Long before West Virginia University chose to locate an athletic arena at the site where Stansbury Hall stands on Beechurst Avenue, the location played a pivotal role in the history of education reform locally, nationally, and worldwide. Where the Area 11 university parking lot currently sits to the south of the building, noted educational reformer Alexander Wade experimented with a system of graded advancement (designing curriculums based on regular evaluations of student performance) at a local African American elementary school that had earlier been named in his honor. Wade, who had occupied the position of Superintendent of Monongalia County Schools from 1875 to 1880, returned to teaching in order to personally supervise the implementation of his graded advancement system. Shortly thereafter he published his book A Graduating System for Country Schools, which public schools across the nation and globe quickly embraced. The following year (1882), Wade chose to relocate his school to Beechurst Avenue, where it remained for a number until its closure by the Board of Education in 1929 as part of a consolidation of area schools for African Americans.
The site where Stansbury Hall now stands, meanwhile, served as the center of university athletics for a number of years prior to the building's completion in 1929. Before then, a much smaller building known as The Ark (which seated 900) was the school's athletic arena. University students frequently complained of the building's inadequate facilities, particularly its lack of locker rooms (an absence that forced athletes to utilize an adjacent heating plant building before and after events). After considerable student protest and fundraising, the university moved forward with plans for a new facility. When the university finished it, Stansbury
Hall had a seating capacity of approximately 6,000 and cost the school $250,000 (and an additional $6,000 to equip). Originally known to students as the Field House the building was
renamed Stansbury Hall in 1973 after Harry Stansbury, former Director
of Athletics at West Virginia University from 1916 to 1938. Although it hosted a wide variety of athletic events during its time as a university sporting arena, it is best remembered as the home of WVU basketball.
During its time at the Field House the WVU
men’s basketball team had a record of 370 wins and 81 losses in the building, which equates to an 82% winning record. By far the most notable period in the structure's history as the center of WVU basketball, however, came in the 1950s, when teammates Jerry West and Hot Rod Hundley brought the university's team to national prominence. After graduation from Charleston High School in 1954,
Rod Hundley signed a basketball scholarship with WVU. His dribbling skills soon made
him a university sensation, and he quickly acquired the nickname “Hot Rod.” In one game against Ohio University at
Stansbury Hall as a freshman, Rod Hundley scored 62 points which is still a
record. As the result of a stellar
basketball performance during his senior year at East Bank High School, West Virginia in 1956, Jerry
West received more than 60 college scholarships. However, he signed with WVU
and had outstanding success. He was
named a consensus All-American during his junior and senior years and led WVU
to the finals where the Mountaineers were beaten by California by 1 point. Even though his team lost, Jerry West earned
the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award for the tournament. Later that same year he was also named as
the co-captain of the United States Olympic basketball team at the 1960 Rome
Olympics, where he led the U.S. to a gold medal. Both Jerry West’s #44 and Hot Rod Hundley’s #33 were retired and hung from the walls in the Field House until their banners were moved to the Coliseum in 1970.
In addition to basketball games, the
building was also the site for intramural athletics as well as indoor track
meets, and wrestling and boxing matches until the opening of the Coliseum. The most notable of these events, the WVU Indoor Track Games, brought a number of well-known Olympic athletes to Morgantown, among them Jesse Owens, Ralph Metcalfe, Eddie Tolan, John Woodruff, and Eulace Peacock. Jesse Owens in particular seems to have captured local imagination. When he competed in the Indoor Track Games in the 1930s, he broke and set a record for the 60-yard dash and became a topic of frequent and beloved recall in Morgantown's newspapers over the following decades. The town's residents even invited him to return many years later. Owens accepted the invitation, traveling to the city over two decades after his first appearance in Morgantown to deliver a lecture, comment favorably on the professional career of Jerry West, and give advice to university athletes.
Although Stansbury Hall's connections to prominent athletes like Owens have long served as the foundation of local memories surrounding the structure, however, the building was and and always has been more than just a
sporting arena. Even after the opening
of the Coliseum, Stansbury Hall continued to serve as a site for physical
education classes, musical and other student events. Although all of the
bleachers have been removed, the building continues to serve as the home of several West Virginia University programs, including the Center for Writing Excellence,
Humanities Department, Religious Studies program, Philosophy Department, and ROTC. In 2017, the university announced plans for the building's demolition and replacement with a new structure for its College of Business and Economics.