The disturbing decline of LSU’s Huey P. Long Field House

By Robert Mann

Today, it’s an outdated, dilapidated building beset with a multitude of maintenance problems.  But it was once among the grandest spots on LSU’s campus. Built in 1932 at a cost of $1 million (more than $17 million in today’s dollars), the Huey P. Long Field House was the social center of the campus with a barbershop, a soda fountain and a ballroom. It had what school officials touted as the longest university swimming pool in the country.

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Postcard depicting the pool area of the Field House during its glory days

As described by Professor Chad Siefried of LSU’s School of Kinesiology in a 2014 paper in the journal Louisiana History:

The Field House did not suffer from inadequacies of amenities or opulence. Specifically, decorative tiles, columns, and ceiling reliefs, ornamental chandeliers, and arched windows were incorporated into the grand ballroom and various parts of the student union that overlooked the pool. A prime example of this decorative spirit surfaced with floor tiles that featured the Tiger emblem and the Latin insignia of “a sound mind in a sound body” near the main entrance. Fancy equipment, including radios and pianos in the music room, modern desks and furniture in the lounge, and the best kitchen amenities, serviced the thousands of users each day that occupied the building as visitors or tenants who might have lived on the second or third floors. Within the union portion of the building, a soda fountain, dormitories, and a plush student lounge joined a post office, barber shop, beauty parlor, and cafeteria to benefit LSU campus stakeholders and community residents. Overall, the Field House exceeded other well-known and newly established campus recreation and social centers, just as Huey P. Long desired. Furthermore, it emerged as an anchor point for the campus’s regional and national reputation because of the many great activities it would eventually host or service through other parts of the venue.

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The Field House pool during better days

As Seifried noted in his paper, the enormous building (it boasts almost 140,000 square feet of space; only 38,000 is now habitable) began its sad decline after the construction of the Student Union in 1964. That was followed by the opening of the nearby Maddox Field House in 1974 and the Student Recreation Center (UREC) in 1992. The Field House, Seifried observed,

lost its appeal for organized campus social activities and as a result received inadequate regular maintenance. A lack of modern conveniences such as air conditioning increased the deterioration of the venue. The LSU Natatorium and UREC pool also supplanted the services provided by the Huey P. Long Pool, which was drained and closed in 2003 following the reemergence of severe leaks that imposed significant repair costs.

Despite its worsening deterioration, the Field House today is home to LSU’s School of Social Work and the School of Kinesiology, the largest major on the LSU Baton Rouge camps. Since 2009, undergraduate enrollment in Kinesiology has grown from 1,044 majors to more than 2,200 in the fall of 2015.

Field House

Despite previous plans to abandon the building altogether, LSU officials want to save the historic building. They are hoping to get the Field House on the state’s Capital Outlay budget (the funds would not come from operating expenses dedicated to the university) during this spring’s regular legislative session.

The plan is to spend $19.5 million to restore the building and increase classroom seating from the current 350 to more than 1,000. Doing so, said Dean Damon Andrew of the LSU College of Human Sciences and Education, would decrease LSU’s deferred maintenance on the building by $10.2 million. It would also free up much-needed classroom space around the campus and allow Kinesiology to largely consolidate its classes into the Field House complex.

But until the state dedicates the money to restore the building, its inexorable decline will continue. One consequence of the building’s appalling disrepair is that it has become a magnet for vandal and vagrants, Melinda Solmon, director of the School of Kinesiology, told me on a recent tour of the building. Satanic symbols and other graffiti scar the walls in the former men’s locker room.

Under the proposed restoration, the building would include a wellness center for student training, new offices for administrators and faculty, new and larger classrooms and several new labs (including a cadaver lab).

The pool area would be retained but there would be no more swimming. Instead, the current pool’s walls would be restored and surround a grassy area that will serve as a gathering place for students.

Until state lawmakers come up with funds to restore the building, however, students and faculty must survive in a deplorable space. During my extensive, hour-and-a-half tour, I observed the aftermath of multiple ceiling leaks, two of which have damaged floors and furniture in faculty offices in the main building of the complex. The only men’s restroom on the building’s first floor is closed because of a large, growing hole in the ceiling. Damage from water leaks is apparent at almost every turn. Ceiling tiles are missing throughout the building.

The area around the Huey Long Pool, which most people never see, is in the worst shape. Students and the public are not allowed in this area for safety reasons. That doesn’t mean that vandals don’t constantly invade the area and inflict further damage. During my tour, Solmon and Seifried discovered a previously locked metal door to a gym area that had been pried open since their last visit.

Here are some photos from my recent tour of the facility, followed by artist’s renderings of the proposed renovation:

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Huey P. Long Field House at LSU

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Entrance to the Huey Long Field House on the LSU campus.

