that “four hundred of the twenty-five hundred men on the campus are engaged in intercollegiate sports and ninety-one percent take part in our intramural program.” Major John Griffith, Athletic Commissioner of the Big Ten, added that “we all recognize the importance of physical and health education in terms of national defense.”

Despite the overall enthusiasm for the new building, some criticism attended the demolition of the old gymnasium and the design of the new one. Some people felt that the new structure, smaller than the old one, did not provide enough room for spectators. The issue of seating space would eventually be met by the construction of McGaw Memorial Hall in 1954.

Patten Gym (New), Exterior: Front Steps
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Quick Facts

Date: 1940

Architect: Holabird & Root

Named for: James G.Patten

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