A Basketball Palace
The Hoosier sports tradition is one of the proudest in the collegiate ranks, and what happens on the field has created memories, joy and sadness for the Indiana faithful over more than a century of action. What happens on the field of play has been great, but the surroundings in which those games are played are as much a part of the experience. Every other week through the 2009-10 school year, we will present a history of the athletic facilities at IU. In the 10th of our 12-part series, we take a look at the history of Assembly Hall. This is actually the second installment of Part 10.
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It's a cliché to say the late 1960s were a turbulent time in the United States.
But here's the thing about that particular cliché - it's the best possible way to describe the country back then.
Civil rights battles were being fought across the country. The Vietnam War was growing in size and controversy each passing day, and protests were springing up all over the country. Maybe most visible in the United States was the growing chasm between the older generation and the baby boomers who were just starting to spread their wings. The old social rules and mores were being challenged by the younger generation who dreamed of more freedom and adventure than their parents were afforded in their youth.
It was into this climate that Indiana brought forth its long-held plans to build a new All-Purpose Arena on campus, a building that would become known as Assembly Hall. We detailed the run-up to the decision to build what would become a legendary structure on the Bloomington campus March 28 in our story "Assembly Required," but that was just a prologue. The real story of Assembly Hall didn't emerge until the IU administration looked for final approval from the Board of Trustees. Only then was the tone set for the competitions that would make Assembly Hall a jewel of the college basketball world.
During the summer of 1967, Indiana finally got all its ducks in a row to make the dream of constructing Assembly Hall come true. The IU administration, led by President Elvis J. Stahr, had cleared all the hurdles from the state legislature and the governor of Indiana, Roger Branigin, and all that was left was for bids to be received, opened and accepted. Construction would begin in short order after that, and before long, IU would boast a brand new building for basketball, Commencement, Convocations and all sorts of other musical and cultural acts. Indiana had asked for and received input and permission from all the parties involved.
Well, all the parties save for one. Indiana never bothered to ask the students what they thought about building a new arena on campus. Then again, the IU administration didn't believe the students really had much of a say in University business, and after all, the students that were in school at the time weren't going to enjoy the fruits of the construction labors anyway. Indiana had already put off building a new arena for nearly 10 years, and the need for a new facility was growing as enrollment exploded throughout the 1960s.
The Board of Trustees was scheduled to meet Sept. 22 to discuss the matter and give the final approval for construction, and most believed Indiana would soon have a gem of a building to trumpet as the cutting edge in terms of arenas in the Big Ten.
Enter Guy Loftman. Loftman was elected Student Body president as part of the Progressive Reform Party for the 1967-68 school year, and Loftman had spent the summer investigating how Indiana planned to finance the new building. Loftman found answers he received from IU were unsatisfying, and he took his frustration with the administration public just days before the Board of Trustees meeting.
The Sept. 16, 1967 Bloomington Herald-Telephone reported that Loftman threatened to disrupt the IU Board of Trustees meeting if the plans for the arena weren't postponed or dumped all together.
"I feel justified to tell them what we want and to demand that they pay attention to us," Loftman was quoted as saying.
The Herald-Telephone said Loftman had told students at a PRP meeting that they should demonstrate against the construction of the building unless the Board agreed to hear the students' complaints.
"During the demonstration, Loftman said he will ask the 'trustees to meet in public in front of Bryan Administration; to discuss the proposed stadium," the Herald-Telephone reported. "He said if the trustees did not agree to this he will leave the meeting, which as student body president he attends, and tell the students to go into the room where the trustees are meeting.
" 'It's a small room, but I think we can make our views felt,' he said."
Loftman's biggest issue with the construction was that money from student fees would be used to build the arena, money Loftman believed would be better used elsewhere. Namely, Loftman wanted funds steered toward faculty salaries, library books and scholarships for students instead of what he called "frills" for the University.
"Stahr seems to be more worried about frills than education," Loftman was quoted as saying in the Herald-Telephone. "Bloomington likes to make money, especially from students."
Loftman added that the existing IU Fieldhouse served just fine as a basketball venue, and IU didn't need a new facility.
"After we have academic excellence we can start to think about the frills," Loftman said.
That same day, Loftman printed a letter in the Indiana Daily Student in which he spelled out his issues with the construction.
"Since the beginning of the summer, Sen. David Cahill, myself, and many other students have been involved in compiling information with respect to the proposed 'University Events Stadium,' " Loftman wrote in the IDS. "We have met with varied responses from the Administration, ranging from prompt and complete answers to our questions to complete refusal to give out any information."
Loftman laid out three basic questions he believed should be answered in regard to the construction, including:
How much would the stadium cost?
From where would the money come from?
Why should the stadium be constructed?
In terms of the cost, Loftman estimated cost of the construction would be between $10 million and $12 million, but that wouldn't be the real cost of the building. With interest to be paid on the self-liquidating bonds that would be used to finance the stadium, the cost could balloon to as much as twice that amount when all was said and done. Bear in mind, that Loftman had no proof this would be the case as he admitted in the article.
"I have been unable to obtain any official estimate of the total cost of the stadium, including bonding and interest, but I have been able to make estimates based on the past bonding experience of the University," Loftman said in the IDS. "The Union Building and athletic facility bonds have, in general, shown an interest total of approximately 90 percent of the initial bond issue. If one considers the upper estimate of the stadium construction to be the most realistic and adds on another 90 percent to this figure, the cost of the stadium appears to be about $23 million."
Loftman warned the price tag could rise even higher if labor disputes and inflation became an issue. He added that he had spoken to Robert Burton, an assistant to the treasurer at IU, and asked if a $25 million price tag over 25 years would be a reasonable estimate, and he reported that Burton had agreed with the estimate. Burton, however, denied he had ever said such a thing.
"We did not talk on specifics as I recall," Burton told the IDS. "He may have drawn a conclusion out of context, but I don't want to accuse him of fabricating the statement."
Loftman next tackled the issue of how IU would pay for the construction. He said the principle sources of funds would come from gifts and donations, governmental appropriations, income from sales (such as tickets and concessions, and student fees. He also mentioned "a mystical source which turns up throughout the University's bookkeeping system known as 'transfers in.' "
Loftman went on to report the athletic department expenditures for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1966 - the most recent span from which records were available - as $1,255,733.79, with a surplus of $84,274.07. He added that some of the expenditures were vague.
"Aside from the stadium issue, this account is worthy of note simply for the fact that of its expenditures, over one-third are listed as 'general expenditures'-some $424,008.26," Loftman said. "This seems like a rather massive pad, considering that they include 'freight and hauling' as an item, amounting to $55.17."
After breaking down some of the funding sources - adding that "gifts and donations to IU are legendarily small" - he said, "I have yet to make contact with any individual in this University who can and will give me any indication of the source, rhyme or reason for 'transfers in' and their Siamese twins 'transfers out.' Conceivably, they could arise in true epic fashion and defray the costs of the structure. If, however, one does not have heavily mystical biases, it appears best to ignore these ephemeral entries completely for the purposes of rational decision making."
Finally, Loftman made his case against the stadium.
"The main problem with constructing the stadium is monetary," Loftman said. "Hardly anyone would dislike having a new basketball arena. But the members of the University community must consider very seriously if Indiana University needs a new basketball stadium more than it needs some other things. What are the priorities in this University, and who establishes them? These are the basic questions which must be confronted now."
Taking the $25 million price tag for the building - with interest on bonds added to the construction costs - Loftman viewed the cost as basically being $1 million per year for 25 years. He estimated that 85 percent of the cost would come from student fees, meaning roughly $850,000 of student money would be used per year to pay for the arena.
"What might be done with $850,000 per year?" Loftman asked. "In fiscal 1968 faculty salaries in the College of Arts and Sciences totaled $10,758,317.06, and library acquisitions, as best I can tell, totaled $792,603.45. (The student fees of) $850,000 would cover an across-the-board 5 percent increase in Arts and Sciences salaries, based on 1966 standards, and supply a 40 percent increase in library acquisitions. Or $850,000 would cover a four percent salary increase for all the faculty of the University - Bloomington and regional campuses, School of Law and School of Medicine, all instruction and departmental research salaries.
"Doesn't it seem like these are areas we might well be spending more money on?"
