Skip navigation

Old Central Hall Physical Training Building

Old Central Hall

Opened January 22, 1909
Demolished July 17, 1974
Cost: $50,000

Principal Grawn first expressed the need for a substantial gymnasium facility on campus in 1906 in his report to the State Board of Education. Construction on Central's new gymnasium building began in 1908 on the site of an old frog pond. Designed by EW Arnold of Battle Creek with the help of the head of the physical education department, the $50,000 building was the fourth structure on campus. It was built on the present-day Warriner Mall and replaced the temporary athletic facilities in the training school building. The red brick building was over a hundred feet on each side and had two main entrances. It featured locker and dressing rooms, an 18 x 40 ft. swimming pool, a 60 x 33 ½ ft. gymnasium on the southwest corner, and various offices, examination rooms, and private baths.

Construction was complete by the fall of 1909, and Central Hall became the hub of student activities on campus for decades. The building underwent minor changes over its existence. A filter was added to the pool to help chlorinate the water and reduce cleaning and shutdown times. Two new entrances were added to the structure, and a large brick porch on the front of the building was torn down in the 1950s. After the completion of the new student union in 1939 and a new gymnasium in 1951, the building's appearance and shape changed significantly. Homecoming headquarters were in Central Hall for the last time in 1938, and the J-Hop was held there for the last time in 1939. The pool was also removed in the 1950s, the locker rooms were converted into office space, and the old gymnasium was converted into a rifle range. The combination track and balcony overlooking the gym was eventually abandoned. In 1952, lightning struck the flagpole atop Central Hall, leaving only a stub of metal.

While Central Hall saw structural changes, the building itself was used for a variety of purposes and served diverse groups of students throughout its history. During World War I, the building was used for training soldiers and bayonet ranges and trenches were built nearby. At the end of that war, when a flu epidemic broke out among troops on campus, Central Hall became a temporary hospital. In 1921, the inaugural Michigan invitational basketball tournament was held there. During World War II, the building was used to train naval officers in the V-12 and V-5 programs. 


ROTC moved into the building in 1952 after the construction of the new gymnasium and field house the previous year. To accommodate the program, the gymnasium on the first floor was converted to a rifle range in 1962. In May 1970, in the midst of the war in Vietnam and following the US invasion of Cambodia, over thirty students occupied the building and renamed it Freedom Hall. Among their demands was a campus vote over whether to continue the ROTC program, a ban on military recruitment on campus, and amnesty for all students involved in the occupation of the building. The students remained in the building for five days, during which time they met with President William Boyd about their protest and demands.

As early as the 1940s, college officials and architectural experts began discussing the removal of Central Hall from the campus. With the completion of a new athletic facility and the relocation of ROTC to Finch in the early 1970s, Old Central Hall was left vacated. By 1973, the University was seeking $70,000 to demolish the structure. Funding for the demolition was approved by the state legislature in spring 1974, and demolition began and was completed that summer. The removal of Old Central Hall reshaped the Warriner Mall area, which saw the addition of new sidewalks across the site of the demolished building. Bricks salvaged from the demolition were placed in a circle that served as the hub of the new sidewalks, creating a small park-like area. The Campus Beautification Committee, which was in charge of the project, later installed new benches and some trees on the site.