Athletics and the University of Iowa have always gone hand-in-hand. The very first armory was built in 1879, right next to Old Capitol. And as the University grew, so did the need for larger spaces to gather for celebrations and sports.
First Armory (1879 – 1905). Located on University Square (just south west of Old Capitol). This building was also the first power plant on campus.
(P-0131) Close Hall – First Home of Hawkeye Basketball (1891 – 1905). This three-story building on Iowa Avenue was the first home of the Iowa Hawkeyes men’s basketball team and the site of the first 5-on-5 college basketball game in 1896. The basement of the building housed the women’s gymnasium as well as industrial chemistry labs. Click here to read more about Close Hall.
Iowa Field (1895 – 1928). President Charles A. Schaeffer, a proponent of college athletics, saw to it that Iowa have a dedicated space to play baseball, football, and other sports. This space, abutting the Iowa River and positioned between what is now Iowa Avenue and Burlington Street, was known as Iowa Field.
(P-0284) Above is a rare ticket to the June 16, 1915 SUI Commencement ceremonies held at The Armory. The backside is full of hand-written notes concerning Minnesota statutory laws – maybe written by a graduate from the SUI Law School who has a new job in Minnesota?
Second Armory/Men’s Gymnasium/Athletic Pavilion (1905 – 1927).
Women’s Gymnasium (1913 – 1927). Renamed Halsey Hall in 1975 and still stands today. The building, which now houses the Department of Dance and a Recreation Services satellite fitness facility (Fitness East), has also achieved a measure of fame as an exterior shot for the 1980s television sitcom, Coach, the title character of which was loosely based on former UI football coach Hayden Fry.
(P-0120) Circa 1915: Here’s a very rare postcard picturing the Iowa football team playing in Iowa Field.
(P-0121) Preparations for WWI – circa 1917. Here’s a vintage photo of an army battalion marching from the Armory near Iowa Field, in preparations for war.
(M-0040) 1919 – “On Iowa” by W. R. Law- Sheet Music. “On Iowa” is one of three fight songs currently used by the University of Iowa Hawkeye Marching Band along with the Iowa Fight Song and Roll Along Iowa. Click here to read more about The Hawkeye Marching Band.
Iowa Field. Prior to the 1920’s, there was very little student activity on the west side of the river. The interurban railroad line (CRANDIC) ran adjacent to both the baseball and football fields, and train conductors would often slow their train so that both they and their riders could view a part of the games.
1920’s – SUI Sports Complex on the Iowa River. Iowa Field with the Baseball Stadium (upper middle) and the Armory (upper right) via the camera of Fred W. Kent. The northern third of this area was a baseball field, while the southern two-thirds consisted of the football field and stands. This strip of land was so narrow that the upper portion of the west stands stuck out over the Iowa River and the upper section of the east stands rose directly over the railroad tracks, as shown in rare photographs of that era.
Iowa Field House & Armory (1927). In the late 1920’s, the University expanded rapidly on the west side of the Iowa River. Within five years (1925-1930) the University opened a new Armory & Field House (1927), a new Hospital (1928), and a new Football Stadium (1929). Both the women’s and men’s basketball teams played in the Field House from 1927 to 1983. I remember seeing my first Iowa basketball game there in the late 1950’s. The Field House, at the time, was still just that, with the entire floor outside of the basketball court still a field of packed-down dirt!
Old Iowa Field – Moving on the Greener Pastures. Be it issues with flooding or the fact that the university was growing, Iowa ultimately decided to move a majority of their sports west of the Iowa River, playing their final game at Iowa Field on November 3rd, 1928. In only seven months, Iowa Stadium (now Kinnick Stadium) would be constructed, opening in October of 1929.
Iowa Stadium under construction – March 21, 1929. Renamed Kinnick Stadium in 1972, Iowa Stadium first opened in 1929, replacing Old Iowa Field. It was constructed in only seven months with groundbreaking and construction beginning on March 6, 1929. Workers labored around the clock using lights by night with horses and mules as the primary heavy-equipment movers. The first game was played October 5, 1929, against Monmouth College. Iowa won the game 46–0.
The stadium was dedicated two weeks later, on a rainy Saturday afternoon, when the Hawkeyes tied Illinois 7–7. My dad, George Boller, age 8, was there for both of these games!
