A whale of a tale: The history of Moby Arena
story by Linda Meyer
published Nov. 5, 2021
Today, Moby Arena is an iconic landmark of Colorado State University that has been woven into the tapestry of campus with its distinct architectural design.
But, why was the “white whale” built in the first place?
A growing program
After nearly 40 years playing in the crowded gymnasium of the old South College Fieldhouse – now known as the Glenn Morris Fieldhouse – the men’s basketball team needed a modern athletics facility to gain entrance to the Western Athletic Conference.
To begin the fundraising campaign, architect Floyd Lamar Kelsey unveiled a model of a proposed athletics complex design on Nov. 1, 1962.
Construction of what was then called the Auditorium/Gymnasium began in October 1964, and the following May, a formal cornerstone-laying ceremony included a time capsule for the new structure.
By January 1966, the building had opened to Ram basketball players and coaches for practice sessions.
These 1965 photos show the various stages of the construction of what is now Moby Arena (courtesy CSU Libraries’ University Historic Photograph Collection)
A literary inspiration
Steve Kewskin, the Rocky Mountain Collegian’s sports editor at the time, called on students to submit ideas for naming for the new athletics facility.
The suggestions included references to its shape and appearance, including “Giant Mushroom,” “Great Arch,” “The Saddle,” and “White Whale,” as well as “Ramnasium,” “Pumpkin Palace” and simply “The New Gym.”
On Jan. 24, 1966, the new 9,000-seat gymnasium was dedicated, and the first CSU basketball games were played there that evening.
The freshman team prevailed against Seifert Pontiac-Cadillac at 6 p.m. Following that game, at 8 p.m., the CSU varsity team defeated the New Mexico State Aggies in a 109-70 blowout.
Prior to the basketball games that day, Kweskin compared the exterior appearance of the new arena to the notorious whale in Herman Melville’s classic novel, Moby Dick.
His Collegian headline declared, “Moby Gym Sets Sail.” He also referred to “Moby Gym” in an editorial three days later.
In late March 1966, CSU hosted a major NCAA gymnastics meet in the new facility, and by the end of that month, the name “Moby Gym” was used in almost all the Collegian’s sports coverage.
The CSU Athletics Department continued to refer to the facility as the Auditorium/Gymnasium until 1974, when “Moby Gym” began appearing in its media guides.
Athletics Director Thurman “Fum” McGraw overlooks the Moby Arena court in 1965. (Image from the CSU Libraries’ University Historic Photograph Collection)
Room for growth
By 1974, Title IX had mandated substantial changes in accommodations for women’s sports in the facility. A remodel during the summer of 1976 created a locker room, showers and a steam room for female students.
On Dec. 7, 1979, the women’s basketball team set a school scoring record by defeating the Colorado School of Mines 121-39, an even more notable feat since it was accomplished before the three-point shot became part of regulation college basketball.
“Moby Arena” was adopted by Athletics Director Oval Jaynes as the official name of the structure in October 1988.
Jaynes felt that “arena” sounded more respectable than “gym,” and certainly more appropriate for a modern university sports and auditorium complex.
On Feb. 6, 2016, the 50th anniversary of the Moby Arena was celebrated during the men’s basketball game against the Nevada Wolf Pack.
In a repeat of the facility’s opening night five decades earlier, the Rams defeated their conference rivals.
Historian Gordon “Hap” Hazard shared his research notes to help contribute to this report.