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Scholar Thomas Schlereth refers to both Hotchkiss Hall--originally the institution's gymnasium in 1891--and the Durand Institute as stunning examples of Romanesque revival. Designed by noted architect Henry Ives Cobb, it was built while the architect was simultaneously working on the University of Chicago campus and the Newberry Library. Hotchkiss may also reflect some of the ideas in John W. Root's somewhat earlier Armory building in Chicago.
Historically the building has local and national sports significance. The building was built just prior to the invention of basketball. It was comprised mostly of a two-level main floor with a running track around it at the second floor level and exercise apparatus on the walls. In the basement were locker rooms and also a swimming pool. When it opened, it was believed to be the most advanced gymnasium west of the Alleghenies. Early sports included indoor baseball and football--the reason for the invention of basketball. Within a few seasons the new sport was being played, with baskets installed at two ends, though in somewhat tight circumstances.
By 1895 one of the first intercollegiate women's basketball games was held in Hotchkiss between the women of Lake Forest College (co-ed) and those of Ferry College (single sex), both units of Lake Forest University. One of the early users of the gym was Fred Hayner '95, credited with inventing the flying tackle in football and also later sports editor for Chicago's Evening Post. From 1933 to 1949 the head of men's sports, quartered at the gym, was the legendary coach Ralph Jones, who was coach of the Chicago Bears from 1929-1933 and who knew George Halas when Halas was a coach at the University of Illinois. Jones is credited with inventing the T formation in football and also working on the development of shoulder pads and other equipment while he was at Lake Forest. He lived in Patterson. The building burned in 1969 and was a storage facility from 1970 until it was renovated 1987-88.