Preus Gymnasium was dedicated on Oct. 14, 1926 by Thaddeus F. Gullixson (class of 1903) thanks to the donations from students and alumni as well as the new endowment fund. The old gymnasium had ceased to function for a college with new athletic goals and a rising number of students. Located to the north of Main II, Preus Gymnasium stood as the home point for many Luther students (LC 217).
The idea of a gym was furnished by the administration of Oscar Olson who worked closely with architect Charles H. Altfillisch. They needed a structure that would serve the college not only as a gymnasium but also as an auditorium and social center. To match the rest of the campus at this time it was decided that the ediface would be of brick with Bedford stone trim. Athletics were on the rise after physical education was added as a course in 1889 and the ban of intercollegiate football was lifted in 1919 (LC 145, 235).
When the idea was first proposed a letter was sent to all alumni of the college asking for donation. Reprinted in College Chips the letter focused on the past achievements of Alumni drives and emphaized the reason a gym was needed. At the end it encouraged the students to help: "That the gymnasium is needed, is freely admitted; that Luther men and friends can build it, no one will deny" (Chips, 1924). The alumni and friends raised $220,000. To help the Decorah Chamber of Commerce raised $26,000. Yet this still wasn't enough and an additional $100,000 was borrowed from the new endowment fund (LC 217).
Construction began in 1926 and began to shape a multi-functional building. The gymnasium contained a full basketball court, an indoor practice rink for track runners, a small turning room (gymnastics), full locker room facilities, an area open for a swimming pool, and art classrooms. On one side, the basement floor was kept as dirt and used by the baseball team for indoor practice. Also located in the building was the radio station KWLC. Offices were added because of the now rising need for full time coaches who had only been hesitantly hired previously due to the use of professors as coaches (LC 217, 235). The building was named after the second president of Luther College, C. K. Preus. The motto "Mens sana in corpore sano" (a sound mind in a sound body) was inscribed on the side (Stability, 83).
In 1942 the administration authorized the remodeling of Preus Gymnasium in an effort to improve facilities. This decision came none to soon as in that same year the second Main building burned down. After the loss of numerous classrooms, the gymnasium became the center of campus. During the remodeling, finished very quickly after the fire, the bottom floor was changed into a women's gym. The area originally set aside for a pool became four classrooms; the turning room and the second floor tower also became classrooms to fill the new need. In 1947 roll-away bleachers were installed in the main gym area.
On November 2, 1961 at 11:35 pm the alarm was raised by student Chuck Yount and by 11:45 freshman student LeRoy Roesti, who had been working in the KWLC studio, escaped the now burning building (Chips 1961). The fire had begun backstage in the west end on a night with 40 mph west wind gusts (Stability, 125). Firefighters from Decorah, Waukon, Cresco, Ossian, and Calmar rushed to the scene but were unable to start until 35 minutes later due to a lack of water pressure. By then, the whole building was in flames and efforts were focused on keeping the other campus buildings from catching fire (Stability, 125). In the morning all that remained were charred, twisted metal beams and piles of brick. Only one tower was still standing but surprisingly the wooden barracks right next to the building was unharmed (Stability, 125). This loss created a serious problem for the class schedule but efforts were quickly made to make full use of the new Main building as well as Valders Hall of Science.
Nelson, David T., Luther College 1861-1961, Luther College Press, Decorah: 1961.
Jordahl, Leigh D. and Harris E. Kaasa, Stability and Change: Luther College in Its Second Century, Luther College Press, Decorah: 1986.
Oct. 15, 1924 Vol. 41, No. 13
Nov. 3, 1961 Vol. 79, No. 8