Kathryn Chicone Ustler Hall (formerly known as the Women’s Gymnasium and University Gymnasium) is a historic building on the campus of the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida. It was designed by William Augustus Edwards in the Collegiate Gothic style and opened in 1919. As the University Gymnasium, it was the home to several of the university’s indoor sports teams until the Florida Gymnasium opened in the late 1940s. The university became co-educational at about the same time, and the building was rechristened the Women’s Gymnasium to be used primarily by the school’s many new female students. On June 27, 1979, it was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
The opening of O’Connell Center in 1980 and several new student recreation facilities over the following years made the old gym obsolete, and it gradually fell into disuse. The building was slated for demolition, but was saved for its historic value. A large donation made it possible to completely transform the interior, and the university’s Women’s Studies Department moved into newly renamed Ulster Hall in 2006.
The University of Florida (UF) was established in Gainesville in 1906. Initial student enrollment was about 100, so only two buildings (Buckman Hall and Thomas Hall) were needed to accommodate all functions of the new school. Enrollment grew slowly over following years and accelerated under second university president Albert A. Murphree, who oversaw an expansion program that saw the addition of several colleges to the university’s academic offerings and several more buildings constructed across the campus. By the end of World War I, enrollment reached 1000.
Buckman Hall included some indoor athletic space, but a larger student population required larger recreational facilities, and the university made plans to build its first dedicated gymnasium on the west side of campus. The facility was designed by William Augustus Edwards, architect for the Florida Board of Control, who designed most of the UF’s early buildings in the Collegiate Gothic style. Construction began in the summer of 1918, but the project went over budget, and Murphree solicited donations from the local community to complete interior details. Fundraising successfully completed when Major League Baseball‘s New York Giants agreed to hold spring training in Gainesville in 1919 and rented the newly-opened University Gymnasium as their spring headquarters.
The University Gym was designed to be a combination student recreation center, physical education facility, assembly hall, and sports venue. It was the home court of the Florida Gators men’s basketball team and all other university-sponsored indoor sport programs for about ten years. However, spectator space around the court was very limited in the narrow building, and as university enrollment continued to increase, a larger wooden “New Gym” was constructed directly adjacent to the University Gym in 1929 to serve as a temporary home for the basketball team until funding was available for a more permanent replacement. Meanwhile, the University Gym continued to host physical education classes, intramural sports, and smaller assemblies. The Florida Gymnasium was finally completed in 1948, the same year that the university went fully co-educational. The University Gym was renamed the Women’s Gymnasium and was used for hosting women’s sporting events and classes while the wooden “New Gym” next door was demolished.
In 1980, the much larger and modern O’Connell Center replaced both of the older gyms as UF’s primary indoor sports venue. The Florida Gym was renovated to serve other uses, but the Women’s Gym was slated for demolition. A push to save the structure delayed its destruction, and in 1988, it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places, granting it protection. However, it remained underutilized and was mainly used as an extra storage facility.
With a donation from UF alumnus Kathryn Chicone Ustler in 2000, the long-vacant gym was transformed into a 14,700-square-foot (1,370 m2) three story academic building with modern classrooms along with faculty and administrative offices. A circular courtyard was also added in front of the building, replacing a small parking area. The restoration process began in 2004 and was completed in July 2006. In 2008, the restoration was named a “Project of Regional Impact” by the Florida Heritage Foundation. Now known as Ustler Hall, the building houses the Women’s Studies Department and the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies Research. It is the only freestanding campus building in the United States devoted solely to Women’s Studies, and was the first building on the UF campus renamed to honor a woman.
- University of Florida
- Buildings at the University of Florida
- Campus Historic District
- History Preserved
- “National Register Information System”. National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. January 23, 2007.
- Teague, Edward H. “Historic Buildings Tour — UF Builds: The Architecture of the University of Florida (Gainesville, Florida)”. web.uflib.ufl.edu. University of Florida. Retrieved 26 March 2018.
- “Historic Campus – Women’s Gymnasium”. historic.facilities.ufl.edu. University of Florida. Retrieved 3 November 2018.
- Lockette, Buffy. “History Preserved: Kathryn Chicone Ustler Hall Recognized as Florida Treasure”. UF College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. University of Florida. Retrieved 3 November 2018.
- “Dedication Ceremony for Ustler Hall | UF College of Liberal Arts and Sciences News”. www.clas.ufl.edu. University of Florida. Retrieved 3 November 2018.
- Alachua County listings at National Register of Historic Places
- Alachua County listings at Florida’s Office of Cultural and Historical Programs
- Virtual tour of University of Florida Campus Historic District at Alachua County’s Department of Growth Management
- The University of Florida Historic Campus at UF Facilities Planning & Construction
- George A. Smathers Libraries
- UF Builds: The Architecture of the University of Florida
- Women’s Gymnasium
- Center for Women’s Studies and Gender Research