Rare Storm Strikes a Blow
For a long time, popular wisdom dictated that Muncie was safe from tornados, protected by the horseshoe bend in the White River. On November 5, 2017, an EF1 category tornado crushed that belief, sweeping through the city with winds ranging from 80 to 134 miles per hour.
The city and surrounding areas experienced flooding and storm damage, and sustained an emotionally vicious direct hit on the 1928 Muncie Fieldhouse. Portions of the brick façade collapsed and caved in a section of the roof, allowing water to flood the hardwood floors and basement below.
Designed by local architecture firm Houck & Smenner, the Classical Revival gymnasium was a multi-purpose community space. In a 1933 financial report, D.W. Horton, former Muncie Community Schools Superintendent, declared the fieldhouse a “…great stimulus to physical education, vocational training and activities of all kinds.” On October 27, 1939, more than 4,000 people gathered at the Fieldhouse to hear Eleanor Roosevelt deliver her first speech in Muncie, an address concerning revitalizing youth and providing education for adult workers. In 1942, Abbott and Costello hosted a war bond rally in the fieldhouse.
The primary function of the Fieldhouse, of course, was to contain approximate 7,500 spectators in the throes of Hoosier Hysteria. The fieldhouse was and still is the fifth largest high school gymnasium in the country. In fact, Indiana is home to nine of the ten largest high school gymnasiums nationwide, a clear indicator of the passion and commitment to basketball at the high school level, considering the expense of constructing these massive facilities.
While Hoosier Hysteria continues, the utility of many early basketball arenas has declined, leaving structures like the Muncie Fieldhouse and the Anderson Wigwam struggling to remain viable.
The future of the Muncie Fieldhouse remains uncertain. The building sits, still open to the elements, as the financially strapped Muncie school system decides next steps. Indiana Landmarks is working with preservation advocates in Muncie to urge repair and a plan for revival of the fieldhouse.
Stay up to date on the latest news, stories, and events from Indiana Landmarks, around the state or in your area.