Loftman finished with a simple question.
"Can the students and faculty of Indiana University allow this Great White Elephant, this University Events Stadium, to be foisted upon us?"
More than 40 years later, Loftman sticks to his guns on the Assembly Hall issue. Loftman is an attorney these days, a long-time Bloomington resident who, until recently, was a member of the Monroe County Election Board. He also has served on various community boards and planning committees through the years. Loftman still believes IU erred in building Assembly Hall when it did.
"I still think it was not a great use of student resources," Loftman says.
Loftman wasn't exactly surprised with the resistance he received from the administration.
"Absolutely not!" Loftman laughs when asked if he previously had a good relationship with the IU administration. "I was elected Student Body president during the Vietnam War. I was one of the first people to organize a Vietnam War demonstration on campus. I was the absolute outsider. My election was very controversial. I was not the good ol' boy. Women's hours were a very big issue. Women were locked in the dorms at 11 p.m., and the other two people I ran against supported those rules. I was opposed to it. These were hard days in the '60s, and I was the radical, the lefty liberal."
Loftman says IU tolerated his questions early in the process, but the administration started ignoring his questions or putting them off, which made him dig harder.
"That's a sub-drama," says Loftman of IU's growing secrecy at the time. "That got me into looking at university budgets. I wanted to know how they were going to pay for this and how they were going to pay it back. So I started looking into the university budget, and I started asking questions. They would answer the questions, and I had more questions. Then they would answer those questions, and I would ask more questions. They finally said I couldn't ask any more questions. If I wanted to ask more questions, they had to be submitted in writing to the Dean of Students, who would then decide whether those answers would be provided or not."
Those answers didn't always satisfy Loftman, who didn't exactly trust IU.
"I thought, 'Fine. But show me the records,' " Loftman says. "Don't give me your conclusion. Show me where this money was allocated. Don't call it 'miscellaneous.' "
The protests arose because Loftman was tired of being stonewalled in an area that he believed he was entitled to some information.
"The open records laws were in effect, and all the records I wanted were clearly public records," Loftman remembers. "It was so ironic because it was a place of free inquiry."
"Those were the bad ol' days. People think we're polarized today… we were much more polarized back then. I had a lot of people who thought I was great, and I had a lot of people who thought I was the Devil incarnate. A lot of people didn't know who I was."
Indiana responded to Loftman's letter in 1967 with a letter of its own. In the same Sept. 16 article in the IDS, IU vice president and Dean of Undergraduate Development, John W. Snyder, responded to Loftman's complaints.
"The question of allocation of resources in a very large and complex institution such as IU requires in most instances the exercise of considerable judgment," Snyder wrote. "Much of the money the University receives from private and governmental funding agencies comes designated for specific purposes, and so it is spent.
"There is, however, room for some judgment in the expenditure of monies that come in from legislative appropriation and student fees. That judgment is expressed in such things as the hiring of faculty, faculty salary levels, new or expanding educational programs, laboratory and library support, and the planning of new construction."
Snyder went on to explain that bonding had been used for more than 40 years to build different facilities on campus, both athletic and educational, and that student fees had long been a part of the equation. In fact, it was a necessary part of the process.
"Pledges of student fee money have been and are necessary to enable to sell bonds to make possible the capital investment in the construction of such things as the main Auditorium, the Fine Arts Building, the Lilly Library, the Health Center, the HPER Addition, including its swimming pool, research computing center and faculty offices, as well as the proposed new opera theatre and the Assembly Hall," Snyder wrote. "All of these projects are and will be financed through existing sinking funds and present fee allocations.
"None of the fee increases of this year and next will be used for these purposes, but will be used for faculty salaries, library acquisitions, scientific equipment, etc. As a matter of fact, the Board of Trustees refused approval of the Assembly Hall and the proposed opera theatre until assured that none of the present fee increases would be used for the sinking funds to support this construction. The major problem thus is one of allocating the student fees and, as always, the University must deal with these problems as a series of priorities.
"While many people have different opinions about the relative importance of each, student and faculty services and recreation can hardly be ignored completely for the benefit of faculty salaries or even library books. As clearly important as these things are, other things must also receive attention in considering student services - sports, recreation, health, convocations, concerts, science fairs, and the like - just as must cafeterias, the Commons, the Bookstores, and, on Sundays when parents visit the campus, even the Tudor Room."'
Snyder added that the arena had been put off in the past due to other facilities taking priority and "long-range planning" of the arena had already been done. In other words, Assembly Hall had been put off in the past, it was finally the facility's turn to leave the drawing board and become a reality.
The key to the argument surrounds the use of the student fees. Loftman believed the portion of the student fee allotted to the sinking fund could be better used for salaries and educational purposes. IU's argument was that a portion of student fees had been allocated for years for the sinking fund, and therefore it was appropriate to use the fees for the purpose it had been collected. The administration maintained that the money in the sinking fund was earmarked to be used for construction and shouldn't be reallocated for other purposes.
Furthermore, Donald H. Clark, assistant vice president and treasurer at IU, said the funds simply couldn't be allocated for salaries without the matter going back to the Indiana General Assembly. The General Assembly, after all, had established various funds and designated that a certain amount of the student fees would be put into the funds, including the sinking fund.
How much are we talking? Clark told the IDS that, on average, $38 per semester from each student's fees were put into the athletic sinking fund with another $21 going toward a fund for all other co-curricular buildings - a total of $59 out of a student fee of $180 per semester (Clark's numbers would later be disputed by Stahr himself, but more on that in a minute).
Loftman still believed that was too much, and he planned to make his feelings on the facility felt in front of the Board of Trustees Sept. 22.
"I will point out to members of the board before the meeting what the students' position is concerning the construction of the stadium," Loftman told the Sept. 16 IDS. "I am not allowed to speak at the meeting."
Meanwhile, IU Chancellor Herman B Wells, who was university president when Assembly Hall was postponed in the late 1950s, said he wasn't surprised by the controversy, mainly because such arguments cropped up all the time. Still, the new arena was necessary.
"Nothing is ever built that somebody wouldn't rather have something else," Wells told the IDS, pointing out that there were some who would have preferred building a new library instead of Ballantine Hall in the late 1950s.
Others on campus thought Loftman was dead wrong in his crusade against Assembly Hall. The Student Athletic Board (SAB) countered a petition being circulated by Loftman with a petition of its own. The petition was sent to dormitories, sororities and fraternities pledging support for the construction of the arena. Larry Duvall, the president of the SAB, said the purpose of the petition was to show that Loftman's view was not the opinion of all students on campus.
"SAB feels it is important to note the feelings of groups who favor construction of the University Events Stadium," Duvall told the Sept. 17 IDS. "Just because we feel the stadium should be constructed does not mean we favor athletics over academics."
Loftman responded to the SAB's petition by saying he thought it would be interesting to see how many signatures that petition would receive, and, oddly, he expressed regret that the SAB didn't present some of its alternatives for building the Assembly Hall.
(Editor's note: The idea that Loftman wanted to see the SAB's alternatives to Assembly Hall could be an early sign of the lawyer coming out in him. Why would the SAB offer alternatives to Assembly Hall when it wanted Assembly Hall to be built? It didn't want an alternative. It wanted Assembly Hall. To suggest that the SAB present an alternative to the building doesn't make a lot of sense unless Loftman was working to throw some confusion into the issue. If so, job well done, Mr. Loftman.)
Loftman made the rounds of the campus, speaking at various residence halls to rally support against Assembly Hall in the days leading up to the Board of Trustees meeting. He wasn't always met with smiling faces. For instance, sophomore Jim Bopp debated Loftman on the issue at Wilkie and McNutt Quads, and he believed IU was putting far more emphasis on education than on athletics.
"As the University is growing in size, the students need a well-rounded atmosphere," Bopp said. "I do not feel that the University is oriented toward athletics. Since 1953, there have been four athletic buildings constructed - the stadium, fieldhouse, golf course and the addition to the HPER building. However, there has been more academic construction. Ballantine Hall, the Business Building, the Geology and Psychology Buildings, and an extension on both the Music and HPER Buildings. Also, the Optometry Building and a new library are under construction. This leads me in no way to think that the University is oriented toward athletics."
