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NC State

Construction on the Carmichael Gymnasium began in 1959

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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

A week without demolition projects means a week without Teardown Tuesday. Sad! Instead, we’re going to run the always-reliable backup feature, which takes a look at the history of a significant or interesting building in Raleigh.

Construction on the Carmichael Gymnasium began in 1959

NC State

Construction on the Carmichael Gymnasium began in 1959

Today’s subject is none other than the Carmichael Gymnasium at NC State. I was originally going to write about the university’s bell-less Bell Tower, but Goodnight Raleigh already did a pretty great write-up on that, so no need to rehash.

One thing about this building that caught my attention was that it reminded me of the Biltmore Estate out in Asheville, where there’s an old, early 20th-century gym and indoor swimming pool inside the house. Something about old gym equipment just looks cool; who knows why.

The Carmichael Gymnasium was built long after the Biltmore estate, with work starting in 1959. It was named in honor of William Donald Carmichael who was “vice president of the Consolidated University during the 1940s.”

Carmichael was kind of a scary-looking dude

North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives

Carmichael was kind of a scary-looking dude

Carmichael accomplished a lot in his 61 years; he played basketball at UNC Chapel Hill and graduated with a degree in business administration. He moved to New York City to work as an advertising executive and stockbroker. He returned to North Carolina, and during his tenure as Vice President, he “supported funding for the completion of the gymnasium, Reynolds Coliseum, a state educational TV system, Burlington Laboratories’ nuclear reactor, and the William Neal Reynolds Professorships.”

Interestingly enough, one of his favorite terms was “imagineering.” Although made famous by Walt Disney in later years, the term first came to prominence in the early 1940s.

A search of Google’s nGram service shows the term seems to have emerged in about 1942, when Alcoa Engineering began using the phrase in their advertising materials. The ads were found in magazines ranging from Aviation Week and Space Technology to the Michigan Technic.

According to common sense and backed up by Wikipedia, Walt Disney trademarked the term “imagineering” in 1967, claiming first use in 1962. That sly devil.

It’s hard to say whether there was any imagineering-level design work on the original Carmichael Gymnasium, but many of the photos in the archives were quite striking, and are included below.


The original facility was a 345,329 square-foot complex that housed everything from racquetball and basketball courts to an indoor swimming pool, formally known as a natatorium. Apparently the Latin word for swim is natare.

According to an old postcard, the natatorium was 25 yards by 25 meters in size and used for “intercollegiate competition as well as physical education instruction and intramurals.”

A postcard of the natatorium

A postcard of the natatorium

In 1987, an Olympic-sized swimming pool was added adjacent to the existing natatorium.

Another postcard from the early 1960s, said the Carmichael complex contained “the finest facilities available. The new gym is a hub of activity involving physical education instruction, intramurals, and general relaxation.”

A postcard from the 1960s

A postcard from the 1960s


In 2007, the 42,000 Carmichael Recreational Center, was added to the complex.

The University naturally has a website for this new facility, and looking through the list of features the space now boasts, I can’t help but wonder what students from the 1960s would’ve thought of “fitness assessment rooms” or a “cardio theater!”

Here are some of the features now offered at the Carmichael Recreation Center:

  • 10,000 sq. ft. Fitness Center
  • Outdoor Adventures Equipment Rental Center
  • Fitness Suite
  • Four Fitness Studios
  • Fitness Assessment Room
  • Plasma Screen TV’s and Cardio Theatre
  • Stretching Area

I remember the main student gym at my alma matter, the University of Delaware, had something like 10 treadmills in the entire facility. Most days, unless you got there very early in the morning, you had to put your name on a waiting list.

I imagine that’s not a problem for students at N.C. State, or any of the hundreds of colleges that have sunk millions of dollars into making their student’s lives as comfortable as possible. Is this a good or a bad thing? Well, this is how students *used* to dress for class, before they had personal fitness studios and cardio theaters. So you be the judge.

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