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.

#1 – Armory #1 (1879-1904), #2 – Close Hall (1891-1904), #3 – Iowa Field (1895-1929), #4 – Athletic Pavillion (1905-1927), #5 – Women’s Gymnasium (1913-1927).
(P-0270-f) (P-0327) (P-0269)

#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.

The March 2, 1905 edition of The Iowa City Republican reports on the first Iowa basketball game played in the new Armory – Friday, February 24th – Hawks beat Grinnell 24-17.
(P-0121) Preparations for WWI –  circa 1917. Here’s a vintage photo of an army battalion marching from the Armory near Iowa Field in preparations for war.

(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.

Circa-1910 – Iowa hand-sewn pennant sold for $1570 on Ebay in May 2021!

1915IowaField(P-0120) Circa 1915 – Here’s a very rare postcard picturing the Iowa football team playing in Iowa Field.

From the 1915 season – note the fans watching the game from the telephone poles! Click here to read more about the long-standing rivalry between Iowa (SUI) and Iowa State (Ames).
SUI photographer – Fred W. Kent – took most of the early photos of Iowa Field – here’s a shot of the “Yell Leaders” in 1920.
Iowa Field. Prior to the 1927, there was very little student activity on the west side of the river. The interurban railroad line (CRANDIC) ran adjacent to both the baseball and football fields, and train conductors would often slow their train so that both they and their riders could view a part of the games.
1920’s – SUI Sports Complex on the Iowa River. Iowa Field with the Baseball Stadium (upper middle) and the Armory (upper right) via the camera of Fred W. Kent. The northern third of this area was a baseball field, while the southern two-thirds consisted of the football field and stands. This strip of land was so narrow that the upper portion of the west stands stuck out over the Iowa River and the upper section of the east stands rose directly over the railroad tracks, as shown in rare photographs of that era.

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.

1929-iowa stadium
Iowa Stadium under construction – March 21, 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.

Completed on Oct. 5, 1929, the famed Hawkeye football field was christened as Iowa Stadium when its $497,151.42 construction ended with enough seating for roughly 53,000. Today it is the 28th largest college-owned stadium in the U.S. and seats 69,250 fans.

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!

October 19, 1929 – Iowa Stadium is dedicated.
Click here to read more about George Boller: A Hawkeye Football Nut.
(P-0122) Circa 1930 – Iowa Stadium – as originally proposed.
(P-0123)  Circa 1930’s Iowa Stadium. Note in the original plans, Iowa Stadium was to be enclosed at both the north and south end zones. Due to the depression of 1930’s these plans were scrapped and temporary bleachers were built in both end zones after WW II. Those bleachers were improved a bit but still there even after we moved to Iowa City in 1966. I remember sitting on the grassy areas in the corners of the south end zone – called knot hole seats – with friends while my Dad and older brother, Eric, sat in good seats on the west stands!
Nile Clarke Kinnick Jr. (July 9, 1918 – June 2, 1943) was a student and a college football player at the University of Iowa, while my dad, George, was attending college prior to his service in WWII. Kinnick won the 1939 Heisman Trophy and was a consensus All-American. He died during a training flight while serving as a United State Navy aviator in WWII. Kinnick was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951, and the University renamed its football stadium (Iowa Stadium) for Kinnick in 1972. My dad got to know many of the players on the 1939 Big-Ten Championship team, nicknamed the Ironmen. He gathered autographs of many of the players, along with Coach Eddie Anderson, and of course, Nile Kinnick. Click here to read more.

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-0101) In 1936, the SUI Alumni Association published this little songbook that encouraged Hawkeye fans to “bring it with you to the games and sing.” The front cover features the Iowa Field House – see Iowa Stadium in the background – where the Hawkeyes played basketball before Carver Hawkeye Arena opened in the 1980’s. The songbook included Iowa Fights, On Iowa, and other Big Ten school songs. Click here to read about the classic songs of the Iowa Hawkeyes.

(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.

Iowa Navy Pre-Flight team played at Iowa from 1942 through 1944, and boasted a veritable all-star cast of coaching greats, college standouts, and even NFL players who converged in Iowa City for naval training. In an effort to preserve the college game during a time when dozens of universities mothballed their football programs, military schools like Iowa Pre-Flight were allowed to compete collegiately and the prohibition against professional players was lifted. Across the nation, a number of star-filled service teams emerged, but none proved better than the mighty Seahawks, whose nickname reflected this unique wartime marriage of the Navy and the Hawkeye State.

In 2016, the Associated Press released a list of its top 100 college football teams of all-time based on the rankings it’s compiled since 1936. Remarkably, Iowa Pre-Flight made the list as the No. 98th best program, despite playing just 31 games over three seasons. (Iowa ranked as the No. 25 program of all time.) Even more, the 1943 Seahawks, whose only loss came by a single point against eventual national champion Notre Dame in a game for the ages, are still considered by many experts to be among college football’s greatest teams. The three Seahawks squads went a combined 26-5, outscored their opponents 801-315, and finished with two AP top 10 finishes. The Seahawks twice played the Hawkeyes at Iowa Stadium, cruising to victory in 1943 and 1944.
(P-0379) 1950’s – Iowa Field House & Armory – where I saw my first Iowa basketball. When I was a student at Iowa in the early 1970’s – the Fieldhouse/Armory was the place to be for great Hawkeye basketball, big-name concerts, and, of course – graduation ceremonies. Read more here.
(P-0126) (P-0256) Circa mid-1960’s – Where the Hawkeyes Roam. This postcard gives a marvelous bird’s eye view of the University of Iowa campus and Iowa City as it appeared when the Bollers moved there 1966. Iowa Stadium is in the forefront. The Field House & Armory is located directly across open fields to the east, and the WWII Quonset huts – married student housing – is located immediately to the west of the stadium. U of I hospitals are seen to the north (left) and the Pentacrest, downtown Iowa City and beyond lay across the Iowa River. Click here to read more about the University of Iowa Water Tower and its place in Iowa City “skyscraper” history. (S-0039) 100th Anniversary of College Football – 1969.

(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.

(M-0045) 1929 – Kinnick Stadium Brick. When renovations to Kinnick were made in 2006, some of the original 1929 brickwork was removed. This is one of those original bricks.
Penn State v Iowa
Today, Carver-Hawkeye Arena & Kinnick Stadium bring thousands of Hawkeye fans together for the explicit purpose of rooting on the Hawkeyes! On Iowa! Go Hawks!

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.

Win First Game In The New Gym, Iowa City Republican, March 2, 1905, p 7

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