As Sept. 22 approached, the mood on campus became electric. Anti-Assembly Hall forces planned a rally against the construction. Pro-Assembly Hall groups planned their own demonstration to support the facility. One day before the meeting, an extra wrinkle was thrown into the equation when it became unclear whether the construction bids would be ready for approval by the Board of Trustees in time for the 10 a.m. meeting.
Meanwhile, James Jordan, the assistant to President Stahr for University Relations, went on the offensive against Loftman a day before the meeting to once again explain that the student fees had already been allocated and couldn't easily be moved around to accommodate Loftman's requests. Jordan also attacked some of Loftman's arguments as lacking a factual basis, telling the IDS that there was "some demagogy in the argument" against Assembly Hall. For instance, Jordan said that although Loftman wanted money to be used to buy books with the proposed funds, books couldn't be purchased until the new library was complete. Jordan also said there had been a net increase in faculty that year while Loftman called for more faculty to be hired.
When the big day rolled around, Loftman showed a streak of fairness in his role as Student Body president. In addition to presenting the petition signed by the anti-Assembly Hall groups, he also agreed to the SAB's request to present its petition in favor of the construction of the arena. Loftman also softened his stance a bit about a proposed sit-in at the building because he was being given the opportunity to speak.
"We do not seek major publicity on this demonstration," Loftman told the Sept. 21 IDS. "We must direct this specifically at the Trustees, and we must present a standard of decorum."
(Fun fact - The IDS, meanwhile, ran a political cartoon of Loftman showing him approaching the Board of Trustees, played by a tailor, with a dress and saying, "My wife bought this without asking me. I demand that you alter it-into a cap and gown!" In a letter to the editor, meanwhile, another student, Progressive Reform Party chairman Robin Hunter (hardly an unbiased observer), suggested a solution to the lack of space in the IU Fieldhouse, and it didn't include building a new arena. Instead, the student said the University should use $1 million of the $25 million total to simply transfer the television sets that were used to teach undergraduate courses to students who couldn't fit in the present facilities. Hunter suggested the other $24 million could be used to hire faculty to ensure that classes would never get so big that professors "can be replaced by a TV set." It was a bold suggestion, one that was completely and utterly ignored.)
Adding one final wrinkle to the process, which by now was starting to look like a Shar Pei dog, was the fact that when IU opened the bids Sept. 21, they were roughly $2 million more than IU had anticipated. IU's architects, Eggers and Higgins of New York, estimated the bids for the general, mechanical and electrical contracts would come in at $10,330,000. The three lowest bids, once opened, came to $12,215,067.
The final approval for construction had yet to be given, but the cost was already rising.
Considering all the controversy surrounding the Board of Trustees meeting, it's a little surprising that everything went as smoothly as it did. Loftman presented the petitions as promised, and he made his feelings felt to the Board. Outside the Bryan Administration building, meanwhile, roughly 125 people gathered, with an estimated two-thirds of them protesting the construction of Assembly Hall. Prior to the meeting, some of the members of the Board looked out at the demonstrators, who were carrying signs that said, among other things, "Less Bleachers for Better Teachers," and "Books Before Baskets."
Shortly after Loftman made his comments, Stahr made a lengthy presentation arguing for the construction of Assembly Hall. He first went over some of the history as to the planning of Assembly Hall, and he provided the legal justification for the bonding issues that had been discussed. Finally, he made a plea to the Board for approval.
"The purposes of this structure are again well known to you, and, I think, to the press," Stahr said according to the minutes of the meeting. "There are many, many items on the list. Some of them are very important, others are simply useful, but the key uses are for scholarly conventions, meetings of the kind we are attracting here, particularly in the year of our Sesquicentennial - such as the triennial meeting of Phi Beta Kappa. We have invited a great many of the scholarly organizations to meet here, but many we were not able to invite simply because we didn't have the facilities and we still didn't know whether we will have this structure in use by 1970 but we could not very well invite groups to come until we knew whether we'd have the necessary facilities.
"Another major use is for convocations, commencements and that kind of event; exhibits, science fairs, and that sort of thing; for intercollegiate basketball competition, which will complete, as far as athletics goes, the plan. This not only makes available other facilities for a student population which is now double what it was 10 years ago and we expect to continue to grow, but frees up facilities in the new Fieldhouse, which now have to be used a great deal in intercollegiate events and makes them available for intramurals and individual recreation and physical fitness programs as well as giving considerably more space to the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. It includes 25 offices, which we are always short of, and, in short, it is a multipurpose building and will be for the next 50-to-100 years."
Stahr added that Assembly Hall would likely get use from more students than any other building on campus save for the Main Library, which was under construction, and even that was no guarantee since IU was in the process of decentralizing the library collection to the residence halls and departmental libraries. Stahr also invoked the name of Wells and pointed out the Chancellor's vision of building for the future.
"In my judgment, Dr. Wells was right all the time, and this philosophy goes back to the '20s," Stahr said. "Namely, a reasonable part of current income should be invested in the future. That concept has given us the Indiana Memorial Union, Student Health Center, Auditorium, Lilly Library, Fine Arts Building, HPER Addition, Stadium, and others, and it is designed to give us Assembly Hall and the Musical Arts Center. Enrollments continue to grow and the need in a community this size, and the University itself is a large community, for a variety of facilities other than formal classrooms and laboratories is substantial. It does cost a substantial amount of money. The principal problem facing us at this time, in my judgment and the judgment of others I have consulted, is that delay would only result in one thing, and that is greater cost since the present business and labor and other economic trends are expected to continue the inflation of construction costs. It is unfortunate that delays in the past have already caused the cost to rise substantially.
"Dr. Wells tells me that his main regret is that he did not press for the building of this during his administration even though enrollment was not yet high enough at the time to make it essential, as it is now. At the time he and the Board decided to phase the overall program over a period of years, and as a result, you have seen the program gradually developing, with some of its developments since I came on the scene. We have added varsity tennis courts, a track, and some other things since I came, but all of this was just one step after another of carrying out the original plan under the original bonding indenture. The choice before us, it seems to me, is to approve the low bids or drop the project, because it would be most imprudent, it seems to me, simply to delay and thus push the costs up still further."
(Fun fact - Loftman doesn't buy Stahr's argument to this day. When asked if he now understands Stahr's point - that any delay would make construction more expensive in the future - Loftman didn't hesitate. "Then we have to build everything we've ever imagined," Loftman answered. "Everything is going to be more expensive in the future. To me, that's not a legitimate argument. All of these things will cost more in the future. It doesn't change the relationship of the value of the facility.")
Finally, Stahr got around to the financial particulars of the project.
"Bids were opened yesterday, as you saw in the newspaper," Stahr said. "By the way, all the land for this was bought when the plan began as part of the master plan, and we don't have to buy any land. In addition to continuing the amortization of the bonds issued for these and other things, the present allocation from student fees of $24.50 per semester out of the $180 total feel, now and out of the $195 fee next year, will adequately provide for the issuance of bonds for Assembly Hall if the maximum amount of bonds issued is not more than $10 million. Actually we have reason to think the issue will be somewhat less for two reasons: (1) the possibilities of gifts, though I don't anticipate great big gifts; and (2) the increase in enrollments. Even at the present enrollment and with no gifts, there will be no additional allocation of fees under this indenture, and the bonds can be retired in 22 years. If the maximum amount of $10 million is issued at 4.5 percent, and since these are tax exempt bonds we may do better than that, the interest cost spread over 22 years would total $5.8 million. We do not know, of course, the exact interest cost until we market the bonds, and we hope that, as usual, there will be active bidding.
"The (low) bids themselves total $12,215,067, distributed; General Construction, Wilhelm Construction Company, $8,297,190; Mechanical, Freyn Brothers, $2,785,877; Electrical, Sanborn Electric Company, $1,132,000."
Stahr mentioned that some of the items could be deducted or added to the project, including costs for stage riggings and lighting since Assembly Hall was to feature a movable stage, bringing the total net costs to $12,577,115 if the low bids were accepted. In all, 14 construction companies submitted bids for the project, ranging from Wilhelm Construction's low bid to a bid by Penker Construction Company of Cincinnati, which submitted the highest bid of $12,595,000 for the general contract alone.
