Flashback • The 'Almost' Fieldhouse
Richard Harms, Archives

As various plans were being evaluated for the newly acquired Knollcrest campus in 1958, a possible facility for physical education became available. The Grand Rapids Railroad Terminal Building, more popularly known as the Train Shed, was offered for sale, since the site was to be cleared to make way for a US 131 off-ramp.

The Shed, located where the Van Andel Arena now stands, was open at both ends to allow access for up to six trains simultaneously; its side walls had clearstory windows and a high-pitched roof. The windows and high roof allowed natural light to come in and smoke from the coal-fired locomotives to vent. Once the trains pulled into the Shed, passengers could exit without concern about inclement weather. In 1905, the year after the new, attached station was opened, 20,000 trains and 750,000 passengers moved through the Shed.

Designed by B. L. Gilbert, a structural engineer from New York, the Shed was 600 feet long and 110 feet wide. Structural steel trusses set every 30 feet were linked together with 120-foot beams. Given its construction, the siding and roof could be easily removed, and the trusses and beams could be disassembled and reassembled on a new site to span a large, open space such as a gymnasium. Since the college had never had a suitable basketball facility, the possibility of a large, relatively inexpensive structure was attractive.

Perkins & Will, campus architects and planners, were asked to consider use of the structure. They proposed two options, both of which called for one section 270 feet long and another 330 feet long. The shorter section would house a track and bleachers for 1,000 spectators; the longer section would house a basketball court with bleachers for 5,000, a swimming pool, and a four-alley bowling facility. The first option proposed connecting the two sections with a new office classroom unit; the other option left two separate structures with the offices included in the larger section.

College officials ultimately decided that buildings on the new campus should all be designed to harmonize with one another. Since the Train Shed was a large, box-like structure, college officials decided that it would not blend at all with the proposed new buildings and declined to bid on it.

Instead, a Grand Rapids hardwood dealer bought the structure for one dollar. It was disassembled in 1961 and rebuilt just south of the city to house drying equipment and provide space for curing hardwoods. One section of the hardwood warehouse again was disassembled in 2001 to make way for a Home Depot store. The trusses and beams are awaiting a new use. On May 25, 2004, fire destroyed the remaining structure.