West Gym Dedication Ceremony

By Natalie Lafferty ’22

On May 20th, 1964, West Gymnasium was dedicated, a prime example of Carleton’s prestige in the Midwest not only academically, but athletically. Designed by Minouri Yamasaki, West Gym matched the modernist style of Olin Hall and Goodhue Dormitory, both finished in the years prior to West’s opening. Because West Gym cost 1.1 million dollars and represented a new era of athletics at Carleton, the school believed it deserved a large and impressive dedication. 

Previous to the construction of West Gym, many held the sentiment that Sayles-Hill Gymnasium, built in 1910, was becoming outdated, overcrowded, and not as effective as another, larger, and more modern facility could be. As Alan Cason drafted a speech for Roland Chambers to give at the banquet for the dedication, he acknowledged how athletics have historically been important at Carleton as they “never neglected the spiritual development, physical fitness, and appreciation of teamwork that are fostered by athletic activity.” Recognizing “the importance of a sound athletic program to the development of well-rounded, healthy-minded people,” Cason suggested the importance of physical activity to the liberal arts education. In addition, he made it very clear that Carleton must “stay in the lead,” moving ahead “aggressively in every aspect,” including athletics. Cason mentions Sayles-Hill’s past: the memories associated with it, the championships won, the crowds, and the social events, showing his appreciation as it has served the school for fifty four years up to that point. Yet, as the school’s enrollment continued to increase, there was not enough room for spectators or athletes, causing the school to “outgrow” the beloved Sayles-Hill Gymnasium. Therefore, the construction of West Gym was viewed as both necessary and exciting and the 1964 dedication ceremony reflects this sentiment. 

The guest list for the event was quite extensive, as there were roughly 200 special guests, including President Hovde of Purdue University, President Wilson of University of Minnesota (representing the parents as his son was a first-year at Carleton), President Rand of St. Olaf, retired and current trustees, former Presidents Cowling and Gould, the alumni board, former Carleton coaches, C Club members, faculty and administration, students, representatives from St. Olaf, the mayor of Northfield, director of athletics from Midwest College Conference and Minnesota Private Colleges, and lastly those from University of Minnesota. Unfortunately, Yamasaki was not able to attend the dedication as his work was picking up elsewhere. Richard Gillman, the Dean of the College, was not keen on a large invite list, writing that “it would appear…that we are making much more of an athletic facility than would be appropriate, and in this regard, doing much more than we did for the dedication of the Library, Olin Hall, or even the installation of the president.” This is interesting as it reflects the excitement that was put into the gym dedication and athletics that was not seen in other dedications during the Nason era. In total, about 2,000 guests attended the dedication, lasting an entire afternoon and night. 

Starting at 1:00 PM on May 20, 1964, West Gym became open to the public. At around 2:30 PM, there was a water ballet performance of The Odyssey presented by the Carleton Dolphins, the women’s water dance group. The main dedication ceremony was in the gym, starting at 3:30pm featuring speeches from President Nason, former President Gould, Atherton Bean (the chairman of the development committee on West Gym), and President Frederick Hovde of Purdue University. Hovde was an All-American football player at University of Minnesota, a Rhodes scholar, and president of Purdue from 1946-1971. His speech, entitled “The Education of the Whole Man,” emphasized the college’s responsibility to cultivate students’ mind, spirit, and body, in the truest liberal arts sense, arguing that a failure to develop any one of these sectors could cause unbalance and unhappiness. According to Hovde, colleges have done the best in maintaining the first two sectors and the worst in promoting physical health, and therefore are in need of proper athletic facilities to help in that regard. He thinks the “New Men’s Gymnasium” has the potential to cater to student’s physical health, even going so far as to declare Carleton should make students agree “wholeheartedly and without reservation to accept the discipline of the physical education of games and of sportsmanship” and that “those who are not willing should be turned away because their presence injures the work, accomplishments, and enjoyment of those who are willing.” This strict view of athletics stresses West Gym’s role as a place for teaching students self-discipline and sportsmanship. 

Following the dedication ceremony, 155 of the special guests took nine buses corresponding to a home of either a faculty member or administrator that was hosting a reception before dinner. Some notable homes include 100 Winona Street, the home of William Dunham, the chair of the dedication event and 203 Maple Street, the home of Mel Taube, basketball, baseball, and football coach from 1950-1970. After the receptions, the buses then transported the groups to Goodhue Dormitory for a dinner at 6:00pm where ribeye, potatoes, and an avocado salad were served. The speeches continued with Mel Taube, Roland Chambers (President of Alumni Association), Meredith Wilson (President of University of Minnesota, speaking for the parents), and Craig Olsen (President of C Club, speaking for the students). 

The night finished with a performance by the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra at 8:00 PM back in West Gym. The orchestra’s two hour performance included the tone poem “Don Juan” (Richard Strauss), Clouds and Festivals (Claude Debussy), and Symphony No. 7 (Beethoven). The first time the MSO came to Northfield was in 1913 for a performance in Sayles-Hill, reflecting the significance of the building at the time. Because the MSO played in both Sayles-Hill and then West Gym, the importance of each building is highlighted as well as the transition from one athletic facility to another as the entrance into a new age was sealed. In addition to the dedication events on campus, there was an exhibit at the Walker Art Center, entitled “Carleton College and Minouri Yamasaki,” open the same week of the dedication. The total cost for gym dedication was $9,020.55. 

West Gym remains the only building on campus that is not named after a donor or notable alumni. In 1967 there was the idea to name the gym after an esteemed prior football coach, C.J. Hunt. Yet, some individuals thought it would cause a split amongst alumni, even arguing it would give them too much power. Overall, West Gym remains a central location for athletics and school spirit on Carleton’s campus.