Stahr pointed out that other costs, such as architect's fees, had been paid long ago, but that IU owned the architect's money for modifying the plans. Legal fees and inspection costs would also add to the price tag.
The fate of Assembly Hall now was in the Board of Trustees' hands, and it didn't take long for a decision to be made.
Carl Gray of Petersburg, Ind., made the motion to award the contracts, and the motion was seconded by Donald C. Danielson of Greencastle, Ind. Danielson, who was the longest-serving member of the Board at the time, made no bones about where his loyalty laid.
"I've been waiting nine years for this day," Danielson said. "We've been talking about this over the entire nine years I've been on this board. I'm pleased that we're all in agreement."
(Fun fact - Donald Danielson was not only the longest-serving board member at the time of the vote, he would go on to become the longest-serving board member in IU history. He served on the Board of Trustees from 1959-1980, and he was chairman of the board for the last 11 of those years. Born in South Dakota, he came to IU on a baseball scholarship and eventually was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers. He never got a chance to play pro ball as he was called to duty in World War II from 1942-46. After serving in the Navy, he was invited to report to the Dodgers' AAA minor league team in Montreal, but he passed on that invitation to become assistant alumni secretary and varsity baseball coach at IU. In doing so, Danielson also unwittingly passed on the opportunity to be a teammate of Jackie Robinson, who suited up for the Montreal Royals that season before going on to break baseball's color barrier in 1947. Danielson has been awarded numerous honors from IU over the years, including the Distinguished Alumni Service Award, the Zora G. Clevenger Award, the President's Medal of Excellence, the University Medal, the Thomas Hart Benton Mural Medallion and the Significant Sigma Chi Award. He also is a member of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame for his work as a fundraiser to build the facility's museum. Danielson, 90, was given the Sachem Award, the state's highest honor, in 2009.)
All that was left was for the Board to approve the low bids, which was passed unanimously. Assembly Hall was finally becoming a reality. Now it just needed to be built.
Looking for an upside to IU dragging its enormous bureaucratic feet for a decade when it comes to building Assembly Hall? Once approval was given, construction could begin almost immediately because all the normal preliminary steps, such as making core drillings and soundings to decide where the building should be constructed, had already been done years before. Therefore, F.A. Wilhelm Construction Company of Indianapolis said its team was ready to begin work the day after it received the official letter-of-intent from IU, which was expected to come in two weeks. The first order of business would be to move a sanitary sewer line and a couple of lights. Then excavation could begin.
Wilhelm wasn't exactly a stranger to IU. The firm was involved in the construction of such local buildings as Bloomington High School, St. Charles Church, the IU Swimming Pool, the Fine Arts Building, the Health Center and Wilkie and Forest Quads. Wilhelm estimated that construction would take roughly 930 days, which meant the facility likely would be finished sometime in the summer of 1970.
Finished plans called for an arena to be built that measured 300 feet by 350 feet on the outside, and the main arena would be 200 feet by 85 feet. It would contain roughly 368,000 square feet of usable floor space, and it would seat 17,000-plus for basketball games. For other events, the building could seat 19,000-plus. The most unique feature of the building would be one that most people would almost never see. The roof of the building would consist of precast concrete panels laid on cables that stretched from one side of the building to the other. Those cables would be supported in the middle by a pair of parabolic arches that crossed each other, allowing unobstructed views while minimizing the stress being placed on the walls of the structure. The precast concrete panels were covered with a rubber coating to keep out moisture.
A defeated Loftman, by the way, quickly moved on to other things after the Board of Trustees approved Assembly Hall. Although he was praised by the American Association of University Professors for challenging IU on the arena and trying to put the focus on academics, Loftman knew when to give up the fight.
"You win, you lose," Loftman said in February, 2010. "We lost. I'm not going to beat a dead horse. I've lost many a battle in my day, and when I lose, I lose and I move on."
Indiana, however, couldn't quite move on. The State Budget Committee balked at approving the final plans for Assembly Hall because the bids were $2 million higher than first proposed, and IU had to repeatedly go back to the Committee to plead that delays would only push the costs higher. The Committee, however, asked IU to convince it that the University could handle the increased cost without increasing student fees.
Indiana was under the gun as well. By law, construction had to begin within 120 days of the first advertisement of bids, which had been made in July, or IU would be forced re-advertise bids and the process would start over. Everyone agreed that, due to rising construction costs, the second round of bids would be higher. In other words, Wilhelm had to be at work by January, 1968, to avoid a major financial headache for IU.
IU finally convinced the Committee that it could afford the extra cost by reporting that by 1970, IU would have $4,453,383 on hand from fieldhouse fees and the athletic facilities fund. That money would be used to retire three other bonds that had been issued, allowing IU to afford the extra cost of Assembly Hall. That argument seemed to resonate with the State Budget Committee. IU argued its case again at an Oct. 11 meeting, and the Committee gave the project its final approval Oct. 20.
Four days later, IU made the official announcement.
"Indiana University President Elvis J. Stahr said today that he had received notification of final approval by Gov. Roger D. Branigin of the University's Assembly Hall project," a statement from Stahr's office said. "Approval of the project by the Budget Committee of the General Assembly had been given at the close of last week. The procedures for launching the construction work will go forward immediately, Dr. Stahr said, with the formal arrangements for insurance, performance bond, and letting of contracts.
Initial work is expected to begin within a matter of days. The general construction contract provides for a completion time of 930 days from bid opening, which was Sept. 21. With allowance for additional time for making the building finally ready for use, it is hoped that Assembly Hall can be available for use by December, 1970, President Stahr said."
It was a done deal. Stahr, however, wouldn't be president by the time Assembly Hall opened. He resigned as IU's headman to become president of the National Audubon Society in 1968.
Excitement on the IU campus in the fall of 1967 couldn't have been higher. The Hoosier football team had been pulling out surprising wins all season, and a 19-14 win over Purdue in the Old Oaken Bucket game gave the Hoosiers a share of the Big Ten championship. Considering the Boilermakers had gone to the Rose Bowl the year before, IU earned the invitation and headed to Pasadena, Calif., for the one and - to this day - only time in Hoosier history.
More than 3,000 fans packed into the IU Fieldhouse Dec. 19 for a celebration and pep rally, and two days later the Hoosiers boarded a plane and headed for California. Meanwhile, back in chilly Bloomington, the IU administration held a groundbreaking ceremony to begin construction on Assembly Hall. The site had already been surveyed, and excavation began almost immediately although the cold temperatures slowed the work.
In all, Denver Construction Company, Inc., of Indianapolis, the subcontractor in charge of excavation, removed more than 60,000 cubic yards of soil and 12,000 yards of rock. The blasting of the rock was expected, but it was noisy enough so that on at least one occasion, it startled local residents.
"An explosion which rumbled through Bloomington and surrounding areas about noon today was the result of dynamiting at the construction site of the new Indiana University Assembly Hall," the March 7, 1968 Herald-Telephone reported. "The blast shook buildings and rattled windows in a two-mile area and jammed city, state and county police switchboards with hundreds of telephone calls from frightened and curious residents."
Once excavation was completed, it was backfilled with 75,000 yards of material, and the foundation, which was a combination of spread footers and buttressed and grade beams all on limestone rock, was laid. The foundation would eventually hold a building weighing 127 million pounds or 63,500 tons - roughly the weight of some modern cruise ships.
Due to heavy rains, which delayed excavation, and a strike by local concrete haulers, the project quickly fell behind schedule. Once the delays were overcome, fabricated forms from Backer Form Company in Indianapolis and forms from the Economy Forms Company in Des Moines, Iowa, were placed, and 30,000 yards of concrete were poured.
By the time the steel-reinforced concrete walls on the east and west sides of the arena began to rise out of the ground in October, the facility was four weeks behind schedule. IU urged Wilhelm to step up its manpower and push the firm's subcontractors to meet the Dec. 1, 1970 deadline. IU still hoped to have the facility ready for the start of the 1970-71 basketball season, which would allow Assembly Hall to provide a climax to IU's year-long Sesquicentennial celebration.
Despite the construction setbacks, IU didn't slow down the hype machine. The November, 1968, edition of the Indiana Alumni Magazine gushed about the new building.
