El Dorado High School Gym

The El Dorado High School Gym, located at 300 South West Avenue on the South Arkansas Community College’s West Campus at El Dorado (Union County), is an Art Deco–style recreational building designed by architect John B. Abbot and constructed in 1940 with assistance from the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a Depression-era federal relief agency. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on November 26, 2002.

The El Dorado High School campus contained a high school building and what was then the El Dorado Junior College Building when El Dorado Special School District No. 15 began seeking funds to build a gymnasium through President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal agencies during the Great Depression. After a five-year effort, the district succeeded when the WPA approved $24,518 to “construct gymnasium and perform incidental and appurtenant work” on December 21, 1939.

The El Dorado Daily News hailed the news in its January 4, 1940, issue, noting that the “new chocolate colored structure,” expected to cost around $50,000, would be built north of the junior college building. “To be 100 feet square in size, the gymnasium will house one standard size basketball court and two practice courts, all three of which will be flanked with bleachers with a seating capacity of 1,000 persons.” Designed by local architect John B. Abbot, the gym would include a vaulted ceiling so that “there will be no girders, cross bars or columns to obscure the view of fans or interfere with playing activities,” the newspaper noted, adding “in addition to eliminating unsightly supports, the arched roof will reduce the cost of the building by shortening the height of the brick, steel and concrete reinforced walls and will strengthen the structure, school officials have been assured by architects.”

Superintendent J. I. McClurken swung the first pick to break ground for the gymnasium on January 30, 1940, as the high school’s Wildcat Band played “Proudly We Hail” and “Hall of Fame,” and representatives of each class gave short speeches. Construction was completed in about nine months.

Abbot chose the Art Deco style of architecture for the El Dorado High School Gym, a design that incorporates pilasters topped by stylized concrete blocks as part of the building’s vertical emphasis. The interior is distinguished by the 100-foot spans of laminated wood in the barrel-vaulted roof; this project was the first in the state to use laminated wood.

South Arkansas Community College has received at least two grants from the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council for work on the gym. A $432,000 grant in 2002 was used to upgrade its environmental systems, repair the roof, and make the building comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). A $691,000 grant was given in 2019 to address environmental and ADA issues, while also improving the bleachers and flooring. The El Dorado High School Gymnasium continues to serve the athletic needs of students in the twenty-first century.

For additional information:
“College in El Dorado Giving 80-Year-Old Gym a $691,000 Facelift.” El Dorado News-Times, February 2, 2020. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2020/feb/02/college-in-el-dorado-giving-80-year-old/?news-arkansas (accessed August 26, 2020).

“High School Gym Project Approved.” El Dorado Daily News, January 4, 1940, p. 1, 8.

Hope, Holly. An Ambition to be Preferred: New Deal Recovery Efforts and Architecture in Arkansas, 1933–1943. Little Rock: Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, 2006. Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/News-and-Events/publications (accessed August 26, 2020).

“SouthArk Gets Funding for Work on Gymnasium.” El Dorado News-Times, May 14, 2002, p. 1.

Wilcox, Ralph S. “El Dorado Junior College Building—Additional Documentation.” National Register of Historic Places registration form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/National-Register-Listings/PDF/UN0112.nr.pdf (accessed August 26, 2020).

“Work Started on High School Gym.” El Dorado Daily News, January 30, 1940, p. 6, col. 3.

WPA Central Office Files, 1939–1942, Ala.–Arkansas, Roll 2. Arkansas State Archives, Little Rock, Arkansas.

Mark Christ
Central Arkansas Library System

Last Updated: 08/26/2020