Thornton’s gym was made for fans to watch the game
Built in 1949 and designed by the architectural firm Burnham & Hammond, the gym at Thornton Township High School holds an impressive 4,500 spectators in it’s U-shaped bowl design. Constructed just a little more than a decade after the Wildcats reached the championship game three years in a row, starting with the 1932-33 season and ending with the 1934-35 season, Thornton took home the title in ’33 and was runner-up in latter two. Regardless, basketball season brought the crowds and this arena was built to hold them.
It’s easy to fall in love with a gym like this when you walk into this gym. Most distinctly is the fact that the majority of fans experience the gym for the first time from a top down perspective. Fans, especially students, are typically sent up one of several staircases around the gym and come out along the very last row. A complete 180 from most gyms where spectators walk past the court and up stairs to get to a seat.
Also, it may not strike you as out of the ordinary, but most high schools don’t have a built in concession stand in their gym, let alone one on each side. Thornton has two that have prep-space and sinks, it’s one of the things that makes this gym feel like it once might have been home to a semipro basketball team.
The vast majority of the gyms that have made the “best of” are older and I can’t help but feel that a big part of that has to do with homogenized gyms that became in fashion in the 1970s. Through no fault of their own, most schools have been dealing with budget restrictions as well as the rise of girls’ sports and the flexibility to host multiple sports & events. Modular or rollout bleachers, along with scorer’s tables are now the norm, where less of that was around when gyms like Thornton’s were built. Hence interesting additions and improvisations like an elevated scorer’s table.