Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Old-School Gym Will Get New Special Smell; Historic Venue, among the Oldest in Illlinois, to Get Repairs after Tornado

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Old-School Gym Will Get New Special Smell; Historic Venue, among the Oldest in Illlinois, to Get Repairs after Tornado

Article excerpt

GILLESPIE * Jerry Grandone remembers the first time he walked into the Gillespie High gymnasium in the 1950s.

"It just had a special smell about it," he recalls. "You picked it up as soon as you got in there. I can't really describe it other than to say it just smelled like basketball."

Known affectionately as, "the Pit," the historic 85-year-old Gillespie gymnasium sustained major damage May 31 when an EF2 tornado with winds of up to 115 mph ripped through the Macoupin County town of about 3,400.

The wind blew the roof off the north side of the building and crumbled walls. The weight room was destroyed.

Although the storm also damaged more than 60 homes and businesses, no one was seriously injured.

The hit to the gym brought sadness throughout the tight-knit community located about 50 miles northeast of St. Louis.

Grandone, who graduated from Gillespie High in 1960 and played and coached basketball there, says the area takes pride in the building, which was erected in 1928.

"Back then, almost everything that was important in this town, happened in that gym," said Grandone, 70.

Steve Joyce, who coached girls basketball for 30 years at Gillespie, agreed.

"It was the hub of all activity," he said. "It had a nice homey atmosphere.

"It just made you feel good to be inside there."

Although records are sketchy, the Pit is believed to be the third- oldest continually used gymnasium in Illinois. It has held countless numbers of events outside of basketball, including dances, graduation ceremonies, plays and concerts. It even hosted several rallies during World War II.

Notorious gangster Al Capone is reported to have attended a basketball game there in the 1930s. Capone, while in the area checking on his many business ventures, was a frequent visitor to the Coliseum Ballroom in nearby Benld. One Friday night when the club was nearly empty, Capone inquired about the light crowd. Told that everyone was at the basketball game, he decided to drop in.

"I'm not sure there is a gym anywhere with so much history," said school district superintendent Paul Skeans. "The people around here take a lot of pride in this town, and the gym is a really big part of that pride. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.