"Two years from this fall Indiana University will be able to seat almost twice as many fans for basketball as now, accommodate the entire freshman class for orientations programs, and take care of larger audiences for Commencement, convocations, and educational meetings on the Bloomington campus," a feature by Tom White of the IU News Bureau read. "These advantages will come upon the completion of the new all-events Assembly Hall, which is beginning to take shape between the I.U. football stadium and fieldhouse. The present fieldhouse seats about 9,000 for basketball, with the result that many students, faculty, alumni and others who wish to see the Hoosiers in action must be denied tickets. The new Assembly Hall's 17,500 seats will almost double this, and will remove IU from the unenviable position of having the second smallest facility for basketball in the Big Ten.
"But the Assembly Hall will be a truly multipurpose building.
"When not being used for basketball, it will seat 20,000. That compares with the approximately 3,900 seats in the Auditorium. Frequently in recent years, when popular and distinguished visitors have come to the University, many have been turned away from the Auditorium. Similarly, its seating capacity is no longer adequate to accommodate the large numbers who wish to attend such all-University activities as the Founder's Day program and Commencement. And many of the statewide groups, or national assemblies of importance and value both to the participants and to the University student body and faculty, do not at present have a meeting place large enough.
"Additional important uses of the hall will come in the area of physical education and the expanding intramural program.
"The IU Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation will have critically needed space in the building. It will house some 25 additional faculty and staff offices, three conference rooms, two projector rooms, a training room, a wrestling room, locker rooms, and other facilities for academic use in the field of physical education and for the many students who participate in intramural sports.
"When completed, the building will reach a height of 134 feet. Its dimensions will be 370 by 330 feet. It will contain 9,520,000 cubic feet. Parking space will have room for 15,000 cars.
"The structure will have an exterior of precast and poured concrete. One of the unusual features of its design is a roof supported by cables, much like a suspension bridge. The Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C., is built in this manner, one which saves many thousands of dollars in steel costs."
Seven different lifts of varying heights of up to 18 feet were required to reach the 105-foot height of the 12-inch thick walls on the east and west sides. Steel forms set on brackets and tied to the walls with taper ties provided a tensile strength of 36,000 pounds. Stair towers were next to go up with forms 17.5 feet high and 64-feet long extending to 115 feet high.
By early May, 1970, the facility was starting to take shape. More than 22,000 yards of concrete had been poured, and more than six million pounds of reinforcing steel had gone into the construction. Another 1,422,000 pounds of structural steel had been placed as well.
The main feature of the construction, however, was the steel arches that would support the roof. We know we keep coming back to the arches, but they were unique, to say the least. Wilhelm Construction subcontracted the arches to the American Bridge Division of United States Steel of Gary, Ind. After steel-capped concrete bases for the structural steel of the arches were poured, the arches themselves were lifted into place by a crane which featured a 230-foot boom and jib, and the arches were then welded and bolted together. The arches crossed each other at a 45-degree angle 91 feet above the floorline. The tops of the arches rise 127 feet at their peak and are still visible - they are the center structures at the top of Assembly Hall although they have been given a protective coating.
A steel grid was then built underneath the arches stretching from the peak of the arches to a spot 83 feet above the main floor. The grid was eventually covered in metal and was to serve as the arena's mechanical room. It serves various purposes to this day.
Next, 56 cables were strung from arches in the middle of the grid to the walls and embedded in concrete beams. Some 4,500 precast slabs of concrete six feet long, 30 inches wide and three inches thick - each weighing 500 pounds - were then placed on the cables. Reinforced steel protruded from the ends of the slabs to hold them on the cables, and the cables were post-tensioned. Concrete buttresses - the L-shaped concrete forms on the east and west sides of the building - provide support for the roof as well.
(Fun fact - What is post-tensioning for concrete? It's a way to stress concrete to make it stronger. How exactly does that work? We're not engineers, but we do know some people who are. DSI America (short for DYWIDAG-Systems International; "DYWIDAG" stands for Dyckerhoff & Widmann AG) sells post-tension concrete systems to construction companies, and here's how they describe post-tensioning: "Imagine a series of wooden blocks with holes drilled through them, into which a rubber band is threaded. If one holds the ends of the rubber band, the blocks will sag. Post-tensioning can be demonstrated by placing wing nuts on either end of the rubber band and winding the rubber band so that the blocks are pushed tightly together. If one holds the wing nuts after winding, the blocks will remain straight. The tightened rubber band is comparable to a post-tensioning tendon that has been stretched by hydraulic jacks and is held in place by wedge-type anchoring devices." In Assembly Hall's case, the cables would be the rubber band and the precast concrete slabs would be the wooden blocks.)
The post-tensioned slabs provide a strong, stable roof that isn't subject to cracking like a solid roof would be in the varying climate of Bloomington, and because the cables transfer the weight of the roof - 2.7 million pounds, to be exact - to the arches, there isn't a need for supporting poles that would obstruct views. The roof was then covered by an insulating roofing membrane to make the roof waterproof (in theory, at least).
By September, 1970, the roof was nearly completed, but it was clear that the original hope for Assembly Hall to be finished by December 1, 1970, was nothing but a dream (Oddly, IU hadn't included a penalty in the contract if the work wasn't finished by Dec. 1, which meant Wilhelm didn't have to pay a price for being behind schedule). Indiana wouldn't get a chance to unveil its gem during the Sesquicentennial year. Construction continued inside and out through the winter of 1970 and the spring of 1971, and both the interior and exterior began to take what would become their familiar shape.
Indiana was ready to show off its newest toy that summer, at least to reporters in hardhats. Herald-Telephone writer Rick Roth received a tour of the building, and he raved about what he had seen.
"If any two words can describe the new IU Assembly Hall, they would have to be 'labyrinthine' and luxurious,' " Roth wrote in the May 30, 1971 Herald-Telephone. "But those words are not enough. In fact, a thousand words would not be enough to describe the new Assembly Hall."
The sheer size of Assembly Hall astounded Roth, and he repeatedly marveled at his own insignificance next to such a massive structure.
"You feel as an ant must feel after it crawls through tunnels and finally on the rim of its ground-level hill," Roth wrote. "The Assembly Hall size is overwhelming. Your own size is depressingly small…. The air-conditioning ducts, which look like walk-through storm sewers, are indeed a strange sight - intestine like - to a person who has chosen to wander into the arena's throat."
Assembly Hall was nearly complete, and everything was going to be brand new - even the basketball coach.
A couple of lackluster seasons, plus a player and fan revolt against Hoosier head coach Lou Watson, led to Watson's resignation with one game to go in the 1970-71 season, and IU knew it had an ace up its sleeve when searching for a new head coach thanks to the new arnea. The reign of Branch McCracken had yielded a pair of national championships in 1940 and 1953, but McCracken's retirement in 1965 left the basketball program in uncertain hands. By the time the Watson saga played out - look for more on this story in a future issue of Inside Indiana - IU needed someone to jolt the Hoosier program back to prominence.
Director of Athletics Bill Orwig did just that, hiring Army head coach Robert Montgomery Knight to take over the basketball program, selling Knight not only on IU's tradition, but also on its future. With a sparkling new arena at his disposal, Coach Knight would have all the tools he would need to recruit the best and brightest prospects the country had to offer.
Meanwhile, new IU president John W. Ryan, who took over as Indiana president from the retiring Joseph Sutton in 1971 (who had replaced Stahr), was forced to write a letter to Governor Edgar H. Whitcomb with good and bad news. The good news was IU's bond issue wouldn't have to be quite as much as originally planned. The bad news, however, was that the total cost of the construction of Assembly Hall had broken the $14 million mark.
"Dear Governor Whitcomb," Ryan wrote May 24, 1971, "Construction of the Assembly Hall on the Bloomington campus of Indiana University has taken much longer than was anticipated. Completion was originally scheduled for August 30, 1970. We now expect the project to be ready for use by September, 1971. Parts of the delay can be identified and associated with strikes, extra blasting required for excess stone removal, and bad weather which hampered the contractor. The delay has been both beneficial and harmful. The major benefit has been that it now appears certain that the bond issue will need to be only $9,000,000 - not the authorized $9,417,000. This, of course, will be less expensive insofar as total interest costs are concerned.
