In the top 50

I was watching a documentary on PBS tonight about the 50 buildings in the state that were the most architecturally significant, and was surprised to see my high school gymnasium listed. On their web site, it's one of the five buildings chosen from the 1940s, though they didn't actually spend any time talking about it in the documentary. I couldn't find any pictures of it online, so I'll have to snap some next time I'm home. The gym was built as a WPA project and though a new gym was built shortly after I graduated, the old one has a lot more personality. A Google search turned up the following article:

The 1939 gymnasium at Ventura High School has been named among the top 50 Iowa structures in a special "A Century of Iowa Architecture" compiled by the American Institute of Architects, Iowa Chapter.

The AIA Iowa culminated the celebration of its centennial year at its annual convention Oct. 13-15 in Des Moines. The winners and 50 nominees for "A Century of Iowa Architecture" were unveiled Oct. 14 at the State Historical Museum. A exhibit of the buildings was created that will be on display at the museum through December. It will then travel to communities throughout Iowa during 2005-2006.

The Ventura gymnasium was constructed as a Works Progress Administration project in 1939. The architect for the project was Thorwald Thorson; Construction Superintendent was Edward H. Dehnert, of Luverne, Iowa.

Longtime Ventura School Superintendent Gary Schichtl said he recalls looking throughout old school documents and finding that the cost of the high school gymnasium was about $25,000. "A real bargain," he joked.

The Ventura community has certainly gotten their money, and many special memories from the gymnasium, Schichtl said.

"As time moved on, seating became a problem because of the size constraints of the gym," Schichtl said. "Non-conference teams also became reluctant to play there and we were always in need of more gymnasium time for junior high teams, the arts and other activities."

In 1997, Ventura cut the ribbon on a new high school gymnasium. The old gymnasium was refurbished and improved acoustically for the arts. It is still used by middle school sports teams, as well as for practices, classes and for theater presentations. As superintendent at that time, Schichtl said he was pleased to see the original gym preserved and improved, as well as offer students and the community a large new gymnasium.

To select the "Building of the Century" and one building per decade, a committee of architects first made a request for nominations of buildings that were designed by an architect, located in Iowa and are still standing. After narrowing the field from over 300 entries, a jury of five accomplished Iowans was presented 125 buildings. They chose five buildings from each decade, then one award winner from each decade and finally, the "Building of the Century," based on the original criteria, in addition to the cultural and societal impact of the building. The jury consisted of former Iowa Governor Robert Ray; Chuck Offenburger, former Des Moines Register columnist and co-founder of RAGBRAI; Eliot Nusbaum, former design editor for the Des Moines Register and editor at Traditional Home magazine; Robert Findlay, FAIA, Professor Emeritus of Architecture at Iowa State University and Robert Broshar, FAIA, former national president of AIA.

The Ventura High School gymnasium was one of the five best buildings in the 1940-49 time period. The designation was made in recognition of both the building's artistic merit, as well as the significant cultural impact the building had on the State of Iowa.

While I expected several of the buildings from the various Univeristy campuses to show up, but seeing the gym from our tiny high school (my graduating class was 22 students) on the list was a total surprise.