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  • Writer's pictureJamie Bass

The Armory & Gymnasium at Ohio State University

Armory and Gymnasium at Ohio State University
From the Grandview Heights/Marble Cliff Historical Society

Have you ever considered that how a structure makes us feel can contribute to what happens within its walls? In feng shui, we focus strongly on how we can influence our environment to feel a certain way or achieve certain things. But the other side of this coin is also true – a building can draw certain circumstances to it because of how its energy makes us, as its inhabitants, feel.

As an example of this, let’s take the old Armory and Gymnasium at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. Originally built in 1898 to house the Ohio State men’s basketball games, this multipurpose building contained a gymnasium, a canvas running track, seating for 750, and two swimming pools. It was built in the French feudal architectural style and was made to resemble a medieval castle. For reasons lost to history, the original contractor abandoned the project in 1897, and the Board of Trustees had to take over the task of completing the project. In 1918, the U.S. Army appropriated the building and housed troops there during World War I. At this point, in addition to serving as the men’s and women’s gymnasium, the building also became the home for military science, complete with a first-floor drill hall and a cannon room in the basement. The building survived a fire in 1935, but it was too damaged to be salvaged after a second fire in 1958, the suspected cause of which was arson. The building was ultimately demolished in January 1959 and sat vacant for three decades before the Wexner Center for the Visual Arts opened on the site in 1989. The structure was never officially named by the Board of Trustees and was known by various names throughout its life, including the Gymnasium and Armory, the Armory and Gymnasium, the Naval Armory, the Gymnasium, the Auditorium, the Military Department Building, and the Gymnasium, Armory and Drill Hall.

Armory & Gymnasium at Ohio State University
From the Ohio State University Archives (1921)

Armory & Gymnasium at Ohio State University
From the Ohio State University Archives (1917)

Far from fitting in with the other buildings on campus at the time, this structure was imposing, to say the least. Since it was built to resemble a medieval castle, it evokes feelings of caution and hostility and does not make the average person feel as though they are welcome to enter. It gives off the air of an inaccessible and heavily guarded building. It seems to scream, “Stay out, unless you’re one of us!” And it makes perfect sense that the U.S. Army would seek to take over this particular building during World War I – it looks like a fortress.

I imagine that students felt intensity and as though they couldn’t step out of line when walking into this building, and in that sense, it does fit its role as a gymnasium and site of military activities. Once inside, visitors might have felt protected and as though they were part of a special, impenetrable class, but with that feeling also comes the pressure to maintain it. It’s odd that this building never had a formal name. That makes it seem as though it was never truly part of campus and was never formally brought into the Ohio State fold (which might help to support why it was ultimately demolished and the site left abandoned for 30 years). But the fact that it never had an official name does explain why its purpose was able to be amended over the years to serve whatever function was needed at the time.

Of particular note is that this building suffered two fires, at least one of which was believed to be arson-related. Did this building and the purposes it served make people feel more violent or hostile when they were inside of it? Did it attract people who liked the idea of being safe in a fortress, away from the outside world? Did it cause people to feel so much pressure and intensity that they snapped, believing that if they took the building away, they might feel lighter? Was the building marked by trauma from World War I or doomed from the start when the contractor abandoned the project? We’ll probably never know, but it’s clear that the way that this building was designed and built, and the feelings that it evoked, probably played a part in its ultimate demise.

Armory & Gymnasium at Ohio State University
From the Ohio State University Archives

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