Sunday, February 21, 2010

Davis Gym

Davis Gym was built in the 1920s on Alfred University's campus to provide students and faculty with a facility for exercise and sporting. The university named the gym after Reverend Boothe Colwell Davis ("Campus Map: Davis Gym"), a former pastor of a local church and president of the school in the late 19th century ("Boothe C. Davis"). However, Davis is no longer the main gymnasium on campus. It is currently used for athletic training and other unrelated events, such as concerts, art installations, and even dance pieces. The more recent gymnasium, McLane Center which was built in the 1970s ("AU's South Hall..."), houses a pool as well as a larger court area and workout room. Because the space is not in high demand, the upkeep of Davis is no longer a large priority; it is becoming more and more run down with time.

Davis was built during a time when personal enjoyment and love of the body were a growing part of the American ideal. Physical fitness was used as a means of self-satisfaction and pleasure rather than for health reasons (Grover 20). This in turn, fueled the changes in sexual freedom and promiscuity that ran rampant throughout the twenties and thirties (Grover 27). Donald J. Mrozek writes, "...the sensory of fulfillment in sport loomed important -- the physical, the sexual, and the sensual all increasingly confused." Along with the love of the body, cleanliness and presentability became increasingly important (Grover 32). Advertisers rallied for the attention of consumers, feeding off of their desires for flawlessness to promote their products.The development of national advertising and brand names could only help this effort (Grover 50). The transition in ideals during this time "from puritanism to hedonism," from spiritual to physical was not an easy one for the conservative and religious (Grover 49). The growing interest in the present, the immediate, and the earthly over a desire for the next life, a higher purpose, and the goal of spiritual immortality was difficult to combat. Considering that the village of Alfred has remained a more conservative community and was established in a religious context, I would suggest that naming the gymnasium after an upstanding religious and scholarly leader, Reverend Davis, was an effort of the university to promote sport and athletics in a less indulgent light and to set an example of someone with more virtuous and modest ideals.

The building itself consists of two stories, yet has a low, horizontal emphasis. The roof is slightly arched and supported by wooden framework. The gym, like many buildings in Alfred, has a brick exterior, which helps connect it aesthetically if not architecturally to other community buildings. Brick and clay have been used in Alfred since the very beginning of the 20th century with the establishment of the Celadon Company (Bouck), so the choice to use brick may have been an effort of the architect to connect the gym back to an earlier time. Outside the gym, there are two stone benches, each the shape of a quarter octagon, backed with a low brick wall. As you approach the gym, the benches serve to lead your eye and body inwards. On the brick walls are two lampposts on on each end of the benches. One can imagine that these benches provided seating for athletes listening to a coach's lecture or a resting place for tired trainers. Inside, there is a large wooden staircase with two traffic ways leading down to the lower level. The lower level is partially in ground, contributing to the gym seeming shorter than it actually is. This level consists of a basketball court surrounded by a small, banked running track. Unlike modern tracks that are usually made of plastic or rubber turf, this track is made of wood, and it is one of the last of its kind (Biemiller). It is banked to allow for runners to maintain their speed. The second floor houses rusty showers and old classroom settings, no longer used for their original purposes.

Davis gym has become an obsolete space. The interior is very rundown, and the exterior is being overtaken by natural forces. There have been recent plans to tear it down and put another building in its place, such as a ceramic museum or possibly another gym or training space. This demonstrates the desire of the university to use their space efficiently. However, there are some people that are interested in preserving the building because of the rare wooden track, its weathered aesthetic, and the variety of activities it has potential to house. Regardless of what happens to Davis, it is interesting to look back and note the possible reasons for and ideas behind building it in the first place.


"AU's South Hall: new use for historic building." Alfred University. 28 April 2005. 21 Feb 2010. < id="2743">.

Biemiller, Lawrence. "An Old Gym at Alfred U. Houses a Rare Wooden Running Track." The Chronicle of Higher Education. 12 Dec. 2008. 14 Feb. 2010. .

"Boothe C. Davis" Herrick Memorial Library at Alfred University. 14 Feb. 2010 .

Bouck, Warren L. M.D. "The Celadon Terra Cotta Co." Herrick Memorial Library at Alfred University. 21 Feb. 2010. .

"Campus Map: Davis Gym." Alfred University. 14 Feb. 2010 .

Grover, Kathryn, ed. Fitness in American Culture: Images of Health, Sport, and the Body, 1830-1940. Rochester: The Margaret Woodbury Museum, 1989.


  1. How do you feel about concerts being held in Davis Gym? Are they good or bad for the evolution of the space?

  2. New Riders Of The Purple Sage and Grateful Dead performed in Davis Gym on 5/1/70.