Affectionately known as “The Barn,” Williams Arena in Minneapolis is still one of the great venues to watch a college basketball game.
Located at the intersection of University Avenue and 19th Avenue Southeast on the University of Minnesota’s East Bank campus, it’s been the home of the men’s basketball team since 1928.
“It’s old. It’s antiquated. It kind of smells funny. The seating isn’t optimal, and many of the sight lines aren’t that great. But it is one of the most awesome places in the country to see college basketball. Also, one of the few places you can go to a basketball game acceptably dressed as a farm animal.”
That’s how a Wisconsin resident once described the arena, initially named the Minnesota Field House. If someone from the rival Badger State loves the old building, it has to be a pretty good place to watch a Big Ten game.
Last February, before the start of March Madness, Popular Mechanics ranked the 25 best college basketball venues in the country, based primarily on its architecture. “The Barn” was No. 11.
This is how Popular Mechanics described Williams Arena:
“Sure, Williams Arena has seen some massive renovations since originally opening in 1928, but it still contains much intrigue from the first design. A 1950s renovation divided the arena into two within one building, a 14,600-seat venue for basketball and a smaller arena for hockey, which has since moved out.
“The airplane hangar-style arched roof remains intact with double-arch steel beams creating an architectural ceiling. One of the few raised floors remaining in the game, the roughly two-foot elevation means the first row of seats drops below the court... Williams Arena retains old-arena charm from floor to ceiling.”
The raised floor has always been one of the arena’s most intriguing features. Fans in the first row are about at the players’ knee-level. Only head coaches are allowed to be on the court itself during play. Former Gopher Coach Clem Haskins used to sit on a stool on the court as the game was being played.
Memorial Gymnasium at Vanderbilt University and Hinkle Fieldhouse at Butler University are two other arenas in the country with a raised floor.
The original construction of Williams Arena cost $650,000, before it was remodeled in 1950. That’s when it was renamed Williams Arena after Dr. Henry L. Williams, the Gophers football coach from 1900 to 1921.
In 1985, the hockey venue was renamed Mariucci Arena after former Gopher hockey coach John Mariucci.
To find tickets for a Gopher’s men’s basketball game — the season started Nov. 5 with a 85-50 home win over Cleveland State — go to gophersports.com.