"A second beneficial effect of the delay is that the interest rate will be less now than it would have been a year ago when completion was scheduled. This will save an additional estimated 14 percent of the total interest cost. The reason for this decrease is that an extra year's receipts are now available to complete the building properly, to pay interest on the construction and to reduce the bond issue by $417,000.
"During the construction period it has been necessary for the Trustees of Indiana University to commit additional amounts (over and above the original 2 percent allowance for contingencies) to complete the building properly so that the project costs now exceed the original estimated costs by slightly over $421,000. Representative of this increase are:
1)During the construction period the need became obvious for lighting capable of handling color telecasts rather than black and white, as originally planned - an additional cost of $52,700.
2) Additional rock excavation beyond that anticipated by the engineers - $68,874.45
3) Complete the remote mechanical control system - $126,120
4) Corrections to the ductwork - $12,331.93
5) Items which were a part of the original design but were withheld until the costs of various contingencies could be established and actual construction costs were known. These are now considered essential if we are to get the maximum use and benefit from the structure.
6) A minimal landscaping program - $50,000
"The total cost of these added items is slightly over $421,000. The Trustees of Indiana University join me in requesting that you approve decreasing the bonding authorization by $417,000 to a total of $9,000,000, a decrease of approximately 4 percent. And, at the same time, we request you approve increasing the total project cost by the amount of $421,000 to $14,291,383, an increase of 3 percent, to be funded as follows:
$9,000,000 - 1967-69 authorization of bonds of 1929
$5,291,383 - athletic fees and sinking fund balance
$14,291,383 - revised total project cost
"Respectfully requested, John W. Ryan, President"
The sale of $9 million worth of bonds was made to a financial syndicate composed of City Securities of Indianapolis and the New York firms of John Nuveen, Morgan Guarantee and S.S. Smithers. Bond issues operate with potential buyers bidding for the lowest insurance rate, and the consortium that purchased the bonds "won" the bidding by offering an interest rate of 6.6464 percent to loan IU the money. That interest rate was much more than the administration hoped - the 1958 issuance of bonds that financed the football stadium, the IU Fieldhouse and the addition to the HPER Building brought in a bid of 4.25 percent - and it forced the total cost of the construction of Assembly Hall ever higher.
Just how high? High enough that at least one opponent of Assembly Hall had to feel some measure of vindication. After the bidding was completed, it was determined that the total cost of the structure, including construction of the building and interest paid on the bonds, would amount to roughly $26 million over 28 years, or $928,571.43 a year, more than $1 million more than Guy Loftman had suggested four years earlier. The final bonds were expected to mature Oct. 1, 1999.
The balconies of the facility may have made their first real impact during a June tour of the facility by the Bloomington Rotary Club. The group of local businessmen wandered through Assembly Hall, emerged from the vomitories of the balcony and was astonished.
"It's sort of like watching a fish bowl," one Rotarian said. "Now the refs will NEVER be wrong. We won't be able to see anything."
Another Rotarian thought Assembly Hall would be perfect as a football venue, saying, "This thing is so big. Why don't they just go ahead and put the football field inside, too."
One member of the group, however, balked at going up to the balcony. Voicing the feelings of more than one Assembly Hall patron who would come through the doors in the future, he refused to walk up the ramps and the stairs to the balcony.
"I'll wait until there's somebody playing in there to make this climb," he said.
With events already scheduled in the building for the fall of 1971, the pressure was on Wilhelm Construction to finish the job in time. Basketball practice - Knight's first workouts with the Hoosiers - was scheduled to begin Oct. 15, and Bob Hope and Petula Clark had been scheduled for a Homecoming Variety Show Oct. 23. The Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus was on the docket to perform at the building Oct. 25-26.
In other words, it was time to scramble.
As the calendar continued its inevitable march, the IU administration admitted that Assembly Hall would not be fully completed in time for its grand opening. Paul J. "Pooch" Harrell, the Building Coordinator and the man who initially envisioned the entire north athletic plant in the late 1940s, told the Aug. 24, 1971 IDS that IU was prepared to adapt to the situation.
"We expect to be ready for the circus and the Homecoming show, but it all depends on how fast the contractors can work," Harrell said. "We are first concerned with the Hall, its air conditioning and dressing rooms. Offices are not important right now."
Wilhelm worked hard, and by the time late October rolled around, everything was in order. Assembly Hall was ready for the Hope-Clark Homecoming show, and a crowd of 18,100 showed up to watch the event and take a close-up look at the Hoosiers' new home.
Not everyone, however, was pleased. Lois Landis, an assistant news editor of the IDS, bought a $2 balcony seat for the show, and her initial review of Assembly Hall wasn't exactly glowing.
"The ticket said, 'West Ramp, West Balcony, Section CC, Row 2, Seat 110'" Landis wrote. "The clerk told me when I bought the ticket that seat 110, row 2, section CC was a 'pretty good seat.' What she didn't tell me was that the Assembly Hall balconies are up three ramps and about 75 steps from the main floor, at the top of an 11-story arena. That's a long walk.
"After puffing my way up to the balcony, I walked down the balcony steps, a sort of modified step ladder. Persons afraid of heights should walk down these blindfolded, led by a stout hearted friend. Unfortunately, I was alone Saturday night, so I kept within grabbing distance of the usher. I conquered my fear that one misstep would send me hurtling over the railing and took my seat, making about half the persons in the row stand as I crawled over them. It's nearly impossible to get in or out of the balcony rows without everyone standing up. The persons in my second row always stood when people left because there is so little leg space it seemed as though anyone exiting would fall out of the balcony if everyone didn't stand."
Landis went on to say that the Singing Hoosiers, who opened the show, looked like "the Munchkin Marching Band," and because the Hoosiers sang to the main level, it left the fans in the balcony feeling "either ignored or like a dirigible crew watching a football game." She also worried about what might happen in case of a fire, especially when exiting fans bottlenecked at the exit.
Former Herald-Telephone sports editor Bob Hammel says his first memory of Assembly Hall comes from things he heard in the wake of the visit from Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus.
"I wasn't here for it, but the first event at Assembly Hall was Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus," says Hammel, forgetting about the Hope-Clark Revue 39 years after the fact. "The people sitting in the balcony actually looked down on the high-wire act. That's the first story I heard about Assembly Hall."
Assembly Hall was ready for its basketball debut Dec. 1. The raised floor from the IU Fieldhouse was simply taken apart and brought into the new arena, and there wasn't seating at courtside for fans. The benches were on the main floor as was the scorer's table and a few other chairs, but the bulk of the fans either sat in the main level or balconies, or they sat in bleachers on either end of the court.
The bleachers have a history in and of themselves. The wooden seats began their tenure at IU as the bleachers on the south wall of the IU Fieldhouse - now Gladstein Fieldhouse - and served as seating in that facility until being moved to Assembly Hall for the first game. Once they were brought into the new arena, the wooden seats were unscrewed, flipped over, given a new number and screwed back down. Those bleachers would serve as seating in Assembly Hall until the spring of 1995.
Knight and his coaching staff - Dave Bliss, Bob Weltlich and John Hulls (grandfather of current Hoosier Jordan Hulls) - led IU to a 84-77 win over Ball State in the first game at Assembly Hall, and IU would carry a 4-1 record into the dedication game at the facility Dec. 18. Prior to the game, Indiana did its best to marry the past with the present.
"History will repeat itself Saturday (Dec. 18) when Indiana University's new multi-purpose Assembly Hall will be dedicated - 75 years after the dedication of the first IU Assembly Hall," an IU news release read. "While there are similarities in purpose and dedication dates, there is a vast difference between the two structures. The changing times are reflected, for example, in the fact that the new Assembly Hall can seat up to 20,000 persons - more than 12 times the capacity of the first structure."
At 11 a.m., the dedication ceremony was held. Ryan, Wells and Stahr all made comments, and professor emeritus of theatre and drama, Lee Norvelle, presented IU with a sign from the original Assembly Hall (that sign still hangs in the vestibule on the west side of the arena). Danielson accepted the building on behalf of the IU Board of Trustees, and Byrum E. Carter, chancellor of the Bloomington campus, and Orwig both spoke to the assembled crowd.
