Johnston Gym & Knobloch Campus Center

Johnston Gymnasium | Knobloch Campus Center

Dedication ceremony
Dedication of Johnston Gym in 1949.

Originally, basketball had not been quite as popular sport at Davidson as it is currently, therefore the Alumni Gymnasium, built around 1916, was not designed to facilitate a growing basketball program. The building’s conditions were so poor, that by the late 1930s and early 1940s, schools such as Duke, North Carolina State, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill would not allow their basketball teams to play in the gym, because they feared for the players’ safety (“For Such a Time” 6).  Davidson was forced to play some of its home games in Charlotte. In response to an increasingly popular sport and pressure from the students and other schools, President Cunningham and the Board of Trustees began a $250,000 campaign in 1942. That particular campaign was completed in May 1943, but World War II prevented construction until July 1948, at which time, the original sum was eventually found to be inadequate to complete construction.  At the cornerstone laying ceremony in November of the same year, previous Davidson College presidents Henry Louis Smith and Walter Lee Lingle gave the invocation and benediction, respectively.  A copper box was laid in the cornerstone to mark the occasion (Beaty 329).  Items, such as a school catalogue, a Charlotte Observer newspaper, ceremony programs, alumni bulletins, and pictures, were placed within the box for future generations of Davidsonians to discover.

Basketball game
Johnston Gymansium packed to watch the Davidson Men’s Basketball team compete.

In 1949, R. Horace Johnston and his sister Rosa Johnston Stokes, Davidson class of 1911, gave a $100,000 gift to the college toward the completion of the new gym (Beaty 329).  As a result, the new gym was named the Charles Worth Johnston Gymnasium, in honor of Horace Johnston’s father, who had passed away in July 1941.  Peculiarly, R. Horace Johnston passed away only hours after the dedication of the gym on October, 22, 1949 (“In Memoriam” 4).

The cost of the gym totaled $600,000 by the time of its completion.  The Johnston Gymnasium could seat 2,500 people around the basketball court.  The east side of the building had a small swimming pool that eventually was covered and used for storage.  On December 15, 1949, Davidson basketball played its first game against Duke, losing 49-66.  Johnston gym saw the great basketball teams of “Lefty” Driesell during the 1960s.  In the 1980s, the Johnston Gymnasium was suffering from lack of space, just like the old Alumni Gym.  Games with greater number of spectators were held in the old Charlotte Coliseum instead of in Johnston.
See articles and stats of Johnston Gymnasium…

The team played its final game in Johnston February 25, 1989 nabbing a victory over Central Florida, 75-64.   Basketball was from then on played in the Belk Arena in the Baker Sports complex.  Students continued to use Johnston Gym for intramural games and student organization storage.  In 1994 a $250,000 grant from the Cannon Foundation in Concord, NC allowed Johnston to be renovated (Moretz 1), but by 1999 a larger renovation was to take place.

Knobloch Campus Center
A view of the Knobloch Campus Center from the Belk-Irwin track within Richardson Stadium. The fascade of the main structure is the old Johnston Gym. The large struction to the left is the Duke Family Performance Hall.

With ideas for renovation starting in 1985, the actual construction of a new student union did not begin until 1999, with a groundbreaking ceremony on October 7th.  The building was named after the Knobloch Family, which had two daughters that were alumnae of the college, for their contributions to the construction.  The new Knobloch Campus Center would stand where the old Johnston Gymnasium stood for 50 years.  It would replace the Grey Student Union on the opposite side of Chambers Building, which had become overcrowded and outdated.  During the construction of the campus center, the original exterior walls of the Johnston Gym, including the cornerstone were kept in order to maintain a certain amount of historical integrity.  Also during construction, the Duke Endowment donated $10 million to the Let Learning Be Cherished campaign under President Bobby Vagt, $8 million of which went specifically to the addition of a state-of-the-art performance hall (“Duke” 29).  The Duke Family Performance Hall replaced the aging Love Auditorium in Chambers Building.

The Alvarez College Union was dedicated on October 25, 2001 and the Duke Family Performance Hall was completed in January 2002.  Together these facilities made up the $36 million, 122,000 square foot, five floor, Knobloch Campus Center.  In addition to the performance hall, the campus center houses the Davidson Outdoors center, including a climbing wall, the Davidson College post office, the bookstore, the Union Café, the Nisbett Fitness center, conference rooms, offices for student organizations and staff, and the 900 Room, dedicated to C. Shaw Smith, class of 1939 and a former director of the College Union for 31 years (“Building” 20).  The 900 Room was reminiscent of the old 900 Room in the Grey Student Union.

The first event in the Duke Family Performance Hall upon completion was a celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.  Additionally during the spring 2002 semester, the Royal Shakespeare Company agreed to make Davidson College’s Knobloch Campus Center its only stop in North America during that season’s tour.  The center is still considered a centerpiece of Davidson College for students, faculty, staff, and members of the community.

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Johnston Gym & Knobloch Campus Center – Bibliography

“Alvarez Dedication Celebrates ‘Doers and Dreamers.’”  The Davidson Journal Winter 2001: 8.

Anderson, Mike.  “Davidson Awaits New Campus Center.”  Davidson College.  The Davidsonian 20 April 2000: 2.

Beaty, Mary D. A History of Davidson College.  Davidson, NC: Briarpatch Press, 1988.

“Building the Knobloch Campus Center.”  The Davidson Journal Spring 2000: 20.

Burns, Scott.  “Performance Hall Anchors Davidson’s New Campus Center.”  Lake Norman Times 6 March 2002: 1A.

Devore, Drew.  “Johnston Gym Transformation Steadily Progresses.”  Davidson College.  The Davidsonian 7 September 1999.

“Duke Family Performance Hall.”  The Davidson Journal Winter 2000: 29.

“For Such a Time As This.” Johnston Gym Dedication Brochure.  Davidson College.  Circa 1940s.

Garfield, Matt.  “Roof Installation Delays Campus Center Completion.”  Davidson College.  The Davidsonian 30 August 2000.

Giduz, Bill.  “Dedication Slated for Davidson’s New Alvarez College Union.”  Davidson College New & Events online.  7 September 2001.  <>.

Houck, Aaron. “Groundbreaking Anticipates Colossal Facility.”  Davidson College.  The Davidsonian 19 October 1999.

“In Memoriam: R. Horace Jonston, ’11.”  Davidson College.  Alumni Journal November 1949: 4.

Kelley, Zeb.  “Knobloch Campus Center Will Offer More Workout Options.”  Davidson College.  The Davidsonian 11 April 2001: 15.

Moretz, Mary Laura.  “$250,000 Grant Given for Johnston Gym Renovations.”  Davidson College.  The Davidsonian 6 September 1994: 1.

Pellin, M. E.  “Davidson College Gets a New Heart with New Student Union.”  The North Mecklenburg Leader 29 October 1999: 5.

Rollins, Glenn.  “Davidson Sends Johnston Gym out in Style.”  Charlotte Observer 26 February 1989: D.

Rollins, Glenn.  “So Long, Johnston Gym: Davidson Closing Memorable Old Arena.”  Charlotte Observer 25 February 1989: D1, D5.

“Student Center May Become Davidson Hub.”  The Charlotte Observer 7 October, 1999: <>.

Author: Mark Grotjohn
Date: 14 July 2006

Cite as: Grotjohn, Mark.
“Charles Worth Johnston Gymnasium & Charles Knobloch Campus Center ,” Davidson Encyclopedia, 14 July 2006 <>

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