Skip to Main Content

Memorial Field House (RG 134)

This is Postcard of Springfield College's Memorial Field House. The postcard shows the front of the field house and the stairway leading up to the front entrance.

Memorial Field House

Memorial Field house was a very unique structure. Originally, the building was constructed for the Navy as a drill hall at the Navy Training Center in Sampson, NY, known as the Sampson Naval Training Facility, along the shores of Seneca Lake. It was a basic training facility, processing approximately 440,000 Navy recruits, or “Boots” as they were called, from 1942 to 1946. From 1946 to 1949 the campus of this facility was used by Sampson College. During the Korean War, from 1950 to 1956, the base was used by the Air Force, becoming the “Sampson Air Force Base.” Again it was used as a basic training center. After 1960 most of the land has been used as a New York state park. The state park also includes the Sampson Air Force Museum. The original field house had an initial building cost in excess of $500,000. After the war, the drill hall was dismantled, brought to Springfield and re-erected on land and foundations provided by Springfield College.

At Springfield College, the need for a large indoor physical education/ athletic facility had become apparent in the 1930s. Under the leadership of Springfield College president Ernest Best, plans were developed and a fund raising campaign was begun in the fall of 1941. The campaign was terminated shortly afterwards in December 1941 due to the beginning of World War II. By this time $20,000 had been raised and over $22,000 in expenses had already occurred. Through the course of the war, President Best made college facilities available to the government. 500 air cadets trained from May 1942 and through 1944, and from spring1944 through the summer of 1946 the campus served as a naval convalescent hospital. Over the course of the war, the military found the relationship very satisfactory.

This relationship may have benefited the college in 1946 when Springfield College applied for the field house grant. The Federal Work Agency (FWA) authorization under Public Law 697, designed to distribute war time surplus for civilian use, designated the moving of a drill hall from the naval training center at Sampson, NY for use by Springfield College. Springfield College was one of the few schools in the country that was able to qualify for a Field House under this provision. The government disassembled and transported the building while the college provided the land and the reconstruction. The cost to the college was projected at around $160,000 and also required an increased enrollment of veterans. Fundraising began with a goal of $50,000 pledged to the alumni war memorial fund. Additional funds came from citizens and business organization of the Greater Springfield community, the alumni, parents of students, faculty, staff, students and other friends of the College. In the end these sources provided more than $160,000 for equipping the building and making it a permanent structure. Springfield College was thus provided with a spacious court with seating space for 4000 spectators at its basketball and other indoor athletic sports. Memorial Field House also provided additional gymnasium space for physical education classes; and for such popular games as volleyball, handball, basketball and badminton.

The Memorial Field House cornerstone was laid on June14, 1947 as a memorial to the 45 Springfield College student and alumni who lost their lives in World War II. The building was constructed near Alden Street, where the current Physical Education Complex/Blake Arena/James Naismith Court is located. A total of 120 feet wide and 420 feet in length, the whole building was divided into three section; Gymnasium area, Arena Area, and Class and Game room Area. The Gymnasium area was 140 x 80 feet of permanent maple flooring and could accommodate 5 volleyball, or 9 badminton, or 3 basket ball courts, or some combination of the three games. Separate showers and locker rooms for 4 visiting teams were in this area. The arena area comprised 230 feet of open earth surface for field events (this included space for its removable hardwood floor) and had the ability up to accommodate 4000 spectators at public events (seating for Basketball games was around 2500). The class and game room area had space for offices and temporary class-rooms which could also be converted to specialized game rooms for boxing, wrestling, fencing and calisthenics. There was also a garage that was converted into 6 handball courts.

The field house was opened on February 21, 1948, before the entire building was completed. On that day the first basketball game was held in the new arena, with Springfield College playing Providence College. William R. Chase, a member of the first group of men to play basketball in 1891, tossed the ceremonial first ball. The official dedication occurred on June 12, 1948 after all work on the building had been completed in April.

In January 1979, a bit over 30 years after the Memorial Field House was originally moved and reconstructed on Springfield Campus, Harvey and Tracy Associates of Worcester, Massachusetts was hired to conduct an in-depth structural analysis in preparation for the construction of a 50,000 square foot addition to the building. The report, delivered on April 27, 1979, concluded that there were major deficiencies in the 40 laminated wood arches that spanned structure. The arches spanned approximately 116 feet and rose over 40 feet. According to the report, the lamination of these wood arches had disintegrated and/or had no glue to hold the laminated boards together. So it was determined that “…arch construction (in the facility) cannot meet minimum building code requirements.” The report was given over to Springfield building commissioner Charles G. Cook Jr. who, after a formal review, proceeded to revoke all certificates of inspection, thereby closing the building and demanding that it be demolished on May 11, 1979.

Demolition began in June of 1979 and was completed in August before the start of the new school year. It didn’t take long for a new facility to be erected. Luckily a capital campaign had already been started, of which the $50,000 addition was to be a part. The capital campaign was changed to include the cost of a new facility, and ground was broken on the new Physical Education Complex on February 11, 1980. Costing 5.3 million, the new facility was formally dedicated on October 30, 1981. It included three structures: Blake Arena, The Winston Paul Academic Center, including two teaching Gymnasiums, wrestling room and eight handball/racquetball courts, and the Keith Locker and Training Facility. It had a total combined space of over 143,000 square feet (including Art Linkletter Natatorium).

Scope and Contents of the Collection


This collection documents the Memorial Field House from the time it was the Naval Training Facility in Sampson, NY, when it was moved to Springfield College in 1947 and, finally, when it was decommissioned and demolished in 1979. The collection contains pamphlets, newspaper articles, letters, videos, audio recordings, photographs, and bricks from the original structure. A book lists all contributors to the Memorial Field House Fund that helped bring the field house to Springfield College. Of particular interest are the dedication and opening day materials, including an audio recording on wire. In addition, there are many newspaper articles, memos, and other information regarding the condemnation of the Field House and the resulting campaign to fund a new physical education complex. Within these materials is a video cassette, titled “Paramount Studio Fire” and dated February 16, 1979, that actually contains footage of the groundbreaking ceremony of the Physical Education complex filmed by Channel 22 news. Also included a number of pieces of the old field house, including three bricks, a piece of the Gymnasium floor boards from what was called the North Gym, an original wooden school desk from Room 400, and a small metal letter “M” measuring around 8 ½” square that was the “M” in Memorial on one of the signs on the outside of the building. The metal “M” was donated by Dean Charles Redmond and was originally given to him by students who had snuck into the structure after it had been condemned to steal the letter. The original desk has a letter of authenticity signed by Dean Charles Redmond. The desk is also signed by him.

Among the many photographs in the collection are a couple photographs of the structure as it appeared and was used at the Naval Base. Also, there are many photographs of the deconstruction and reconstruction of the building when it was moved in 1947. Among the prints of the demolition are some photographs of the original cornerstone that was removed during the demolition. Interior shots also include a couple of photographs of the locker room.