More than just a graduation photo backdrop: The eclectic history of Demonstration Hall

2 06 2011

Every May thousands of new MSU graduates congregate near Circle Drive to take part in what for many is their final MSU tradition – having a photo taken, in full graduation regalia, with MSU’s famous Spartan Statue.  Unbeknown to many of the new alumni the backdrop to their photograph is one of the most storied and interesting buildings on MSU’s campus.

Demonstration Hall, or Dem Hall as it is affectionately known, was planned by the then Michigan Agricultural College board in 1925 to replace the Campus Armory.  Erected in 1928, it was designed to serve as a building “suitable to be used for the demonstration of agricultural stock and implements, for college athletics and the housing of the military department of the college”.  At a cost of $355,000 the Romanesque Revival style building has been one of the most versatile on MSU’s campus and with its impressive arches and vine covered exterior it is still one of the most iconic to stand on the banks of the red cedar.

In its early days Dem Hall served many varied purposes for M.S.C. including housing commencement – as seen in this photograph in 1931 – as well as being an arena for agriculture students to show their cows as these students are doing in Farmers’ Week in 1933.

Dem Hall was always a popular sport arena with basketball, soccer, volleyball, and many other sports taken place inside its hallowed walls.  From 1949 Dem Hall was home to MSU Men’s Hockey.  However, this did not prevent MSU from melting the ice in 1951 and using the building as a dormitory to house 650 beds for the Michigan Future Farmers of America and the Michigan Future Homemakers of America; not, it should be pointed out, at the same time….Dem Hall proved to be a happy stomping ground for MSU hockey throughout the ensuing decades and even hosted a game against Gordie Howe’s Detroit Red Wings in 1959 and housed the Spartan team that won its first NCAA Hockey National Title in 1966.

However, Dem Hall was slowly beginning to lose its appeal to MSU’s hockey faithful.  Called (rather unfairly) an “eyesore” by the State News in 1971 and described at the same time by then MSU Head Coach Amo Bessone as “the only hockey rink that can guarantee everyone a bad seat” the old building’s days as a major sport arena at MSU were numbered.    MSU hockey eventually moved to the purpose-built Munn

Ice Arena in 1974 but Dem Hall’s iconic high ceilings and low lighting  still plays host to numerous sporting events such as Intramural indoor soccer and Intramural floor hockey.  The arena has also recently become home to the Mitten Mavens, a Lansing/East Lansing flat-track roller Derby team who regularly attract hundreds of spectators to their bouts at the storied venue.  Dem Hall has also been used at various times as a gallery for local artists to showcase their goods, as a venue for plays and concerts, and as the location of MSU’s blood-drive.

In recent years Dem Hall’s exterior has been renovated with the north facing windows replaced to give a more aesthetic image for the thousands of MSU grads who have it as a backdrop to their Spartan Statue graduation photos and 23 Sienna Glen Maple trees being planted to give the building a more historic feel.  Inside the building the smaller hall has been renovated and now serves as a practice venue for the Spartan Marching Band; the acoustics have even been improved so as to replicate the game day sound for the band.  The building still houses MSU’s ROTC, although the shooting range has gone, and the budding cadets no longer have to fight for space with cows, sheep, and other livestock!

Next time you are near Spartan Stadium or Munn Ice Arena and you pass by a rather dilapidated old-style building or you see a graduate having their photo taken on the Spartan statue with an intimidating but impressive looking arena in the background; stop and take a closer look.  As you do, remember the graduation ceremonies, agricultural shows, ROTC training, Red Wings hockey games, NCAA championships, and many other events that have taken place in one of the most historic venues on MSU’s campus.




4 responses

5 06 2011

We LOVE Dem Hall! Thanks for the article!

6 06 2011
Paul Jacobson

“the only hockey rink that can guarantee everyone a bad seat”. Love that quote from Amo. So true, but many of us that have experienced both Dem Hall and Munn for hockey still feel the atmosphere and excitement generated in Dem Hall almost made the bad seating worth it. I was a teen watching MSU play back then in Dem Hall, and my favorite thing to do would be to show up early for one of those “SRO” vantage points pressed up against the wire fence along the boards. No plexiglass…and you felt the spray of the ice shavings when players stopped and crashed into the boards. Notre Dame and Michigan games were the highlight….so loud in there! Thank you for this rememberance…and the classic photos!

16 10 2014
John van buskirk

I just found out my wife’s grandfather played basketball for msu in the 1930’s. Anybody know where I could find a roster and or photos of the basketball team back then? I’m not she of the exact years he played.

17 10 2014

Thank you for your comment, John. At the MSU Archives, we have basketball team photos from the 1930s, and yearbooks, which should have team rosters. Please contact us for more information.

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