Gymnasium Building, circa 1934. Photo Credit: M.S.U. Physical Plant.
In the early years of the Michigan Agricultural College, organized sports were virtually nonexistent—after all, “students who must work three hours a day in the field found less than the usual time or inclination for systematic athletic competition.” The Board of Agriculture contributed to that attitude by denying student petitions for an indoor gymnasium for many years, apparently considering field work to be sufficient outdoor exercise. Nevertheless, informal games of baseball, soccer, and rugby frequently arose.[Kuhn, p. 134]
A year before the Armory did its part to alleviate the indoor space issue, the College in 1884 participated in its first intercollegiate athletic competition, a field meet at Olivet College. Three years later, it joined with Olivet, Albion, and Hillsdale Colleges to organize the Michigan Inter-Collegiate Athletic Association, “the oldest athletic conference west of the Allegheny Mountains.” The M.A.C. Aggies hosted the first MIAA Field Day event from May 31 to June 2, 1888.[Kuhn, p. 157]
Around the turn of the twentieth century the long school vacation was moved from the winter to the summer, a change that promoted the school’s participation in both football and basketball. Soon, intercollegiate competition, intramural sports, and the school’s increasing size meant that a large, modern Gymnasium was an unavoidable necessity.
The L-shaped building by E. A. Bowd, in Beaux Arts style of brick and limestone, was built on a site between the old drill field (now Walter Adams Field) and the river, west of the Botanic Garden and near the site where the original Botany Laboratory once stood. It contained separate gyms and swimming pools for men and women, as well as other facilities. (Stanford & Dewhurst erroneously state that it “was originally the Women’s Gymnasium.”) The new Gymnasium also took over the public events role of the Armory, hosting—among many other festivities—the 1923 commencement ceremonies, which took place in the well-lit main gym on the second floor.[Stanford, p. 48]
1923 Commencement, in the Gymnasium. Photo Credit: M.S.U. Archives.
Around 1940, following the dedication of Jenison Fieldhouse, men’s athletics moved to that state-of-the-art facility, and the older building became the Women’s Gymnasium. An addition in the International style to the south façade in 1958 was accompanied by a change in name, if not purpose, to Women’s Intramural Recreative Sports, or Women’s IM. (That same year saw the completion of the Men’s IM, now West IM.)[Kuhn, p. 361]
Today the Gymnasium is known as Circle IM, and continues to host intramural and special-events athletic programming.