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The pleasure and enjoyment afforded by higher education intramural sports facilities might never have been realized were it not for the far-sighted planning and efforts of certain recreational administrators of the 1920's, notably Elmer D. Mitchell, rightfully called "The Father of Intramurals." In 1929 the dedication of the University of Michigan's first intramural facility, the Intramural Sports Building, was the forerunner of all campus recreational centers in the country. It was Mitchell's dream that this building would provide a place "where a thousand students [can] enter daily to congregate, and to mix their exercise with sociability." Construction of this unique facility began in July of 1927 and was complete by October of 1928 at a cost of $743,000. Public interest in the building, which incorporated many features far ahead of the times, was so great that a number of open houses were staged in order to satisfy the curiosity of droves of spectators.


The brick-faced building stands on the Athletic Campus of the University of Michigan facing Hoover Avenue. Its Lombard Romanesque style was the genius of the firm of Smith, Hinchman and Grylls of Detroit who a few years later designed the impressive Rackham Building known for its "formal elegance."(2) Mitchell described the newly open building in a 1928 article in the Discobolus:  "The structure itself ever surprises the onlooker by its unusual combination of beauty and utility. In the first place the building is designed to have plenty of light and air; it is long and narrow and none of the exercise quarters are completely below ground. The size, too adds to its impressiveness for it is 420 feet long by 120 feet wide.... The windows are very large and use up almost the whole of the sides of the building. These high arched windows, their long rows unbroken save for the imposing arches which span the entrances at front and rear, present a striking architectural design."


The arched entrances mentioned by Mitchell are monumental in character extending above the general line of the roof and divide the building into wings--the smaller East Wing and the West Wing which houses the vast main gymnasium. Entering the building from Hoover Street one is immediately impressed by the "dignified and ornamented" warmth of the spacious lobby area. Its ceiling "gaily decorated" with "a cluster of lights hanging overhead" is "satisfying to an upward glance," in the words of Mitchell. The building boards which line the west wall are still used today to display team standings and intramural news.

The University of Michigan

Intramural Sports Building