While Northwestern has never played in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, the University did host the first-ever NCAA championship game. The University of Oregon topped Ohio State in the inaugural title game, held at the old Patten Gymnasium in 1939, just weeks before the facility was closed for demolition to make way for the Technological Institute.
The original Patten Gymnasium, named for Northwestern Board of Trustees president and Evanston mayor (1901–05) James A. Patten, opened in 1909. Designed by Prairie School–style architect George Washington Maher (who also designed Swift Hall on the Evanston campus), it featured two indoor baseball diamonds, a pool and an indoor field that converted to an auditorium for events such as the Northwestern Circus and political rallies for the likes of Warren G. Harding and William Howard Taft.
Even though the new Patten — a smaller facility built with limited funding — opened in 1940, the men’s basketball team played its games at Evanston Township High School (and occasionally Chicago Stadium for big games) for more than a decade until McGaw Memorial Hall opened in 1952. The new Patten afforded little room for spectators. Patten, however, did have plenty of room for intramural sports and student activities, such as disco-infused roller skating on Saturday nights in the ’70s.
The new Patten retains vestiges of its predecessor, such as the original black and chrome doors and a plaque that commemorates the 1860 heroics of Edward Spencer and other students who rescued more than a dozen people after the shipwreck of the Lady Elgin on Lake Michigan. The two Hermon MacNeil bronze statues — donated by Mayor Patten in 1917 and affectionately dubbed “Pat and Jim” — also made the move to the new facility.
Patten Gym is also home to the Gleacher Golf Center, which, when it opened in 1999, was one of the first indoor practice facilities of its kind in collegiate golf.
Stories by Stephanie Haines (WCAS15), Margaux Pepper (C14) and Danny Moran (J13).
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