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April 18, 2008 / Bo Mackison

Old Red Gym

Red Gym Window

A few photographs of the University of Wisconsin’s Red Gym, now a National Historical Landmark, and one of the most recognizable buildings on campus.

When it was constructed in 1893, it was quite the visionary gymnasium and armory as described in an article printed in The Cardinal, the university’s newspaper. The cost of the building was exactly $122,058.48.

National Historical Landmark

“The gymnasium covers a space of ground 196 feet in length and 106 feet in width. On the first floor on the west side are the commandant’s office, the artillery drill room and the bowling alleys. The office of the commandant is furnished with a fireproof safe for ammunition, etc., and is connected with the gun room on the floor above by a private staircase. The artillery drill room, which opens out of the office, has an unobstructed floor space and can also be used for classes in gymnastics or for a lecture room. On the other side of the building is the locker room which will contain, when completed, about 600 lockers. Back of this room are the bath and the dressing rooms. The center of this floor is occupied by a swimming tank, 80 by 20 feet, and varying in depth from 4 to 6 feet.

Red Castle

“The second floor can be reached by six different stairways. At the front and the west side are the main stairways which are wide enough for the use of the battalion in column of fours. Then a staircase goes up from the east side of the building, near the dressing rooms, and there is the small one from the commandant’s office. The third floor, however, can only be reached by two stairways in the southeast and northwest towers. The drill hall, which occupies nearly all of the second floor, is 160 by 93 feet, and has a clear height of 43 feet. In front of the drill hall is the gun room and a visitors’ gallery, reached by the main staircase, extends along the front of the room.

Looking In

“The gymnasium proper, on the third floor, is 160 by 65 feet. A space in the center of the room where it is 26 feet high is enclosed in netting and used for a baseball cage. Outside of this cage the gymnastic apparatus, the rowing machines, etc., will be placed. On each side at a little lower level are two rifle ranges 160 feet long, and below on the outside is the running track of twelve laps to the mile. All of the available space in the building has been utilized. In the corner towers are several small rooms which can be used for offices, committee rooms, etc. Careful provision has been made for the heating and ventilation of the building. Fresh air will be forced over and between coils of steampipes in the center of the building and it will then be conducted to the various rooms so that the air in the whole building can be changed in a few minutes.”

Sounds just like your modern day health club. Right?


  1. Gandalf / Apr 18 2008 7:04 am

    Beautiful photos of this stunning structure. When they say red, they really mean red. Interesting history on the building. It sounds like the UW was preparing for a pretty significant battle or assault. Was football season starting? :).

  2. lady.percy / Apr 18 2008 2:16 pm

    Boy, thats cheap. If only they could build something like that for that price now. Cool pictures :-]

  3. Robin / Apr 18 2008 2:49 pm

    Beautiful brick work, and wonderful photos.

    Is it me or does a gymnasium and armory combination seem odd?

  4. Bo / Apr 18 2008 2:57 pm

    Robin ~ Pinching pennies? The theory was it was a time of civil unrest (Haymarket Riots had just happened) and they needed training facilities for the law and order types. Evidently they needed athletic training at the same time. Yes, strange bedfellows, but as the article said, “they used every bit of space.”
    Maybe it’s a Wisconsin thing???

  5. amuirin / Apr 18 2008 4:02 pm

    Fitting that it’s an armory, in a way, because from some of these walls it looks like an ancient castle fortress- except the stones are red and not gray.

  6. Nicole / Apr 18 2008 11:25 pm

    Holy canoly – great building and pictures.
    I would have guessed it’s some sort of a castle 😀

  7. Anna Surface / Apr 19 2008 9:13 am

    I agree, I thought it was some type of castle when I first saw the photos. That is a lot of brick! Great architecture. Wow! I really, really like the 2nd photo with the tree branches and view to the puffy clouded blue sky above this red brick, imposing building. Very nice perspective and capture.

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