Alumni Memorial Building

In 1920 the All Students’ Club sponsored a drive for contributions for a memorial to students who had given their lives in World War I. The students were unsuccessful in raising sufficient funds for a significant memorial, but the Alumni Association took up the idea and raised $28,000 toward a memorial. The Alumni Association had obtained an option on the property at the corner of Cumberland Avenue and Volunteer Boulevard (where Henson Hall is now located) but did not have sufficient funds to exercise the option. They asked the university to provide the remainder needed to purchase the site and to construct a men’s dormitory as a memorial. The trustees exercised the option on behalf of the association by adding university funds to those of the Alumni Association. But when funds for a men’s dormitory proved insufficient, the Alumni Association turned its attention to advocating the building of a chapel in front of Ayres Hall as a memorial to the “U of T heroes of the great war.”

In a 1921 effort to raise funds for the project, the association offered gold stars ($150) for sale for the UT men who were killed and blue stars ($66) for other UT men who had served. In 1928 UT published a fundraising brochure and sent eight thousand copies to alumni in hopes of completing the funds needed for a memorial, but fundraising efforts were insufficient to build the chapel.

The 1920 Volunteer contains the seeds of the idea for the Alumni Memorial Building. The athletics section of the yearbook details the need for a new gymnasium, saying that the need was even greater than the need for a new athletics field some years before. The perception of need for such a facility grew. In 1930 the Alumni Association gave the property at the corner of Cumberland Avenue and Volunteer Boulevard to the university, together with the remainder of funds they had raised to construct a memorial chapel. The university agreed with the association to erect a memorial to UT alumni and students who had lost their lives in World War I by constructing the Alumni Memorial Auditorium and Gymnasium.

The building, designed by Barber and McMurry, was built on the site of the existing gymnasium and was completed in 1932 at a cost of $300,000. It seated 3,200 for basketball games and 3,800 for stage performances. In February 1932 the largest piece of steel ever hoisted on a Knoxville building project went into place on the building—a 17-ton truss, more than 90 feet long, built with a curve at the top, and 15 feet high at the center. It was assembled on the ground and then swung into place by a 150-foot mast crane. Eight nine-ton trusses were also installed.

At the first (October 26) 1932 chapel, Dean Hoskins delivered a short dedicatory address before the student body and faculty. The formal dedication was held in 1934.

When completed, Alumni Memorial was one of three buildings on the hill whose drinking fountains provided cold water. Its labyrinth of corridors and hidden offices were characterized as a system that would have “made a castle-designer proud.” It contained six gymnasia (the main basketball gymnasium had a playing floor of 70 feet by 96 feet), two practice walls for tennis, 12 handball courts, locker/shower rooms, offices, and an auditorium (the stage was 48 feet across and 24 feet deep) that could seat 4,500—if seats were placed on the gym floor. One of the largest enclosed pools in the South was a major feature of the building. The pool (30 feet by 75 feet) had two diving boards and a filtration system, which provided a complete change of water every eight hours. Adjacent to the pool was a solarium, which provided artificial sunbaths by use of violet rays. The pool was taken out of service in 1989, its functions having been replaced by pools in the HPER Building and the Student Aquatic Center.

Commencements, concerts, and basketball immediately moved to Alumni Memorial from Jefferson Hall. Sergei Rachmaninoff played his last concert in the auditorium on February 17, 1943, and was one of many internationally acclaimed performers to appear in Alumni Memorial. Men’s basketball, commencement, and large concerts moved to Stokely Athletics Center in 1959. The last men’s intercollegiate basketball game played in Alumni Memorial was March 1, 1958, against Kentucky. Kentucky won 77 to 66. The final women’s basketball game played in Alumni Memorial was January 14, 1977, when Tennessee defeated Western Carolina 82 to 62.

The east end of the building was renovated into offices and a dance studio in 1974. The middle and west portions of the building were renovated from 1999 to 2002 into large classrooms, a large performance hall, and offices—first occupied by the deans’ offices of the College of Arts and Sciences and the Arts and Sciences Advising Center, and now permanently occupied by the Language Resources Center of the Modern Foreign Languages Department.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Alumni Memorial Building
  • Betsey B. Creekmore
  • Author Elizabeth Moore
  • Author Nick Kirchem
  • Keywords Alumni Memorial Building
  • Website Name Volopedia
  • Publisher University of Tennessee Libraries
  • URL
  • Access Date June 17, 2024
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update November 9, 2018