UL in History: Memorial Hall

Dr Clifton W. Potter Jr. ~ UL History Professor

January is the “longest” month of the year, but it is almost done! There was a time, not so long ago, when the first month of the year seemed even longer.  Exams were not given before the Christmas holiday, but in early January. Despite the best of intentions, very few students were ready for finals. As the first month of the year ended, a new semester finally began, and many the activities, both academic and social, centered around Memorial Gymnasium, now the Hall Campus Center.

        Built in 1923, it was a gift from the citizens of Lynchburg to the College in memory of the young men from the city who died in World War I. Before its construction our men’s basketball team played at the local YMCA and practiced in what became the dining hall in Westover Hall. Beginning in 1923, our teams began to create a legacy which was duly recorded on the walls of the new gym.

        By the end of the 1920s, Lynchburg College students were finally allowed to dance, and Memorial Gymnasium was regularly transformed from an athletic facility into a ballroom with crepe paper, foil, paint, and ingenuity. Sometimes I was so tired after decorating for a dance, I was too exhausted to really enjoy the event. After the Christmas Dance in 1960, Dr. Julius Sigler—former Dean of Lynchburg College—and I spent twenty hours trying to remove silver spray paint from the basketball court, only to discover that the floor was to be refinished over the holidays!

        Each week required assemblies for the entire student body were held in Memorial Gymnasium.  It was the only place on campus where we could all come together. At the beginning of each semester, the gym temporarily became the Registrar’s Office as we stood in one line after another collecting the cards that gave us entry into our classes. Registration did not take in minutes as it does today, it took hours.

        On the lower level of Memorial Gym was the college pool, which is now covered by the offices and classrooms. It was not only the home of the swimming and water polo teams, but each year at Homecoming—which  was in April—the water ballet filled the visitors’ gallery with alumni, parents, students, and friends of the College.

        At the time of the College’s seventy-fifth anniversary in 1978, there was talk of transforming the gym into an alumni and convention facility, but it became an administrative center instead. After the demolition of Westover Hall in 1970, many of the administrative offices had been moved to Knight Library, but with the refurbishing of Memorial Gym they were able to be collected under one roof—that  of the “new” Hall Campus Center with its elegant ballroom and columned porch. It was the last major renovation project of Brewer era. In light of its long and rich history, it is a pity that we do not simply call this wonderful old structure “Memorial Hall” in honor of the varied memories that cluster about its walls. Welcome to all returning students, and a special welcome to all our new students.  Hold on tight because this semester flies very fast, and before we know it—finals will be here yet again!