SHEBOYGAN – Sheboygan’s armory has been missing for over a year now. Its sturdy concrete structure is missing from the city’s lakeside, and all that remains now are the memories.
In 1940, the Armory was eagerly awaited by the inhabitants of the city. On May 13, 1940, the city’s municipal council petitioned the Works Progress Administration to approve the construction of a municipal armory and auditorium.
According to a 1942 Sheboygan news clipping by Katie Reilly at the Sheboygan County Historical Research Center, when the quarter-million-dollar, 3,500-seat armory was first opened, it was said that the building ended long efforts to secure a proper armory and community auditorium facilities here.
Shortly thereafter, the September 1942 city council chose a place by approving the former location of Freyberg Lumber. The following month, Edgar A. Stubenrauch’s designs were selected by the board for the new armory.
The WPA gave the green light to the project on December 7, 1940. It was one year to the day before the attack on Pearl Harbor and the country’s entry into World War II. WPA projects helped the nation recover from the Great Depression.
On January 13, 1941, Sheboygan officials handed over shovels of dirt to give the official start of the project.
In May 1942, the first event for the public was announced in the Sheboygan press. The Mammoth Olympia Indoor Circus, which just came out of a performance at Chicago’s stadium, reportedly put on 14 big acts. Chicago Stadium was originally the home of the city’s NHL hockey team and was demolished in 1994.
Advertised ticket prices were 55 cents for adults and 28 cents for children with a slightly higher amount of $1.10 for reserved seating.
The acts included bicycle acts, a bear act, an aerial act and clowns with other additional attractions.
The Armory was also home to a professional Sheboygan basketball team during the early years of the National Basketball Association. In 1950, Sheboygan had the smallest facility in NBA history, according to historian Brian Gaynor.
It’s not like Sheboygan didn’t try to have a great NBA team. According to Gaynor, on March 10, 1950, player Jack Phelan scored a season-high 15 points in Sheboygan’s 141-104 rout of the Denver Nuggets at the Armory. Sheboygan set eight NBA records in that game, including total points and 51 assists per team until the Chicago Bulls passed him in 1971. Phelan, the last surviving NBA player from Sheboygan, would die at age 95 in 2021.
The Armory was a hot spot for basketball even after the pros left town. The Sheboygan North vs. Sheboygan South matches were highly anticipated matches at the facility. These games would continue until 2007, when new lands to the north and south closed off this part of Sheboygan’s history.
With the building’s future uncertain, many things were attempted to save the structure, including Rockets for Schools, which brought many space exhibits to the Armory floor.
Blood drives and Hmong New Year events were held at the facility until the city decided to close it. Age and lack of maintenance have also cursed the building, making it far too expensive to renovate.
When the building closed, it still had one of the original Kewaunee boilers converted to natural gas in service.
Demolition began in July 2020 and by the end of that year the large concrete building was no more.
To see the larger image, click here.
RELATED – VIDEO: Watch the demolition of the armory and hear the memories of the citizens
RELATED – Sheboygan Press photographer recalls his experience at the Armory
RELATED –Sheboygan Armory proceeds to demolition