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Bearcat Nation to commemorate 1937 gym on Saturday

When the city of Hendersonville sought a WPA grant in 1935 to build a gym at Hendersonville High School, the federal application asked how the city planned to build its new facility if it didn’t get the money.

 

“The answer is there won’t be” a gym, the city responded.
“The city didn’t have any money,” said Patrick Gallagher, who is writing a history of the 83-year-old old granite stalwart.
When the Works Progress Administration approved the grant, the city was still on the hook for materials. It didn’t have the cash so it gave suppliers a tax credit to cover the cost.
A 1965 graduate of Hendersonville High School, Gallagher served eight years in the Air Force before his career as an accountant in Michigan. He retired back home in Hendersonville two years ago. When he and a classmate, Bruce Macdonald, attended a basketball game, they got to talking about how the old gym will be demolished for a new HHS practice gym as part of the $60 million renovation/new construction project.
“We said it would be nice if we had a memento of the gym,” he said. They hatched the idea of making plaques out of pieces of the gym floor. Gallagher, who also wrote a history of the Berkeley Spinners industrial league baseball teams, has plunged into the history of the gym. Gallagher and Macdonald plan to be at the gym on Saturday, when friends of the high school, alumni and former athletes say good-bye to the old stone gym, which will be bulldozed and hauled off next summer.
The event is from 1 to 4 p.m. During a ceremony at 2, basketball players will talk about their time in the gym. Photos and old uniforms will be displayed, too.
“I’ve been researching this for several months now,” Gallagher said. “It really was kind of a community center as well as a gym for the high school.” He discovered newspaper accounts about “big bands that used to play there, the war bond drives during WWII” held in the gym, he said. “Any time they needed a building of any size, it was used. When it was built, it was the biggest arena in this part of the state and it was referred to as Hendersonville’s coliseum.”
The WPA awarded a $30,000 grant and construction started in early 1936. The stone was hauled from W.A. Smith’s quarry in Laurel Park. The project cost the Bearcats one whole basketball season when the builder failed to get the work done by early 1937. “The first event was in June 1937 and it was Bob Cosby’s band, Bing’s brother,” Gallagher said.
On a trip to Washington, Macdonald, a retired attorney, visited the National Archives and got copies of the WPA application. Gallagher has read Times-News accounts and pored over other local newspapers through the Library of Congress and read the school newspaper, the Red & White, from the early days.
Bearcat basketball teams that won state championships played in the gym in 1948, 1949, 1952 and 1972. The first three were coached by Ted Carter, the last by Jim Pardue, for whom the 1970s gym is named.

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Gallagher would like to hear from athletes and others who have stories about the historic gym. Contact him at pwgallagher1947@yahoo.com or 248-931-1075.