Minneapolis Armory

Minneapolis Armory

Postby rlee » Wed Jun 02, 2010 4:12 am

Aging wonder

The Armory is still standing, but that doesn't elicit any warm feelings from its former NBA champion tenants.

Star Tribune

On the western edge of downtown Minneapolis sits Target Field, lavish new home of the Twins. It is the latest in chic local stadiums, following the Gophers' TCF Bank Stadium and Xcel Center, home of the Wild.

On the eastern edge sits an aging, cavernous building that was once home to a professional sports franchise, as well as major concerts, political conventions, professional bowling and wrestling and boxing cards. And all these came after its use for its original function -- a military warehouse.

The Minneapolis Armory is largely forgotten, except for the folks who use it now as an indoor parking facility. Next time you walk past its open doors, stop to take a peek inside and ponder the history.

The Armory is where the Lakers of George Mikan, Vern Mikkelsen and Jim Pollard split the first two games of the 1953 NBA Finals against the Knicks before going to New York and winning three in a row. It is where the Boston Celtics of Bill Russell, Bill Sharman and Bob Cousy celebrated their 1959 NBA championship, winning the fourth and final game of the series at the Armory. And where the legendary Elgin Baylor played his first two seasons.

And yet, many likely walk past and wonder why this aging building -- constructed as a Public Works Project in 1935 -- is still standing after so many peers have met the wrecking ball. The short answer is that preservationists won a lengthy court battle in 1993 to have the building declared a protected site, stopping Hennepin County's efforts to tear it down and build a jail.

The Armory is all the Twin Cities has in the way of stadium history from its early sports days of professional sports. The Metropolitan Sports Center, original home of the NHL Minnesota North Stars, and Metropolitan Stadium, first home for the Vikings and Twins, fell victim to demolition. The Minneapolis and St. Paul auditoriums, both home to the NBA Minneapolis Lakers, are gone.

The Armory, built to house the Minnesota National Guard and its machinery, was the third, and last, arena used by the Lakers. That it is still upright is a surprise even to many who played there. And not exactly a cause for celebration.

"You've got to be kidding,'' Tommie Hawkins, an NBA rookie in 1959-60 said upon learning the building still stands. "The place, I think the floor was like concrete. And it was cold. Oh, my gosh, I don't know if there was a big difference between the temperature outside and inside the armory.''

Dick Garmaker, an All-America at the University of Minnesota before his days with the Lakers, keeps his memories of the Armory mostly to himself.

"My thoughts [on the Armory] would be so negative, I probably shouldn't even comment,'' Garmaker said.

In fact, the kindest words came from former Lakers about the Amory came from Mikkelsen, who said the building was so difficult to play in that it proved to be a home court advantage for the Lakers.

"It didn't play very well, let's just put it that way,'' Mikkelsen said. The thing wasn't in very good shape, but we won a lot of the times we played in there.''

Fifty years ago this spring the Lakers played their final game in Minneapolis, losing to St. Louis in the sixth game of the Western Division finals in the Armory as the Hawks evened the series at three games apiece. Two nights later in St. Louis, the Hawks claimed a victory and a berth in the NBA finals.

The Lakers would soon be on their way to Los Angeles.

NBA dynasty

The Minneapolis Auditorium was the Lakers' primary home for most of their years in the Twin Cities. But because of advanced scheduling, especially in March, the Lakers were forced to move their games to other venues, including the St. Paul Auditorium, the Armory and even Hamline University. The team would also barnstorm throughout the Upper Midwest, playing regular-season games in Hibbing, Moorhead, Grand Forks, La Crosse, Winnipeg -- and Spencer, Iowa.

Before the 1959-60 season, owner Bob Short renovated the Armory, putting in new seats and a new floor and making it the Lakers' primary home for the first time. But by then, it was too late to save pro basketball in Minneapolis.
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Postby Goofy » Fri Jul 23, 2010 5:10 pm

It's interesting that the old Washington Coliseum (Uline arena) in Washington, D.C. is also currently being used as a parking garage.

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