Originally opened in 1928, “The Barn” has undergone major renovations, making the arena not just one of the oldest and traditional buildings in the country, but one of the most complete and cutting-edge.
During the summer of 2009, the original floor of the arena was replaced at a cost of approximately $600,000. The floor was extended as well and new baskets were purchased.
In the winter of 2005, a state-of-the-art team lounge area was added, including several high definition televisions, a theater-style team film room, a coaches’ strategy room, computer lab, kitchen and large expansive lounge area. The area is complete with every amenity that a Gopher basketball player would need. In addition, the team’s training area, located down the hall from the locker room and team lounge area, was remodeled and expanded.
In the summer of 1997, 21 luxury barn lofts above the second deck were built. The lofts offer a spectacular birds-eye view of the court with luxury amenities. The $2.3 million project added 304 seats to the capacity, raising it to 14,625.
Following the 1991-92 season, the renovation of Williams Arena began as part of a $41 million project for on-campus sports facilities. The first phase was completed in time for the 1992-93 season opener. The Golden Gophers’ locker room, training room, spacious offices and team meeting rooms, are now state-of-the-art. The locker room was named in honor of former Golden Gopher coach Ozzie Cowles through the more than $100,000 in gifts from many of his former players.
Construction on what is now known as Williams Arena was started in 1927 and completed in 1928, when it was dedicated as the University of Minnesota Field House. It cost $650,000 and initially had a seating capacity of 14,100 with bleacher and standing room expansion to 16,000. The original building housed basketball and winter football practice facilities. When the basketball season was completed, the portable floor was taken out and replaced by a pair of tennis courts and an indoor track. Ohio State won the first basketball game held in the building, scoring a 42-40 double overtime victory over the Golden Gophers on Feb. 4, 1928.
The building was remodeled in 1950. Renamed in honor of Dr. Henry L. Williams, U of M football coach from 1900 to 1921, it was divided into a hockey arena on one end and a basketball arena with a seating capacity of 18,025 on the other. From 1950 until 1971, it had the largest capacity of any collegiate basketball arena in the country. The capacity has been reduced to 14,625 in recent years due to renovation, fire-code restrictions and handicapped-seating construction.
The east end addition is highlighted by the Williams Arena Club on the third floor. The Club overlooks the floor and can hold parties of up to 200 fans, adding another touch of class to an already classy arena. The second phase of the renovation project was completed during the summer of 1993. It included the installation of theater-style seats, the widening of concourse areas and the addition of both concession areas and women’s restrooms.
A large portion of the renovation was financed by private gifts, including those to the successful $5.5 million sports-facilities campaign, and by the generous participation of fans through the assured-seating program.
The site of the 1951 NCAA Finals, “The Barn” can be a frightening venue for opponents. The raised floor, one of only a handful in the country, and the deafening roar of 14,000-plus fans unquestionably has something to do with it. Spectators need to only witness the atmosphere and feel the electricty in The Barn just prior to any Big Ten game to find enough evidence to support that fact. With sellout crowds cheering them on, the Golden Gophers have become very tough to beat at home in front of their loyal fans. The Golden Gophers suffered only two losing seasons at the Barn since the 1935-36 campaign. Minnesota was 13-5 at Williams Arena last season. The Golden Gophers’ overall record in “The Barn” stands at 694-276 for a winning percentage of .715.
A long and illustrious list of college basketball’s greatest players have run the Williams Arena hardwood through the years, and many memorable games have been contested within its hallowed walls. The historic arena is among the finest in college basketball and enable that mystique to live on for many years to come. Williams Arena is truly what college basketball is all about.
The new floor in Williams Arena was installed in 2009.
"Whenever anyone asks me my favorite places, I always say I like the old ones. It just seems like there’s something about their character. It seems like the seats have witnessed everything, and it speaks to the mystique of the team and the university. The atmosphere isn’t plastic like the seats in a new arena. The old ones are steeped with tradition. You walk in and you think of all the great players that have played there. And that’s what leads a kid to want to come and play at Williams Arena."
— BILL RAFTERY, National College Basketball Television Analyst
The inaugural game in Williams Arena (1928)
The crowd in the 1930's