(P-0122) Circa 1930 – Iowa Stadium (as originally proposed).
Note in the original plans, Iowa Stadium was to be enclosed at both the north and south end zones. Due to the depression of 1930’s these plans were scrapped and temporary bleachers were built in both end zones after WW II. Those bleachers were improved a bit but still there even after we moved to Iowa City in 1966. I remember sitting on the grassy areas in the corners of the south end zone (called knot hole seats) with friends while my Dad and older brother, Eric, sat in good seats on the west stands!
(P-0123) Circa 1930’s – Iowa Stadium.
(M-0045) 1929 – Kinnick Stadium Brick.
In an article written by Sports Editor Al Grady for the Iowa City Press Citizen (Iowa Homecoming, October 15, 1976), we find that George Boller grew up to become “A Hawkeye Football Nut.” Quoting Grady’s article:
“It was 50 years ago this fall (November, 1926) at the robust age of five, that Boller saw his first Homecoming football game. ‘Iowa lost to Minnesota 41-0 that day,’ the 55-year-old Boller recalls, ‘and I guess my hatred of Minnesota teams stem from that day.’ Actually, Boller admits he doesn’t remember much about the game, but does remember seeing ‘four or five games’ at Old Iowa Field with his father in the years 1926 to 1928 and vividly recalls the rain-drenched dedication game at the new Iowa Stadium (now named Kinnick Stadium) against Illinois in 1929 when he was only eight. ‘He (Waldo) was really an Iowa fan,’ recalls George of his father, ‘and I remember him talking, when I was a kid, of Iowa beating Minnesota in 1918.’”
The Boller Hawkeye Football Addiction continues. As the expression goes…”the nut doesn’t fall too far from the tree.”
Nile Clarke Kinnick Jr. (July 9, 1918 – June 2, 1943) was a student and a college football player at the University of Iowa, while my dad, George, was attending college prior to his service in WWII. Kinnick won the 1939 Heisman Trophy and was a consensus All-American. He died during a training flight while serving as a United State Navy aviator in WWII. Kinnick was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951, and the University renamed its football stadium (Iowa Stadium) for Kinnick in 1972. My dad got to know many of the players on the 1939 Big-Ten Championship team, nicknamed the Ironmen. He gathered autographs of many of the players, along with Coach Eddie Anderson, and of course, Nile Kinnick.
On the last day of August 1942, a group of 70 naval officers and cadets reported to duty at a sunbaked field next to Iowa Stadium. They gathered around Bernie Bierman, a white-haired lieutenant colonel who had put out the call for volunteers at the newly commissioned U.S. Navy pre-flight school on the University of Iowa campus. Despite the searing afternoon heat, the drills were a welcome diversion from the turmoil elsewhere in the world. The following day would mark three years since Hitler’s army invaded Poland and set in motion the deadliest war the world had ever seen. Japan’s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor nine months earlier drew the U.S. into the war, prompting college campuses across the nation—including in Iowa City—to lease their facilities to the military for training grounds.
Iowa Navy Pre-Flight team played at Iowa from 1942 through 1944, and boasted a veritable all-star cast of coaching greats, college standouts, and even NFL players who converged in Iowa City for naval training. In an effort to preserve the college game during a time when dozens of universities mothballed their football programs, military schools like Iowa Pre-Flight were allowed to compete collegiately and the prohibition against professional players was lifted. Across the nation, a number of star-filled service teams emerged, but none proved better than the mighty Seahawks, whose nickname reflected this unique wartime marriage of the Navy and Hawkeye State.
In 2016, the Associated Press released a list of its top 100 college football teams of all-time based on the rankings it’s compiled since 1936. Remarkably, Iowa Pre-Flight made the list as the No. 98th best program, despite playing just 31 games over three seasons. (Iowa ranked as the No. 25 program of all time.) Even more, the 1943 Seahawks, whose only loss came by a single point against eventual national champion Notre Dame in a game for the ages, are still considered by many experts to be among college football’s greatest teams. The three Seahawks squads went a combined 26-5, outscored their opponents 801-315, and finished with two AP top 10 finishes. The Seahawks twice played the Hawkeyes at Iowa Stadium, cruising to victory in 1943 and 1944.
(P-0125) Carver Hawkeye Arena opened in 1983, replacing the Old Field House and Armory.