Recalling pleasant things and taking the time to dwell on them.
The Hawkeyes Take The Field.
Athletics and the University of Iowa have always gone hand-in-hand. Over the years, the Hawkeyes have played in a variety of different facilities – from a small basement gym to an armory built for military drills to a football stadium with nose-bleed bleachers that seated fans directly above the Iowa River!
#1 – SUI Armory was built in 1879 – right next to Old Capitol. As you can see from the pictures above, the Armory also did double-duty as the SUI Power Plant – providing steam heat for buildings on University Square – until 1904 – when a new power plant opened closer to the Iowa River. The Armory housed some SUI athletic activities – plus was the meeting hall for the Iowa National Guard. Read more about the first Armory here.
#2 – Close Hall/YMCA-YWCA opened in 1891 – on the northwest corner of Iowa Avenue & Dubuque Street. This three-story building was originally built for the YMCA/YWCA mission on campus and had a full-sized gymnasium in the basement. Many don’t realize that Close Hall was the first home of the Iowa Hawkeyes men’s basketball team and the site of the very first 5-on-5 college basketball game – January 18, 1896 – as the University of Chicago Maroons beat the Hawkeyes 15-12. Click here for more info about Close Hall.
#3 – Iowa Field opened in 1895 – located adjacent to the Iowa River just west of Old Capitol – positioned between what is now Iowa Avenue and Burlington Street. SUI President Charles A. Schaeffer – a proponent of college athletics – saw to it that the university had a dedicated space to play baseball, football, and other sports. Once the new Armory opened in 1905, Iowa Field became the hub of Iowa athletics until 1929.
#4 – The SUI Athletic Pavilion opened in 1905 – located west of Old Capitol – just east of Iowa Field. This large red-brick building opened up a multitude of possibilities for SUI. It housed the men’s gymnasium where the Hawkeyes played basketball, classrooms, and an armory for SUI-related Armed Services (ROTC). Outside to the east was a large open field for military exercises (see below), and to the north were several tennis courts.
(P-0284)Above is a rare ticket to the June 16, 1915 SUI Commencement ceremonies held at The Armory. The backside is full of hand-written notes concerning Minnesota statutory laws – maybe written by a graduate from the SUI Law School who has a new job in Minnesota?
#5 – Women’s Gymnasium opened in 1913 – located just west of Calvin Hall at the corner of Jefferson & Madison Streets. Renamed Halsey Hall in 1975, it is scheduled for demolition in the near future, but presently houses the Department of Dance and Fitness East. Halsey Hall achieved a measure of fame as an exterior shot for the 1980’s television sitcom, Coach, the title character of which was loosely based on former UI football coach Hayden Fry.
(P-0120) Circa 1915 – Here’s a very rare postcard picturing the Iowa football team playing in Iowa Field.
Be it issues with flooding or the fact that the university was growing, SUI ultimately decided to move a majority of the athletic programs west of the Iowa River, playing the final football game at Iowa Field on November 3rd, 1928. In only seven months, Iowa Stadium – now Kinnick Stadium – would be constructed on the west side – opening in October of 1929.
Renamed Kinnick Stadium in 1972, Iowa Stadium first opened in 1929, replacing Iowa Field. It was constructed in only seven months with groundbreaking and construction beginning on March 6, 1929. Workers labored around the clock using lights by night with horses and mules as the primary heavy-equipment movers. The first game was played October 5, 1929, against Monmouth College. Iowa won the game 46–0.
The stadium was dedicated two weeks later, on a rainy Saturday afternoon, when the Hawkeyes tied Illinois 7–7. My dad, George Boller, age 8, was there for both of these games!
Iowa Field House & Armory – 1927. In the late 1920’s, the University expanded rapidly on the west side of the Iowa River. Within five years (1925-1930) the University opened a new Armory & Field House (1927), a new hospital (1928), and a new football stadium (1929). Both the women’s and men’s basketball teams played in the Field House from 1927 to 1983. I remember seeing my first Iowa basketball game there in the late 1950’s. The Field House, at the time, was still just that, with the entire floor outside of the basketball court still a field of packed-down dirt!
(L-0018)University of Iowa Field House & Armory – 1942 – Navy Pre-Flight Training School Preparing for War. April 15, 1942.
On the last day of August 1942, a group of 70 naval officers and cadets reported to duty at a sun-baked field next to Iowa Stadium. They gathered around Bernie Bierman, a white-haired lieutenant colonel who had put out the call for volunteers at the newly commissioned U.S. Navy pre-flight school on the SUI campus. Despite the searing afternoon heat, the drills were a welcome diversion from the turmoil elsewhere in the world. The following day would mark three years since Hitler’s army invaded Poland and set in motion the deadliest war the world had ever seen. Japan’s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor nine months earlier drew the U.S. into the war, prompting college campuses across the nation—including in Iowa City—to lease their facilities to the military for training grounds.
Above is a matchbook cover from the U.S. Navy Pre-Flight School and (P-0124) a postal cover postmarked in Iowa City on June 18, 1943 at the Navy Pre-Flight School Postal Station. The Quadrangle – located just east of the Iowa Field House/Armory – served as dorms for service men being trained on campus during World War II.
(P-0125) Carver-Hawkeye Arena opened in 1983 – replacing the Field House and Armory. The Field House remains on campus today, but the armory was torn down and the land used for UI Hospital expansion.(P-0183)
(M-0138) In 1989 – The Iowa Hawk Shop issued a set of cards featuring Iowa Hawkeye icons – including Kinnick Stadium, Herky, and the Hawkeye Marching Band.
Here’s a tip of the old hat to all of those old stadiums, armories & gymnasiums that have housed the Hawkeyes in years gone by!
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.