Luther College Moment in History #75

On November 2, 1961, Preus Gymnasium burned. Here is an excerpt from Stability and Change, written by Leigh Jordahl and Harris E. Kaasa (p 125):

"It was the night of 2 November 1961. It was nearly midnight, and a family had retired for the night at Center Street, just two doors up from the city swimming pool. Suddenly, the quiet was shattered by the ringing of the telephone. It was the neighbor lady saying excitedly, “The gym is burning. Look out your rear window!” Sure enough, there was an enormous conflagration. Fanned by a strong west wind, embers from C. K. Preus Gymnasium were flying clear across the football field. Fire--the old nemesis again, the third major fire in the history of Luther College. As if the college had not been through enough trouble in the past year! Now this- the destruction of a beautiful multi-purpose structure which held so many memories for generations of Luther students, faculty, staff, and friends.

Next morning, people gathered to view the blackened ruins. Only a part of the tower remained. Oddly, an old wooden barracks right next to the gym was intact. The fire had started backstage in the west end. The back windows were open, and a west wind gusting up to forty miles per hour blew the flames through the rest of the building as through a chimney. College Chips ran a headline that read “Flaming Catastrophe Consumes Preus Gymnasium,” and told how an alarm had been turned in by a student at 11:35. Firemen were on the scene within moments but were hampered by inability to get water for thirty-five minutes, due to a lack of pressure and to the fact that some valves had not been opened. The editors commented: “A few yards from the inferno, a new building [the Union] begins to fill out its skeleton... Nevertheless, the ‘multi-purposes structure’ was a sight that Luther had come to love... Buildings can be rebuilt, but sentiments interred with the structure cannot..”

Moment 75