Ryan noted the coincidence of the date of the dedication. The original Assembly Hall, which was actually known as the Men's Gymnasium when it opened, was dedicated Dec. 18, 1896. Ryan read a newspaper report of that dedication that mentioned that, "There are 150 lightbulbs, and these made the room almost as bright as day." Ryan made those comments under the glare of a powerful lighting system that each provided 300-foot candlepower of light, which would provide plenty of lighting for color television broadcasts.
Following the dedication, the floor of Assembly Hall was officially named in honor of Branch McCracken, who had passed away in the summer of 1970. With Mary Jo McCracken, Branch's widow, and his son, David, on hand, IU unveiled a plaque commemorating the legendary coach, and the plaque still hangs on the wall on the main floor in the southeast corner of the court.
All that was left to top off the day was a Hoosier win. Knight and his new team certainly took care of that. The Hoosiers took on Notre Dame and its first-year head coach Dick "Digger" Phelps, whose Fighting Irish started five sophomores. Setting the tone for how IU would play in Assembly Hall for the next few decades, the Hoosiers hammered - and we mean HAMMERED - Phelps' team 94-29, setting an IU record for the largest margin of victory that stands to this day. IU held Notre Dame to 13.1 percent shooting (8-of-61!) from the field overall, outrebounded ND 65-46 and forced the Irish to post the same number of turnovers (29) as point scored.
Assembly Hall was off to a rousing start, and the future couldn't have been brighter.
Although the basketball team was in good shape, the wrestling team wasn't quite as lucky. Sure, the squad's new wrestling room had a lot of potential, but when the team first arrived in early December the wrestling mats had not yet arrived. Then, when the mats finally showed up, someone spilled tar all over them, and it was a struggle to remove the sticky substance.
Another issue was the lack of a heating control in the room although it didn't present the problem you might imagine. The room wasn't too hot. In fact, just the opposite.
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"The room is 75 degrees instead of 80 or 85 degrees, which it should be if the wrestlers want to lose weight during workouts," assistant wrestling coach Everett Barnard told the IDS. "Sometimes in the old room we even got up to 90-100 degrees."
The heat problem with the wrestling room eventually was solved, but Assembly Hall still saw its share of oddities as time passed. Chuck Crabb, longtime public address announcer at Assembly Hall and the current assistant athletic director of facilities, told the IDS in the late 1990s that IU received an unexpected visitor in the mid-1970s. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus was in town again, and somehow a Kodiak bear got loose and started wandering the halls of the building.
"Don't think that's not a sobering thing at 8:30 in the morning when you walk out of the office and all of a sudden a bear rears up on its hind haunches," Crabb said in the Oct. 15, 1997 edition of the IDS.
Crabb also claimed in the same article that rumor had it that someone lived in Assembly Hall at the top of the northwest stair tower in the 1970s. Although no one was ever discovered, remnants of food and a mattress were found.
Although the building was picking up some unconfirmed legends off the court, there were confirmed legends being created on the court. Knight led his Hoosiers to the Final Four in his second year at IU, and he started rolling up Big Ten championships. His 1974-75 Hoosiers finished the regular season undefeated and went 18-0 in conference play before falling 92-90 to Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament. The next year, Knight led IU to a perfect 32-0 record and picked up the Hoosiers' third championship banner.
Defending Assembly Hall was a key to Knight's strategy, and his team responded. Indiana did not lose a game on Branch McCracken Court from Dec. 11, 1973-Dec. 6, 1976, a span of 31 games. That record, however, would not hold up. Indiana put together home winning streaks of 33 games (from Jan. 15, 1986-Jan. 24, 1988) and 56 games (from Feb. 24, 1991-Jan. 24, 1995) over the years, helping Assembly Hall build its mystique for college basketball greatness.
The original floor, however, would not be around to see all the glory. Following the undefeated season of 1975-76, IU decided to replace the floor that had been in use since the 1960s, dumping the raised floor that had seen Branch McCracken's final teams in favor of a hardwood surface that would stay at floor level. The new floor, which was installed prior to the 1976-77 season, would find a little glory of its own.
"The great thing about that was that in March of 1978, it was loaded up on three semis and taken to St. Louis, where it was used in the arena for the NCAA championship," Crabb says. "Ironically, that championship was won by the University of Kentucky, which means they won a championship playing on the Indiana University home court."
Beyond the athletic triumphs, Assembly Hall fulfilled its stated role as host for a number of events over the years, and we're not talking tiny shows with unheard-of acts. "Jesus Christ Superstar" played in the fall of 1971 (seating was sold on the west side only, tickets ranged from $2-$6), and The Jackson Five and the Temptations played the 1972 Little 500 concert. Elton John rolled through. Bob Dylan visited (with Guy Loftman in attendance), and the Rolling Stones played a concert at Assembly Hall July 26, 1975. Rock n' roll Royalty even made a couple of appearances. Elvis Presley, the King himself, played two shows, one in 1974 and another on May 27, 1976. Just over a year after the second performance, Presley would play his final concert at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis.
(Fun fact - According to the detailed website Elvis-in-concert.com, Presley played before roughly 16,000 fans during his final Assembly Hall appearance. He wore a V-neck costume with puffed sleeves, and photos show Elvis wearing a purple scarf at one point. He played 24 songs, finishing with "Can't Help Falling in Love." A CD exists of the performance called "Back in Bloomington," although it may be a bootleg. TCB, baby.)
Other acts that have appeared over the years include Neil Young, The Who, The Grateful Dead, Jackson Brown, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dan Fogleberg, Chicago, Smashing Pumpkins, Dave Matthews, former President Bill Clinton, the Dali Lama, Hillary Clinton and current President Barack Obama, among a host of other acts. Assembly Hall also hosted the NCAA Tournament on three occasions, and ABA and NBA games have been played inside its walls over the years. The training camp to select the 1984 U.S. Olympic basketball team - a squad that featured Michael Jordan and coached by Knight - also was held at Assembly Hall.
Interestingly, it took a little while for IU basketball fans to fill Assembly Hall. Proving that winning is everything, IU only ranked fifth in the Big Ten in attendance during the 1971-72 season (when the Hoosiers posted a 17-8 record), but the next season IU boasted the second-highest average attendance in the league. It took the top spot for the 1973-74 season, and from that point until the 2001-02 campaign, Indiana led the Big Ten in attendance 20 times, including one run of 15 times in 16 years.
Still, it didn't take long for fans and the administration to start to find some flaws in the design of Assembly Hall or look for ways to improve the venue. In April, 1981, the IDS ran a series of stories dealing with the danger of fire in campus buildings, and Assembly Hall was singled out due to the high volume of people who gathered at the venue. Although Bloomington fire chief Larry Fleener and IU Fire and Safety Supervisor Marvin Lockhart acknowledged that the risk of a catastrophic fire was minimal at the mostly-concrete structure, they did admit that evacuation could be a concern if people started to panic.
Meanwhile, in 1981, IU decided to remodel the trainer's suite at a cost of nearly $25,000, and two years later IU was forced to tackle a problem with the roof. On May 6, 1983, IU announced that Mays Roofing Company of Kokomo, Ind., and Mid-Continental Restoration Company of Fort Scott, Kan., had been contracted to repair problems with the roof at a combined cost of roughly $371,000.
"The latter firm will repair numerous cracks and seams in the structural concrete of the parapet and buttress sections of the Hall before reroofing," a statement read. "The Mays firm will then install a white Elastomeric membrane on the main and lower roofs of the building to provide a watertight roof surface. Funding for the reroofing will come from athletic department funds and contributions through the IU Varsity Club."
Another improvement came in the fall of 1983 when IU dropped $56,272 on a non-skid floor covering for the pedestrian ramps and landings on the north and south sides of the arena. The areas would become slick during the winter, and Indiana needed to do something to improve the safety of the ramps. The non-skid coverings are still in place.
By 1995, two more national championship banners waved in the breeze above the main floor, but it was time for some changes. The hardwood court, which had seen Isiah Thomas, Steve Alford and Calbert Cheaney in action, was due to be replaced. After all, it had been in use since the fall of 1976, and it even had one or two scratches on it from when a chair went skittering over its surface during a game.
Unlike in the past, IU wouldn't simply toss its basketball court into the dustbin of history. Instead, a plan was hatched to cut the floor up into pieces to be sold as memorabilia. It wasn't exactly a new idea - Kansas had recently marketed its floor to pay for the cost of its replacement, and Michigan had cut up and sold pieces of its artificial turf when the field was replaced at Michigan Stadium. The expectations were for IU to completely pay for the cost of replacing the floor - roughly $600,000 - through the marketing of the pieces.
