–The Pioneer Dome at St. Francis de Sales High School, part of Illinois’ Best High School Gyms series, April, 2022. (Photo by Vincent D. Johnson)

A somewhat forgotten Catholic League gem tucked-away on the East Side of Chicago, with a secret hidden under the school.

St. Francis de Sales High School sits practically under the shadow of the Chicago Skyway, in the oddly named East Side neighborhood (outside of Hegwisch it is one of the furthest south neighborhoods in Chicago).

The school has been a fixture in the area since 1893, when it was started by an order of nuns from Joliet and run by them until 1962 when the Diocese of Chicago took over. While it did offer high school level classes at first, it wouldn’t be a proper four-year high school until 1937. As with much of America, the Baby Boom after World War II brought about the need for an expansion and in 1958 the building most now know as St. Francis de Sales High was completed along with the gym.

As with most things in a large city that had already been developed for over a century, finding land was a big issues in the 1950s. The parcel of land the school sits on is directly across the street from the original school and church. Which still stands just south of the current building on 102nd St. The land however was home to a community roller skating rink and a deal was made that the school could build on the land, but the new school would have to include a roller rink that would be made available to the public.

Though roller skating fell out of fashion, the rink is still in place in the basement of school, possibly under the gym, but currently is used as a storage area so I wasn’t able to photograph it during my visit.

The loud speakers in the gym at St. Francis de Sales, almost look older than the building which was completed in 1958. Part of Illinois’ Best High School Gyms series, April 2022. (Photo by Vincent D. Johnson)
The Pioneers had a nice run in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s as a threat on the court. Part of Illinois’ Best High School Gyms series. (Photo by Vincent D. Johnson)
Future NBA player Eric Anderson, led deSales to an AA 2nd place finish in 1987-88 season. Losing to three-peat Lincoln High of East St. Louis. Part of Illinois’ Best High School Gyms series. (Photo by Vincent D. Johnson)

A Dome Like No Other

St. Francis de Sales isn’t the only school to have a concave or domed ceiling (arching up), but what really stands out is that only includes the section directly above the court. The reaming parts of the gym ceiling are at an incline above the seating areas. This design wouldn’t seem as interesting if it weren’t for the fact that there is no seating on the court level and all the bleachers are on a balcony that starts about 12 feet about the court. Meaning that in just about every row of the bleachers you are just as close to the ceiling as the row behind you.

There are only minor obstructions of the near sidelines of the court, but fans in the mid-to-upper rows have no view of the opposing team’s fan section, which may limit some of the back-and-fourth from student section in the Catholic League.

The flat cement ceiling ending at a brick wall acts as a giant reverberator of sound during games.

The Pioneer Dome has an odd ceiling arrangement, it is concave over the court, but has a separate declining ceiling over the bleachers. Part of Illinois’ Best High School Gyms series. (Photo by Vincent D. Johnson)
The schools shield and motto are painted onto the wall behind one of the baskets. Part of Illinois’ Best High School Gyms series. (Photo by Vincent D. Johnson)(Photo copyright of Vincent D. Johnson)

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