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In the beginning.

Byline: K. Keith Richard For The Register-Guard

Editor's note: Monday will be the 81st anniversary of the first basketball game played in McArthur Court, on Jan. 14, 1927. In this article, University of Oregon archivist emeritus K. Keith Richard recounts the origins of Mac Court.

It took a number of years for basketball to become a popular sport. What we see today on the hardwood is a completely different game from its beginnings in 1891. In a way, Mac Court came about because of the game's evolution in the mid-1920s.

The new rules - particularly, the elimination of the center jump after each score - resulted in a game with a faster pace, requiring more skill and coordination from the players. As the game developed during the 1920s, basketball spread rapidly across the nation and onto college campuses.

In 1923, William Reinhart, who played basketball at Oregon, was hired as the UO coach. Reinhart was one of the inventors of the fast break; the game was now based on speed, skill in passing, attacking the basket and shooting a variety of shots.

At Oregon, fans started to attend games in larger numbers. Because the campus facility for basketball was not suitable for much more than physical education, Oregon was forced to use the gym in the National Guard armory on Seventh Avenue, across from the current site of the Lane County offices.

The floor was lower than the seats, so spectators saw the game from above, but the distance from campus discouraged students from going to games in foul weather, because very few students had their own automobiles.

Eventually, a delegation representing the student government (the Associated Students of the University of Oregon), consisting of ASUO president Walter Malcolm and secretary Deloris Pearson, asked UO president Prince Lucien Campbell if it would be possible to have an on-campus pavilion for basketball if the students paid for its construction and use.

The students told Campbell that the facility would be for the use of UO athletics, but physical education classes would also be able to use the new gym, and that it could be used for any other purposes the university deemed fit.

The new pavilion would seat 5,000 spectators and would be constructed on the former Gross property on University Street at an estimated cost of $75,000.

(In the very early 1900s, Campbell had the foresight to have the Board of Regents purchase land from the Gross family, a parcel that today is framed north and south by 15th and 18th avenues, and east and west by Agate and University streets. The purpose was to ensure sufficient space for the growth of physical education and university athletics.)

Campbell presented the students' proposal to the Board of Regents, who voted to give the students the go-ahead.

However, the students had to come up with the money. Petitions were circulated, asking the students if they would pay an additional student fee - $5 per student per quarter - dedicated to the construction of a basketball arena for student and university use. On May 13, 1925, the students voted in favor of doing so, 1,088 to 417.

The students also petitioned Campbell to allow the new building to be named in honor of Clifton Naismith McArthur, who had died of acute meningitis earlier that year.

McArthur was, and should always be recognized as, the "Father of UO Athletics." When he was a student at Oregon (1898-1901) athletics were first organized through McArthur's initiative as student manager - similar to an athletics director today - and later as ASUO president.

For example, McArthur scheduled the first Oregon-Cal football games in 1899 and 1900. They were played in the Bay Area, and in 1900, when the cost was too much for the ASUO to cover, McArthur arranged for the team to stop in Ashland on the way home, and so two days after beating the Golden Bears 2-0, the UO football team beat Ashland Normal, 21-0, the proceeds from that game covering the deficit of the Cal trip.

McArthur, who became a lawyer and legislator and was ultimately elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, was a constant visitor to the University of Oregon. He fought for it, lobbied for it, and students knew his name long after he graduated. The Board of Regents agreed with naming the new pavilion in memory of McArthur.

Within a short time, the issue of the bonds was prepared and approved by the law firm of McCamant & Thompson in Portland. The bonds, offered in denominations of $1,000 and $500, were approved by the Board of Regents. Each academic quarter, the comptroller of the University of Oregon, as treasurer of the ASUO, was charged with collecting from the students the money from which the principal and interest of the bonds would be paid.

A photograph of the entire student body was taken in the quad bordered by Gerlinger, Susan Campbell and Hendricks halls to encourage sale of the bonds, which were paid off by 1931. It was the first building on campus to be constructed entirely through the use of student fees.

McArthur Court was designed by architect Ellis Lawrence, who also designed the theater-style East Grandstand at Hayward Field, which still exists.

Lawrence designed a basketball pavilion that would originally hold 5,000 spectators, but that could be expanded by hanging more seats around the upper levels. Just as Lawrence had envisioned it, the seating capacity would eventually be doubled to more than 10,000; current capacity is 9,087. Because of its shape and white-painted exterior, and because it stood alone on higher ground on the edge of campus, students nicknamed the new building "The Igloo."

In the first game at McArthur Court, Oregon defeated Willamette University, 38-10.

It didn't take long for the citizens of Eugene to take advantage of the facility. It became the home for concerts, dramatic presentations, political speeches, car shows, dances and the high school basketball championships. Actors and entertainers such as Anne Baxter, Tyrone Powers, Raymond Massey, Marian Anderson, Van Cliburn and Benny Goodman performed there. National figures such as Robert Kennedy, Jesse Jackson, Eleanor Roosevelt and Tom Dewey spoke there.

For years, it was the only building on campus that every student had to enter, at least once, because that's where quarterly registration was held.

As a basketball facility, Mac Court developed its own identity and reputation - its own soul - as one of the college game's most exciting venues, and one of the toughest places in the country for a visiting team to play. The crowd is all but on the floor, and 80-some years later, architect Lawrence's design still allows the noise to reach the high decibels and bounce around and up and down as the home crowd produces its praise of the Ducks or dissatisfaction with a whistle.

The enterprising students who got the student body to invest in building McArthur Court in 1925, the skill of Ellis Lawrence in its design, the teams and fans who have inspired the living reputation of the building - they all deserve to be recognized as having created the "Story of Mac Court."
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Title Annotation:Basketball Oregon Men
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jan 13, 2008
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