But it wasn't just about money. The floor had been deteriorating for a few years.
"The court had developed some dead spots," Crabb told the IDS in May, 1995. "It was a portable floor and not as strong. The new, permanent one will have greater durability because it won't have as many connection points."
Before the floor had even been dismantled, IU said it had received more than 13,000 requests for pieces of the floor. When IU finally set up an actual phone number for fans to call to order the pieces, which ranged in price from $25 all the way up to $225, the response continued to be overwhelming. That wasn't good news for a man in Peru, Ind. As calls piled up on the 800-number Indiana had set up to sell the pieces, a data entry glitch caused the overflow calls to be redirected to a residential number in Peru. The Cincinnati Floor Company began installing the new floor in early May, and it completed the project by mid-August.
Since the floor was up anyway, IU decided to make some other changes to the building. Electrical wiring for the scoreboard and scorer's table was rerouted while the floor was being replaced, and an under court path for television lines was created which eliminated the need to string cables around the floor at various locations.
The most visible change came in the end zones of the basketball courts. The north and south bleachers, which had been in use for years, finally were replaced by permanent structures.
"The bleachers used to be on wheels and were rolled in and out for events," Crabb told the IDS. "Now they'll be built into the wall and pulled out either automatically or by hand."
Accommodations were added on the north and south sides for fans in wheelchairs, and doors were cut into the walls at four points - two on each side - to provide direct access from the lobby. No longer would fans have to walk down to the main floor to walk back up to their seats in the bleachers.
In actuality, IU made the changes to get the building up to Americans with Disabilities Act codes, but it didn't come without a snafu.
"We weren't designed for ADA accessibility, so we thought we would build these platforms at the back of the brand new bleachers," Crabb said in January 2010. "We had to install new bleachers. We lost our grandfather clause protection for the old ones. No one took into account that (fans in Row 19 of the bleachers) were going to stand up. So all this wonderful space for ADA patrons was compromised at the first game when people stood up to celebrate and the wheelchair patrons couldn't see over them. We made changes.
"We've had to make all sorts of adjustments to Assembly Hall. We built wings that limited us to 24 wheelchair seats with 24 companions. ADA current code speaks to having one percent of your total seating in all areas accessible for an ADA patron. That's on every level. You don't have that in the balcony. You don't have that when you go in through the vomitories at Row 25. We really aren't set up for it on the floor. The only (fan) you see on the floor in a wheelchair is Landon Turner."
By 1996, the roof was leaking again, and IU was forced to get creative to deal with the extra water that was coming into the building. To channel the water out of sight, garden hoses were placed behind the walls as the end of the court and water was drained from the roof to the ground.
"It was out of sight, and nobody ever knew that some of the Assembly Hall was taken care of by a garden hose," Crabb told the IDS in Oct., 1997.
Not helping the condition of the roof over the years was the fact that a group of students who lived across the street from Assembly Hall decided the roof would provide a perfect ramp for skateboarding. They somehow found their way onto the roof and managed to enjoy some unsanctioned recreation.
Along the way, IU's once state-of-the-art lighting and sound system became obsolete, and performers visiting Assembly Hall started using their own equipment, and most do to this day.
Renovations over the past 15 years have been minimal although the facility continues to host numerous high-profile events, concerts and athletic contests. Assembly Hall was the site of more protests following the firing of Bob Knight in September, 2000, and Knight had to make an appearance to quell the crowd that had gathered outside Knight's only home at IU. Following Knight's departure, the floor was turned around to allow television cameras to get a good view of the benches - if you remember, Knight always prowled the sideline at the bottom of the screen during IU games, whereas now you can see Tom Crean working the bench - and the iconic basket supports that existed during the Knight Era were replaced by more modern goals.
(Fact - As Inside Indiana writer Stan Sutton detailed in a column last fall, the basket supports are currently rotting in the grass off the first green on the golf course. Although the electronic components of the shot clocks have been removed, the standards themselves are rusting in the elements, and some padding for the supports is still hanging on some of the standards. As of presstime there has been no word on what plans, if any, IU has for the standards.)
The women's basketball locker room was renovated in 2002 and in the summer of 2005, the scoreboard that hung over the center of the court was replaced in favor of a new, modern piece that includes video screens and enhanced statistical information. The new scoreboard cost $1.99 million with IU Sports Properties footing the bill over a 10-year period. New advertising space on the scoreboard, plus on new scorer's tables and signage around Assembly Hall, was expected to yield more than $250,000 annually.
With the scoreboard weighing in at 26,000 pounds - 20,000 pounds more than the old scoreboard - extra support was added to the roof - at a cost of around $800,000 - to hold the weight of the piece. Although there was some controversy that the new technology would hurt the traditional look of the building, the new scoreboard quickly became an indispensible part of the landscape at Assembly Hall. After all, new traditions have to start somewhere.
The roof, by the way, continues to provide some issues for the IU administration. It's not the construction of the roof that is the problem. It's keeping the water out. After years of battling different leaks and other issues, IU finally decided it was time to strip the roof down to the concrete slabs and place a new insulated membrane roof on the building.
On Feb. 19, 2010, just a couple of weeks ago, the Board of Trustees authorized IU athletics to spend $2 million to overhaul the roof. The work will begin following the 2009-10 basketball season.
"It has finally reached the point where we can't find all the leaks and can't stop them," Crabb told the Feb. 24 IDS. The membrane of the roof has just reached its life expectancy. If you were to go onto the roof, you would see that we have (during) two or three different summers attempted to work in each quadrant of the building, trying to chase the leaks as best we could."
Assembly Hall has served every purpose it was designed for over the years, and it has been exactly what IU hoped it would be - a jewel of the Bloomington campus. But that doesn't mean it will enjoy the longevity that Stahr might have first envisioned when he suggested the building could serve IU for 100 years. A study was released in 2007 that broke down the different options the University would have at its disposal if it wanted to renovate and modernize Assembly Hall. The costs ranged from $42 million-$123 million, and of the five scenarios presented, three of them would reduce the overall number of seats available. The most expensive project in the study would actually reduce seating capacity by more than 4,000.
HOK Sports, which has since been renamed Populous and is the architects for the basketball practice facility currently under construction outside of Assembly Hall, estimated that building an entirely new facility would cost IU between $130 million-$160 million. With that thought in mind, the Board of Trustees voted in June, 2007, to replace Assembly Hall when funds became available. The move was made to keep IU from spending money on capital improvements on the facility.
"(The Board of Trustees has) decided that Assembly Hall should not be renovated and bring about the types of improvements that they really want," IU spokesman Larry MacIntyre told the IDS. "The basic structure just is not right, the sight lines are not as good as they can be, it does not have any private boxes and it does not have luxury seating or any of the amenities that modern facilities have."
That said, IU postponed a decision on the future of Assembly Hall, especially since the facility still was in good working order.
"Assembly Hall still has several good years left in it," MacIntyre said. "There is no immediate need to rush into something."
Current IU head coach Tom Crean has said he is happy with Assembly Hall and doesn't see any reason to replace the building. After all, it has become a Mecca in the college basketball world, and the mystique of the place still exists despite the Hoosiers' recent struggles. Since its opening prior to the 1971-72 season, Indiana has posted a 456-88 record in the building, good for a winning percentage of .838.
The legendary Assembly Hall continues to impress Hoosier prospects when they arrive on campus for recruiting visits, and Crean's enthusiasm has IU fans hoping for a sixth national championship banner sometime in the near future. Such a win would only add to the building's reputation as the home for champions, but Assembly Hall should be getting a little help in the very near future. The addition of a basketball practice facility, recently named Cook Hall, should provide the basketball program a boost in the same way that Mellencamp Fieldhouse and the North End Zone-Student-Athlete Development Center provided a boost for the football program over the past 15 years. The construction of those facilities has pushed Indiana into the 21st century and is helping Hoosier athletics keep pace with its opponents.
That, however, is a story for another time.
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Ken Bikoff can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is glad he no longer has to brave the balconies during games, and he truly feels for those who do.