Building History

From the ground up

Click on the image below to watch Cole being built!

Click to see slideshow

Quick Facts:
  • Original name: Student Activities Building
  • Active field house years: 1955-2002
  • Construction lasted from 1952-1955
  • Construction cost: $3.3 million ($27.1 million in 2011 dollars)
  • Opened: December 2, 1955
  • Dedicated as William P. Cole Memorial Field house in 1956
  • Capacity: 14,596 (originally 12,000)
  • Closed: March 3, 2002
About the Building

William P. Cole Memorial Field House is a landmark on the University of Maryland, College Park campus. At the time it was built, it was the second-largest structure of its kind on the East coast (only Madison Square Garden was larger). Cole became an inspiration for other arenas around the country. On campus, it was the place to be. The building was the home of multiple sports teams, most notably the men’s and women’s basketball squads. Fans crowded into the cramped, un-airconditioned arena to cheer their teams on to victory. 4,000 free tickets were set aside at each game for students to show their support. Opponents often cited this solid mass of Terrapin pride as creating an intimidating atmosphere. Washington Post reporter William Gildea summed up the atmosphere of Cole by asking

How many of us thrilled repeatedly to the feeling of walking in the front doors of Cole and looking down, as if from a mountaintop, on a sea of red seats?

In an interview with Maryland student Kelley Smith, Coach Gary Williams described Cole

Whoever designed [Cole] did one of the greatest jobs back then I’ve ever seen, because you walk out there now [in 1997] and there’s not a bad seat in the house. Everything is kind of directed towards the court; there’s no poles; it’s a natural bowl setting – it’s just a great facility for a basketball game.

Everyone – from Williams to the fan in the uppermost row – has stories about Cole. Their memories are a testament to the greatness of Cole, and a legacy that has lasted long beyond its days as a field house.

Cole Field House

William P. Cole Memorial Field House Unfortunately – as is the case with many buildings – Cole Field House aged and became outdated. In 1997, Assistant Director of Athletices for Operations and Facilities Curt Callahan stated

Cole is no longer a state-of-the-art-arena. The structure is plagued with problems: the roof leaks, the hardwood floor also leaks and is sanded thin, the walls contain asbestos, the lack of airconditioning can make it unbearably hot, the concourses are too narrow, and access and seating for the disabled are severely limited by current standards.

In effect, it was time for a new field house. Cole had served the campus well, but it was a relic compared to most other university arenas. Finally, in 2002, half a century after the groundbreaking, the William P. Cole Memorial Field House closed. Our current arena, Comcast Sports Center, became Maryland sports teams’ new home as Cole was rebuilt as office and classroom space. Some student-athletes still practice in the renovated soccer arena and track, but Cole is now mainly the home of academics rather than athletics.

Read what The Terrapin yearbook said about Cole Field House when it first opened.

  • The Terrapin, 1955, pg 240
  • Cole Field House query file, university Archives
  • Smith, Kelley Alison. “Campus/Culture/Cole: A Cultural Landscape Study of an Historic College Basketball Arena.” American Studies 629L. 12 December 1997.
  • Gildea, William. “A Housewarming Party Like No Other.” The Washington Post. D7.
  • Wikipedia contributors. “Cole Field House.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 26 Mar. 2014. Web. 19 Apr. 2014.