The University of Denver Field House Arena, known as the “Old Barn,” was home to the University’s athletics programs for nearly five decades, from 1948 through 1997. It was famous for housing the University’s hockey, swimming and basketball programs. The highlight of those early years was capturing five National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) ice hockey championships under the guidance of legendary coach Murray Armstrong. It was located at East Asbury St. and S. Gaylord St.
At the end of World War II the University of Denver (DU) needed to expand its athletic facilities due to vastly increased student enrollment. The old Alumni Gymnasium located near S. University and Evans Ave. would not suffice. After months of negotiations with U.S. Senators Ed C. Johnson and Eugene D. Milliken, the University acquired a mammoth drill hall from the Farragut Naval Base in Idaho and had it shipped to Denver in 1947. Acquisition of the building by DU was also made possible by the Bureau of Community Facilities Division of the U.S. Federal Works Agency and the Veterans Facilities Division of the U.S. Office of Education. The building had been used by the U.S. Navy during World War II for drilling and recreation. The University’s Board of Trustees agreed to spend $450,000 for re-erection and remodeling of the building provided funds were available for taking it apart and transporting it to the University campus.
Disassembling and reconstruction of the Field House was contracted to the Gassland Construction Company of Bellingham, Washington. The architects were George M. Rasque and Sons from Spokane, Washington. The building was 608 feet in length, 120 feet in width and 22 feet high. It was constructed with Douglas Fir framing and 5/8 inch plywood outside. It included a swimming pool with a filtration and purification plant, gymnasium, three basketball courts, classrooms, heating plant, storage rooms, offices and locker rooms. The University spent $125,000 disassembling and transporting the drill hall to Denver. After transporting the structure the construction team began to transform the drill hall into a new home for DU athletics. The construction team added a 168 x 128 x 38 foot basketball area, a 5120 square feet classroom and a rifle range. The team reconstructed the swimming pool and the basketball court that was also used for ice hockey, rearranged the classrooms, and repainted and replaced the heating plant. The University spent $537, 000 on erection of the structure. The drill hall was finally converted into the DU Field House Arena in 1948. It covered two city blocks when completed. In total the University spent more than $1 million to construct it.
The DU Field House Arena was composed of three unique structures. A south wing was 30,780 square feet. It was 288 feet long and 120 feet wide with a clear span of 24 feet. The south end held classrooms, a track, and multipurpose practice space. The south wing also provided seating for 4500 spectators. The middle section contained an 82 by 50 foot swimming pool for up to 60 swimmers at a time. The pool had a capacity of 225,000 gallons of water with filtration and purification plants. The pool had a unique underwater lighting system with 15 lights at 1,000 watts each and the pool area included 1400 permanent seating for spectators. The north wing, referred to as the arena, was 46,000 square feet. It was 256 feet long and 180 feet wide with a clear span of 56 feet. A north wing housed an ice hockey rink that could be converted into a basketball court and three intramural courts. The rink was about 190 feet long and 90 feet wide. A system of 108 inserts under the ice made it possible for the erection of circus tents, boxing rings, tennis courts, and special decorations. Under the rink was an eight station rifle range with metal target shields and target lights. The arena provided seating for 9500 spectators. It had a three-story press box 42 feet long and 12 feet deep along the east wall. The first level was for newspaper reporters and photographers, the second for television and the top story for radio broadcasts. It was located next to Hilltop Stadium where the DU football team played and had space for intramural programs and local sports teams as well.
In 1972, after nearly 25 years of service, the University discovered serious structural problems in the Field House Arena. Heavy snowfall in December 1972 caused a crack in one of the major roof support beams in the arena. DU athletic teams had to play in rented spaces until the University decided to repair the Field House Arena. In 1973 the University trustees launched a $2 million campaign for renovation of the Field House Arena. The renovation included features such as an upper spectator gallery, a sundeck next to the swimming pool and extending from the upper level, two intramural recreation courts, one for indoor track and the other converted to use for tennis, volleyball, badminton, and dance. There was also a weight room, squash and handball courts, human performance lab as well as lower and upper level showers and lockers. The facility reopened in January of 1974 . The newly remodeled Field House Arena provided more resources for students in physical education programs and additional practice courts for basketball. The color scheme on the wall in the renovated ice arena earned the facility the nickname “the Rainbow Ballroom.” The University now had the large assembly space that it required for sporting events and school functions.
By the mid 1990s, the University realized it was time to upgrade the Field House Arena. The “Old Barn” had served DU well for nearly 50 years but a desire to raise all of the University’s athletics programs to the Division I level demanded the construction of a modern sports complex. In 1997 demolition of the Field House Arena began. Seats and bricks from the Field House Arena were sold to commemorate past Pioneer glories, the proceeds helping the University raise the funds needed to begin construction of the new Daniel L. Ritchie Center for Sports and Wellness. The Ritchie Center, completed in 1999, now stands on the site that the Field House Arena occupied for nearly 50 years.
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“Back a Winner,” (Denver: University of Denver, 1973).
Billy Gould, “New Athletic Facility Planned,” Clarion (University of Denver), January 3, 1973, 1-2.
Dean McCoy, “Letter to George Field,” (Commissioner of the Community Facilities Bureau of the Federal Works Agency), August 7, 1947.
“DU Field House,” Correspondence of Chancellor Maurice Mitchell 1972-1973,” (Denver: University of Denver Office of Public Relations, 1947).
“Farragut State Park,” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farragut_State_Park (accessed November 4, 2008 and December 1, 2008).
“New Fieldhouse Planned; Arena Will Be Repaired,” Clarion (University of Denver), February 28, 1973, 1.
“Pioneers Tied for First Place in WCHA,” Communiqué (University of Denver), December 31, 1973, 5.
“The New University of Denver Field House,” (Denver: University of Denver, 1949).