Groundbreaking for the Renovation of Assembly Hall
April 7, 2015
Momentous Occasions that Live on in our Collective Memory
In Temples of the Earthbound Gods, his book on stadiums in the cultural landscape, Christopher Gaffney writes that: ”Stadiums (and arenas) matter to us because they are places where we share common emotions in a common place in a limited time frame. …(G)ames, concerts, and spectacles are momentous occasions that live on in our collective memory.” Gaffney continues: “The limited space and time of the (arena) gives spectators a sense of privileged participation. ‘I was there when…’ is a proud claim made by millions who have attended events.”1
Today, as we recall the many momentous occasions that live on in the collective memory of the millions who have experienced events at Assembly Hall, we mark the beginning of IU’s effort to preserve and improve one of college basketball’s most iconic venues so that future generations of Hoosier fans can continue to enjoy similarly unforgettable experiences.
Historic, Innovative Facilities
The rich history of IU basketball includes, of course, the history of the facilities that have been its home.
Nearly 120 years ago, in 1896, Indiana University’s ninth president, Joseph Swain, dedicated IU’s first Assembly Hall—a wooden building that served as a general assembly hall, in which a wide variety of university gatherings were held. The sport of basketball was then in its infancy, and the building became the home of IU’s first basketball teams beginning in 1900.
A little more than a decade after its construction, the building, by then nicknamed “Old Faithful,” had deteriorated to the point that the student newspaper described it as being in such “bad, unsatisfactory, and overcrowded condition as to be a positive menace to student health.”2 The building was considered such a disgrace to the university that the Daily Student also wrote that “the 1913 groundhog was scared by the sight of it before he saw his own shadow.”3
A series of much improved buildings, all of which are still part of the Bloomington campus, followed: the Men’s Gymnasium, now part of the facilities of the School of Public Health; the Fieldhouse, now known as the Wildermuth Intramural Center; and the “New Fieldhouse,” now known as the Harry Gladstein Fieldhouse. All of these facilities were the sites of many thrilling and historic games.
In 1971, Assembly Hall, one of the most venerable and iconic venues in college basketball, became home not only to the men’s basketball team, but also to women’s basketball, which became a varsity sport in that same year.
The facility, of course, has had a storied history. It has been home to three national men’s basketball championship teams and 13 conference championships.
Five years ago this month, I had the great pleasure of dedicating Cook Hall, the magnificent basketball development facility made possible primarily through the remarkable generosity of the late Bill Cook and his wife, Gayle, and other generous donors. Cook Hall is a superb space for everyone connected with IU basketball and a wonderful complement to Assembly Hall.
And while it is true that Assembly Hall is, as sportscaster Gus Johnson has called it, “the Carnegie Hall of basketball,”4 the building is now nearly 44 years old, and in need of major renovation.
A Legacy Of Generosity: Cindy Simon Skjodt and The Simon Family
Of course, we are here today in large part because of the generosity and vision of philanthropist and IU alumna Cindy Simon Skjodt. As I had the great pleasure of announcing in December of 2013, Cindy and her philanthropic organization, the Samerian Foundation, made an extraordinarily generous gift of $40 million—the largest gift in the history of IU Athletics—to be used for the much-needed extensive renovation of Assembly Hall.
I was also very pleased to announce that in honor of this landmark gift, when these renovations are complete, Assembly Hall will be renamed Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
Cindy and her family have, of course, been extraordinarily generous supporters of Indiana University for many, many years.
In 2013, Cindy very generously donated $2 million to endow a chair in the Herron School of Art and Design’s Art Therapy Program. The same year, Cindy also made a generous gift of $1.5 million to endow the Melvin Simon Chair in Philanthropy in the new IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy on the IUPUI campus in honor of her late father, Melvin Simon.
Of course, the Simon family name has long been synonymous with transformative philanthropy in the state of Indiana and across the nation, and it will forever be interwoven with the great achievements of Indiana University. The Simon family has supported our students through the Helene G. Simon Hillel Center, they have supported the arts through IU’s Jacobs School of Music, and they have supported multidisciplinary life sciences research and other research through the award-winning Simon Hall. Their remarkable generosity also made possible the creation of the nationally recognized Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center in Indianapolis. The family’s vision and support have had a tremendous and transformative effect on this university.
Cindy, of course, has also been enormously generous with her time and her service to IU, serving as a member of the IU Foundation Board of Directors, the Women’s Philanthropy Council, as a co-chair of the highly successful Matching the Promise campaign, which raised $1.14 billion for the Bloomington campus, and as the co-chair of IU Athletics’ portion of the university-wide campaign that will be completed by IU’s Bicentennial in 2020.
Cindy’s generous gift—and her outstanding leadership—have already inspired many others to join the effort to preserve and improve one of the great venues in college athletics for the next generation of Hoosier basketball fans.
Last week, for example, we announced that attorney Ken Nunn had made a generous gift of $2 million, and that the renovated south entryway to Assembly Hall will be named in his honor. On behalf of Indiana University, I extend our thanks to Mr. Nunn for this generous gift—and our thanks to all who have contributed to the renovation project.
And I would, of course, like to once again extend our deepest gratitude to Cindy Simon Skjodt, to her husband Paul, the owner of the Indiana Ice, who is also with us today, and to their entire family.
Your generosity will touch the lives of countless student-athletes, coaches, alumni, and friends of IU, and it will help IU’s men’s and women’s basketball programs to continue to thrive and excel for many decades to come.
In paying tribute to a number of America’s historic major league baseball parks that were built in the early 20th century, John Zinn writes that for half a century or more after their construction, ”those facilities were ‘cathedrals,’ where countless people had unforgettable experiences, including their first game, special family memories, and moments of excitement, heartbreak, and joy.”5
The renovations we begin here today will ensure that the next generation of IU alumni, friends, and fans will be able to enjoy similar unforgettable experiences in Assembly Hall, one of the great “cathedrals of basketball” just as the Simon family and so many others have done over more than four remarkable decades.
- Christopher Thomas Gaffney, Temples of the Earthbound Gods: Stadiums in the Cultural Landscapes of Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires, (University of Texas Press, 2010), 3.
- Thomas D. Clark, Indiana University: Midwestern Pioneer, Volume 2: In Mid-Passage, (Indiana University Press, 1973), 157.
- "Indiana's Assembly Hall". Indiana Athletics. March 27, 2012. Retrieved April 2, 2015.
- John G. Zinn, Ebbets Field: Essays and Memories of Brooklyn's Historic Ballpark, 1913-1960, (McFarland, 2012), 1.