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Duke University's Cameron Indoor Stadium, the crown jewel of college basketball's classic venues, was conceived on the back of a matchbook cover in 1935 and renovated in the late 1980s at a cost of $2 million. Cameron underwent a series of improvements over the summer of 2009 to enhance the gameday experience, while also retaining the revered qualities of the facility now in its 75th year as the home of the Blue Devils.
Cameron has been the site of 817 Blue Devil men’s victories and 411 Duke women’s victories entering the 2014-15 season.
More than a few of those victories have been influenced by the electric atmosphere within its Gothic halls.
Legend has it that it all began with a book of matches, which for a town and a school founded on local tobacco fortunes, seems a promising way to start.
It was on the cover of a book of matches that Eddie Cameron and Wallace Wade first sketched out the plan for Duke's Indoor Stadium in 1935. The story may be a myth (the matchbook has never been found), but then the Indoor Stadium that emerged from those first scribblings lends itself to the propagation of myths.
For seven decades, spectators, players and coaches have understood the unique magic of the Indoor Stadium. The building was dedicated to longtime Duke Athletic Director and basketball coach Eddie Cameron, a legend in his own right, on January 22, 1972. An unranked Duke team upset then third-ranked North Carolina, 76-74, after Robby West drove the length of the court to hit a pull-up jumper to win the game.
It's the intimacy of the arena, the unique seating arrangement that puts the wildest fans right down on the floor with the players. It's the legends that were made there, the feeling of history being made with every game. And it's something more than either of these, something indescribable that comes from the building itself. No one who has experienced it will ever forget it.
Whether or not the matchbook story is true, it is a fact that the official architectural plans for the Stadium were drawn up by the Philadelphia firm of Horace Trumbauer, Architect. Trumbauer was a self-made man, a poor boy who left school at 16 to apprentice himself as a draftsman to a local architect. In 1890, at the age of 22, he opened his own office and quickly rose to prominence in the Northeast. His designs for the mansions and estates of wealthy northeastern magnates brought him to the attention of James Buchanan Duke, North Carolina tobacco baron. Duke commissioned the architect to design his New York town home during the early part of the century.
In 1924, when Duke created the $40 million Duke Endowment that turned Trinity College into Duke University, he called on Trumbauer to design the new University Campus.
In recent years it has come to light that the plans for the campus, as well as designs for later buildings including the stadium, were drawn up not by Trumbauer himself (although his name appeared on all the blueprints) but by his chief designer, Julian Abele, one of the nation's first black architects. Abele, a brilliant architecture student at the University of Pennsylvania, was brought to Trumbauer's attention shortly after his graduation in 1902. Trumbauer was so impressed with Abele's talents that he not only hired him but paid his way through the prestigious Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. Abele stands as the first African-American ever to graduate from the school.
The original design for the Indoor Stadium was significantly less grand than the one from which the building was actually constructed. That first plan called for 5,000 basketball "sittings," and even that number was considered extravagant, at least by Trumbauer, who originally had proposed 4,000 seats. In a letter to Dr. William P. Few, President of Duke, Trumbauer said: "For your information Yale has in its new gymnasium a basket ball (sic) court with settings for 1,600 ... I think the settings for 8,000 people is rather liberal ... the Palestra at the University of Pennsylvania seats 9,000."
The original building was a domed structure with 16-feet steel ceiling spans and a 90-by 45-foot playing court. Obviously, Dr. Few must have insisted on something more spectacular.
As important as the size of the Stadium was its external appearance. It was vital that the building be aesthetically integrated with the original West Campus buildings. For this reason, building stone was taken from the Duke quarry in nearby Hillsborough, N.C., where all the stone for the original campus had been found.
Building on the Stadium proceeded quickly. The stone had to be laid in temperate weather, for in extremely cold temperatures, the mortar would freeze. The building was finished in nine months.
Thus the Stadium was ready to be opened by the first of the new year, 1940. The final cost: $400,000 (which Duke finished paying after the football team won the Sugar Bowl in 1945).
Duke's new Indoor Stadium was officially opened on January 6, 1940. Touring the building before the evening ceremony and subsequent game, local city officials were "speechless." Said Chamber of Commerce President Col. Marion B. Fowler, "It is so colossal and so wonderful ... This building will not only be an asset to the university but to the entire community as well." Chamber Secretary Frank Pierson concurred, "There are no superlatives for it."
But Duke's Indoor Stadium was a structure of superlatives. The arena measured 262-feet long by 175-feet wide and was the East Coast's largest indoor stadium south of the Palestra in Philadelphia. Nine fixed steel frames spanned the ceiling at 26-foot intervals, which "provided an exceptionally good sight line." Seating for 8,800 included 3,500 folding bleacher seats on the floor designated, then as today, for the exclusive use of undergraduates. Maximum capacity was 12,000. A total of 16 ramps in the upper level helped prevent bottlenecks. It was according to the program issued the opening night, "one of the most modern and complete physical education buildings in the country."