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First floor of the Huey Long Field House

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An example of the beautiful terrazzo flooring throughout the Field House. Much of it, however, has been covered with linoleum tiles.

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The stunning mosaic in the office of the School of Kinesiology on the First Floor of the Huey Long Field House.

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The “patch” for a leaking ceiling in a faculty office in LSU’s Huey Long Field House

 

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Plastic sheeting fashioned into a spout to funnel water to a trash can in a faculty office in the Huey Long Field House

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Ceiling tiles on the first floor of the Field House

 

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Missing ceiling tiles on the first floor

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More missing ceiling tiles on the first floor

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More missing ceiling tiles

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This is the only men’s bathroom on the first floor of the Field House. It cannot be used.

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Inside the closed first-floor men’s room in the Field House

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Missing ceiling tiles in a first-floor faculty office in the Huey Long Field House. Notice the holes that were drilled to secure tiles to the ceiling. They are now the places from which water leaks onto the floor and desk below.

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The bucket the faculty member uses to catch the water that leaks from the ceiling on the first floor of the Huey Long Field House.

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Water damage to the faculty member’s desk from the leak in the ceiling

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The north side entrance to the pool area of the Field House

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Northside exterior of the Huey Long Field House

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Huey Long Field House

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The once-grand pool at the Huey Long Field House (shallow end).

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South side of the pool area of the Huey Long Field House. Under proposed renovation plans, this area would be turned into classroom space.

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Bushes are growing in and around the abandoned pool area.

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The swimming pool in February 2016.

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The pool today

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The swimming pool with the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in the background

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Second- floor terrace around the pool

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Window on the second floor, north side pool area of the Field House

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Second-floor terrace around the pool, north side.

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Window on the second-floor terrace around the swimming pool at the Huey Long Field House

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West side of the pool area, Huey Long Field House

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Graffiti in the old men’s locker room, adjacent to the pool area. This would be converted into lab space under the proposed renovation plan. (And, yes, Windows is a horrible OS.)

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Men’s locker room. Is that a Satantic symbol?

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Men’s locker room.

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Men’s locker room.

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Entrance area to men’s locker room

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Men’s locker room

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Pool side!

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Second floor of the pool area

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Second floor, pool area.

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Second floor of the pool area of the Huey Long Field House

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Second-floor pool area of the Huey Long Field House

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The manager is out but now we know where the spotlights have been stashed.

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Artist’s rendering of Huey Long Field House renovation

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Artist’s rendering of renovated pool area of Huey Long Field House at LSU

 

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Artists’s rendering of renovated west side of Huey Long Field House

 

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7 Responses to The disturbing decline of LSU’s Huey P. Long Field House

  1. Francisco Serrano says:

    It was very nice pool to do laps back late 80’s until the new Natatorium was finished in 85. I was in graduate school back then and used to go swimming there. I remember Dr. Wright (Doc), one of our professors at the Landscape Arch school was one of the every day swimmers.

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  2. Barbara says:

    The School of Social Work is also in this building?

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  3. Andrew Sluyter says:

    I am really enjoying this series of posts, Bob. They are sad, of course, but eye opening too. The pool closed the year I arrived on campus but it was legendary among some of my elder colleagues. I finally did get to see it in the movie Pitch Perfect. Google “pitch perfect pool scene” and you’ll pull up some images and video clips. That was filmed about six years ago. From your photos, the only movie that might be filmed there now is some sort of post-apocalyptic thriller.

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  4. William Morgan says:

    I am leaving Yahoo. My new email address is wmhmorgan85@gmail.com Thank you. From: Something Like the Truth To: billmorgan70@yahoo.com Sent: Sunday, February 14, 2016 6:53 PM Subject: [New post] The disturbing decline of LSU’s Huey P. Long Field House #yiv0685469970 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv0685469970 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv0685469970 a.yiv0685469970primaryactionlink:link, #yiv0685469970 a.yiv0685469970primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv0685469970 a.yiv0685469970primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv0685469970 a.yiv0685469970primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv0685469970 WordPress.com | rtmannjr posted: “By Robert MannToday, it’s an outdated, dilapidated building beset with a multitude of maintenance problems.  But it was once among the grandest spots on LSU’s campus. Built in 1932 at a cost of $1 million (more than $17 million in today’s dollars), the ” | |

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  5. Thomas P Brasdefer says:

    The “Satanic” symbol in picture dsc02275.jpg is a “Mortarhate” logo for punk band Conflict – “The Ungovernable Force” is one of their album titles.

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  6. Pingback: ‘Buildings with great bones’: An interview with the head of LSU Facility Services – Something Like the Truth

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