The beginning of the end has begun for G. Rollie White Coliseum, where more than 200,000 Texas A&M University students received their diplomas and what was the site for hundreds of basketball games over the span of nearly six decades.
The proverbial wrecking crew is coming soon to tear down the venerable campus landmark. That wrecking crew is coming so that more Aggies and others can in the future watch, ideally from the Aggie perspective, The Wrecking Crew and an equally high-octane offensive unit wreak havoc on their football foes.
While the expansion of Kyle Field represents the final nail in the coffin of the 59-year-old coliseum, its future has been increasingly bleak since the 1998 opening of Reed Arena, where many former G. Rollie White-hosted events are now held, including graduation and basketball and volleyball games.
In recent years, the coliseum and the adjacent Read Building have primarily been used for offices and activities of the Health and Kinesiology Department. With the opening this fall of a new physical education building that will serve many of the remaining functions formerly carried out at G. Rollie White, its fate is sealed.
Plans call for the coliseum to be vacated no later than Aug. 2, with the first phase of the dismantling of the facility to begin in mid-August, notes Matt Fry, who serves as chief of staff for President R. Bowen Loftin and is helping coordinate pre-demolition activities during the final days of the facility. Full-scale demolition is set to start by the end of August, he adds.
“It’s sad to see G. Rollie go by the boards, especially for those of us who received our diplomas there and enjoyed countless basketball and volleyball games,” notes Fry, a 1996 Texas A&M graduate, “but the hard, cold fact is the facility has outlived its usefulness—no longer filling the purposes for which the decision was made to build it more than 60 years ago.”
“G. Rollie,” as it’s fondly been called for decades, will be the most significant building to pass from the Aggieland scene since Guion Hall, which served for decades as the university’s main auditorium, fell to the wrecking ball in 1971. As is the case with G. Rollie, Guion Hall gave way to progress, with the Rudder Theatre Complex located on its former site. A few other structures, including Bagley Hall and Goodwin Hall, along with three northside residence halls, have since been demolished, but none of them rose to “landmark” rank in the eyes of most Aggies.
A few other notable old buildings, including the Memorial Student Center and the YMCA Building, were not only spared but were significantly expanded and refurbished. Rather than being demolished, they were spared and enhanced because they still served essential functions—in addition to being major landmarks—whereas G. Rollie and Guion Hall were doomed because other facilities were built to take over their basic functions.
In addition to being the main arena for graduation and other formal or entertainment purposes, as well as for basketball games, G. Rollie in its early days was headquarters for many members of the Athletic Department, who have long since moved elsewhere on campus.
The last athletics hurrah for the “Holler House on the Brazos” was an off-season volleyball game played there because of a scheduling conflict at Reed Arena. That’s a far cry from G. Rollie’s heyday when it was the venue for an estimated 600 basketball games, at times played before stands packed so tightly that a visit by the fire marshal was a real concern.
The “Holler House on the Brazos” tag harkens back to the coliseum’s reputation during Southwest Conference days for being especially loud during basketball games, thanks to pumped-up Aggies yelling for their team in G. Rollie’s especially cozy confines, much to the consternation of opposing teams and their coaches.
The name of Shelby Metcalf is almost synonymous with that of G. Rollie White Coliseum. Metcalf held court there for more than three decades and contributed mightily to the facility earning the “Holler House” tag. Aggies were still just getting used to the then still-new facility when he arrived in 1958 to begin a 32-year coaching stint—the first five coaching the freshman team and then 27 as head coach of the varsity squad. He went on to become the longest-serving coach in Southwest Conference history ““ and the one with the most wins. His won-lost record, however, was more than matched by his wit, with him enthralling sports writers and their readers for years on end. During his reign, Metcalf also earned a Ph.D., a coaching rarity. The title for his dissertation: “Crowd Behavior at Southwest Conference Games”—a topic for which he classified as an expert.
Approximately 220,000 Aggies received their diplomas at G. Rollie. Some were treated to addresses of historic significance, among them the May 1989 speech by former President George Bush that had far-reaching diplomatic and national-defense implications. That visit to Aggieland, along with his 1984 spring commencement address when he was vice president—and the enthusiastic receptions given to him on both occasions—perhaps figured prominently in his decision to locate his presidential library on the Texas A&M campus. Vice President Gerald Ford gave the spring 1974 commencement address shortly before he succeeded then President Richard Nixon. Every Texas governor who was in office while G. Rollie was the site for graduation ceremonies spoke there at least once, as did many higher education pillars and Fortune 500 CEOs, among others.
Consensus is, the most memorable and enthusiastically received G. Rollie commencement addresses—yes, addresses—were delivered by an individual with seemingly questionable credentials, namely being an ardent UT graduate. That would be Lynn Ashby, a highly popular columnist for the now-defunct Houston Post. His August 1977 address was so well received that he was invited back for an encore at the May commencement in 1983. Copies of his 1977 address were requested by Aggies and others—including other journalists—for months thereafter.
Other memorable moments? With the thousands upon thousands of Aggies getting handed their diplomas on the G. Rollie stage, thousands of heartwarming and overcoming-adversity stories unfolded and came to a climax there. Longtime Registrar Don Carter, now retired, recalls two in particular. In one instance, the bed-ridden mother of a young woman receiving her degree was brought to the ceremonies at the fervent request of the daughter. The other instance involved a proposed public proposal of marriage following presentation of degrees to a would-be future groom and his would-be future bride. Carter normally nixed such requests because they tended to disrupt the normal flow of the ceremonies. He relented when he learned that, by sheer coincidence, the young man and woman were to receive their degrees one immediately after the other—a one-in-a thousand-or-so possibility. Perhaps thinking that providential, Carter gave the request by the young man a “thumbs-up,” but he still insisted the young man get his diploma and wait at the bottom of the stage to propose. Since thousands of eyes were glued on the proceedings, the young man undoubtedly breathed a sigh of relief when the object of his affection said “yes.”
In addition to being used for commencement exercises, basketball and volleyball games and concerts, G. Rollie was the venue for several historic events. One was the March 25, 1970 memorial services for Gen. Earl Rudder, who died while still serving as president of Texas A&M and whose funeral attracted a host of dignitaries, including former President Lyndon B. Johnson. Other memorable events there included the university’s centennial convocation in 1976 and the inaugurations of university presidents, including that of Jack K. Williams and Jarvis Miller.
Then there were the concerts that rocked G. Rollie—rock concerts by some of the top groups of their day, along with country-and-western performances that packed the facility to its 7,000-8,000 capacity, depending on configuration for the event at hand.
Current students, recent graduates and visitors to the campus during the 2010-12 era undoubtedly know the coliseum primarily as the temporary location for the campus bookstore while the Memorial Student Center was closed for expansion and major renovation. Racks for t-shirts and other gift items stood where basketballers of yester-years launched hook shots and three-pointers.
The coliseum bears the name of a 1895 Texas A&M graduate from Brady who served on the institution’s then board of directors (now board of regents) for nearly three decades—from 1926 until 1955—serving for several years as chairman of the board.
So, it’s going, going and soon to be gone for iconic G. Rollie White Coliseum—gone but not soon to be forgotten.
Media Contact: Lane Stephenson, News & Information Services, at (979) 845-4662