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After Nearly 100 Years, CMU Tartans Get A New Home Gym

When Carnegie Mellon University men’s basketball coach Tony Wingen found out Fred Rogers lived in the apartments behind his home court, he knew he had an opportunity. CMU’s gym, built in 1924, wasn’t flashy or air conditioned like other colleges, so he used his famous neighbor to impress recruits.

“Regardless of what the place looks like or the fact that I have to dress it up, you're in Mr. Rogers' neighborhood,” he said.

Nearly a century after it was built, CMU began the construction process on its historic Skibo Gym this summer. The new arena is expected to open in fall 2024. While most of the building will come down, the main gym will remain.

skibo gym interior.JPG
Carnegie Mellon University Archives
Carnegie Mellon University Archives
The interior of Carnegie Mellon University's Skibo Gym circa 1945.

“Skibo has a special place in [an athlete’s] heart, and so I think we need to find a way in which we're going to capture a little bit of that history to help keep the nostalgia alive,” associate athletic director Kim Kelly said. “But at the same time, have all the brand new bells and whistles.”

Architect Henry Hornbostel designed the building with quirky architectural features for a gym, like fireplaces in office spaces, steam tunnels and more than a dozen roofs. He also designed much of the school’s original campus and prominent buildings around Pittsburgh such as the City County Building, Temple Rodef Shalom, and Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum. The gym is named for Skibo Castle in Scotland, once the home of the school’s founder Andrew Carnegie.

Skibo was special for its time, with an indoor pool and a concert stage, where prominent musicians would perform. Louis Armstrong and the Glenn Miller Orchestra held shows there, and Hillary Clinton had a rally in the gym during her 2016 presidential campaign.

Coach Wingen said in his experience, stages in college gyms are rare, and he once shared a laugh with an opposing team’s coach before the game who had a stage in their gym as well.

“I said, ‘I wonder how many schools across the country are playing tonight that each have a stage in their gym?’” Wingen said. “Then he said, ‘I hope nobody else!’”

For years, Skibo’s small gym was called the “Women’s Gym,” and the women had their own entrance into the building. The women’s locker room was a small, modest space in the basement while the men’s locker room took up a good chunk of the main level.

The name “Women’s Gym” and the separate entrance were scrapped by the 1990s, and a renovation in that decade broke up the large men’s locker room. But changing the culture took time, as Wingen notes from his early days at CMU.

“There were some old timer professors that would call and go, "Hey, can we reserve the ‘Women's Gym?’” Wingen said. “And I go, ‘Hold up. Hold up, Doc. We're not calling it the 'Women's Gym’ anymore and haven’t for a very long time.’”

Carnegie Mellon University Skibo Gym
Ashton Jones
90.5 WESA
CMU says the new gym will open in 2024.

The new space will include a main arena, a practice gym, the health and wellness center and counseling and psychological services. Teams will practice and play in the school’s Cohon University Center and at nearby colleges like Chatham University until construction is complete. While most of the original building will come down, the historic main gym will be maintained.

“It's been the home of CMU basketball for almost 100 years and and about a third of that, me,” Wingen said. “It's been a lot of fun, there's a lot of great memories there, but we're looking forward to the new building.”

Margaret Fleming is a newsroom production assistant from Chicago, IL. She's a rising junior studying journalism at Northwestern University and covers sports at the student radio station, WNUR. Margaret can be reached at mfleming@wesa.fm.