The building was dedicated before a crowd of 8,000, the largest ever in the history of southern basketball. President William P. Few and Dean William H. Wannamaker presented the Stadium to the University. Dean R.B. House of UNC-Chapel Hill, representing the Southern Conference, also spoke. Aware of the tensions his presence as a member of a rival institution might cause, House affirmed, "I am a Methodist. I aspire to religion, I endorse erudition, and I use ... tobacco ... Hence, I claim to have good personal grounds for being a friend and well-wisher of Duke University." House continued: "... here will be on parade not only Duke University, but also ... youth ... education ... (and) the values of a great and democratic people. Modern games preserve for us the athletic glory of Greece, the executive efficiency of Rome ...."
To the greater glory of Greece, Rome, and particularly Duke University, the Blue Devils beat the visiting Princeton Tigers that night, 36-27.
It was in February, 1986, that NBC Sports commentator Dick Enberg told the world about the latest planned renovations for Cameron. "They're going to make a real sports antique out of it ... complete with brass railings and stained glass windows."
For Duke athletic officials watching the Sunday afternoon broadcast of the Duke-Georgia Tech game, this was certainly news. Planned renovations did not, as some rumors indicated, include stained glass windows, but there was a major facelift being planned which included new side walls, a new electronic scoreboard and even brass railings.
Renovations began in 1987. The lobbies and concourse were remodeled during the summer of 1987. Then, in 1988, work began on the interior of the arena. A new electronic scoreboard, new sound system and decorative wood paneling gave Cameron an updated look, while maintaining the original elegance. The addition of 750 new student seats, increasing Cameron's capacity to 9,314, gave the Cameron Crazies, the Duke students who have made a name for themselves as Duke's exceptional "sixth man," a little more room to practice the art of supporting their team creatively.
In the early 1990s, Mike Krzyzewski and Athletic Director Tom Butters decided the time was right to give Cameron an addition with new locker rooms, coaches offices, an academic center and a new Sports Hall of Fame. Several years later, ground was broken for the new Schwartz-Butters Athletic Center after the end of the 1997-98 season. That complex now houses the men's and women's basketball programs, as well as Duke's athletic academic center.
The first part of that expansion and improvement project was the installation of a new floor in Cameron Indoor Stadium after the 1996-97 season. The latest advancements in floor technology were utilized to give the Blue Devils one of the finest playing surfaces in the entire country. Prior to the 1999-2000 season, a new press row was added. Air conditioning was added in 2001-02 and for its 100th season in 2004-05, the concourse was enhanced to celebrate Duke's tradition in men's and women's basketball with the addition of poster displays and all the banners were replaced in the rafters.
Cameron underwent a series of improvements over the summer of 2009 to enhance the gameday experience, while also retaining the revered qualities of the facility as it approached its 70th year as the home of the Blue Devils.
In front of the undergrads is a new state-of-the-art press table featuring 90-feet of LED (light emitting diode) technology. The new press row will improve crowding in the first row of the student section and features two aisles that will help fans and media members in and out of their seats at halftime and after the game. One of the most visible enhancements came in the upper bowl of Cameron where all 5,649 seats were painted Duke blue in conjunction with an extensive pressure washing of the seats, concrete, railing and tunnels.
Each of the distinctive brass railings that surround the arena were refurbished prior to the beginning of the 2009-10 basketball season.
Originally the largest indoor arena in the South, Cameron is today one of the smallest in the nation. Nevertheless, its stature grows from year-to-year. Sellout crowds, top 25 rankings and championships of every variety have become the norm. The "creative harassment" of student spectators has given Duke the honor of being known as "one of the toughest road games in the USA," according to USA Today and any visiting team that has ever played in Cameron. In its June 7, 1999, issue, Sports Illustrated rated Cameron Indoor Stadium fourth on a list of the top 20 sporting venues in the world in the 20th Century, ranking ahead of such notables as Wrigley Field, Fenway Park and Pebble Beach Golf Club.
The Blue Devils have had an amazing amount of success in Cameron, winning over 80 percent of their games all-time. In 1999-2000, Duke established both the Atlantic Coast Conference and school record by extending its home winning streak to 46 games.
The Duke men’s basketball team has an all-time record in Cameron of 817-153 for an .842 win percentage. The 817 wins is the most in the ACC and the fifth-highest total in the country on a current home court. Under Coach K, the win percentage increases to .887 with a 459-58 record.
Despite the changes that have taken place, Cameron Indoor Stadium has remained very much the same over the last 70+ years. New seating, high tech electronics and a fresh coat of paint have not altered, but rather enhanced, Cameron's most enduring characteristic ... its spirit. It is still a building of superlatives.
Excerpted from "Home Court - Fifty Years of Cameron Indoor Stadium" by Hazel Landwehr.