Standing Strong

More than a century after its construction, Archbold Gymnasium continues to evolve in its service to the campus community
by Rick Burton
David B. Falk Endowed Professor of Sport Management
Department of Sport Management

Here’s an easy trivia question for you: Name a Syracuse University building that virtually burned to the ground, rose up out of its ashes, was rebuilt, still contains the entrance to a secret walled-up tunnel, and yet finds itself in massive use today? The answer isn’t hard if you’ve read this story’s headline or looked at the accompanying photos.

But here’s a tougher one for you: How many departmental offices are included in SU’s fabled Archbold Gymnasium? The surprising answer: More than 150 offices are spread throughout the building, providing space for Recreation Services, Army ROTC, Air Force ROTC, the Bursar’s Office, Math Department, Physical Plant, Scholarship Programs, Enrollment Management, Exercise Science, and Financial Aid. Archbold also features one fitness center (located on what was formerly two basketball courts), one full-length basketball court, one swimming pool, two multiuse exercise rooms, one fencing room, two rowing tanks, the offices for the men’s and women’s intercollegiate rowing teams, as well as men’s and women’s locker rooms and accompanying facilities. In addition, there are three classrooms in the nearly 88,000-square-foot building, a facility open for business 350 days of the year and one that actively serviced nearly half-a-million users in the 2013-14 academic year.

Christopher Weiss ’84, G’93, senior academic counselor and tutor coordinator for Student Support Services, is a longtime Archbold inhabitant. While he remembers registering for classes in the gym as a freshman in 1980, using “those old-school, huge computer punch cards,” he has been a regular at the noon pickup basketball games on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays since 1982. Through the years, he’s played with undergraduates, graduate students, administrators, faculty, and staff from nearly every corner of campus. “While I’ve grown and changed over time, the constant for me has always been ‘noon ball,'” Weiss says. “Pickup basketball is a culture here at SU. The noon game has always been inclusive and caters to those of us wishing to get as much exercise as we can during our lunch hour. In a nutshell, pickup basketball has enhanced my work week and put a little bounce in my life.”

Providing a setting for a good workout is standard for a building that in its storied history has hosted such varsity sports as basketball, gymnastics, and swimming, plus weekend-long dance marathons, annual course registration, and numerous other University functions, many tied to Commencement. But these details paint only a patchwork picture of the enormous gift given to Syracuse at the turn of the 20th century by John Dustin Archbold, the self-made oil executive and philanthropist who chaired the SU Board of Trustees from 1893 to 1916. And while Archbold’s colossal football stadium was torn down in 1978 and replaced by the 50,000-seat Carrier Dome in 1980, his combined gift of a football stadium and gymnasium, first initiated in 1905, changed Syracuse forever.

Archbold Gym opened in December 1908—the year after Archbold Stadium was unveiled. At the time, the rectangular brick and limestone-trimmed building contained a multipurpose gymnasium, swimming pool, rowing tank, baseball cage, indoor track (measuring 12 laps to the mile) and, by fall 1911, a bowling alley. It also held the infamous “equipment/laundry cage” (renovated into the current lobby in 1988) and locker rooms where the football team changed before charging down a lengthy concrete tunnel into the Orange’s open-air stadium.

Sturdy as the stone gymnasium appeared, it was nearly destroyed by a raging fire in January 1947. “It was devastating,” says Tom McLaughlin ’51, a football letterman in 1948 and 1949. “We worked out in Archbold. Did weights and calisthenics for football. I can still remember how upset the guys were. I had some of my stuff burned in there. We really didn’t know how things were going to turn out.”

After the blaze, most of the old super-structure still standing was demolished, except for the north wing, which escaped fatal damage. The north wing was ultimately reconstructed and remodeled starting in spring 1948. By February 1949, the athletic department returned to the refurbished building, however, the reconstructed rear section of Archbold was not completed until 1952.

Interestingly, Archbold also served as the home to the SU men’s basketball team up to 1955 when Orange games were moved to the Syracuse War Memorial (1955-62). But it wasn’t uncommon to see future Basketball Hall of Famers Dave Bing ’66 and Jim Boeheim ’66, G’73 playing pickup games in the gym during the off-season.

Today, Archbold—located at the elbow of Hendricks Chapel, the Physics Building, and the Dome—and its satellite arm, Flanagan Gym (built in 1989), still serve the recreational and physical fitness activities of students, but Archbold can’t hide its age. “An incredible number of students, faculty, and staff utilize the many healthy opportunities available in Archbold Gym on a daily basis,” says Joseph Lore, director of the Department of Recreation Services.

According to Lore, Archbold and Flanagan gymnasiums allow for myriad healthy choices, including a 10,000-square-foot fitness center, squash and racquetball courts, basketball and volleyball courts, swimming pool, space for group exercise classes and personal training, meditation, and stretching, intramural and sports club activities, an indoor ropes course, and open, drop-in basketball and volleyball.

Is the end in sight for old Archbold, which has welcomed many generations of students for workouts? Hardly. In fact, it’s possible the brick building that has so nobly withstood Syracuse’s chilly winters and blazing summers for more than a century—and is one of SU’s 15 oldest still-active buildings—will continue to get more use than ever, Lore says, “because of the commitment to health and wellness by the University community.” That’s no small feat, especially for a building that is in constant use and is often overshadowed by a sprawling stadium that has always stood guard to its immediate west.