Construction on what is now known as Williams Arena was started in 1927 and completed in 1928, when it was dedicated as the University of Minnesota Field House. It cost $650,000 and initially had a seating capacity of 14,100 with bleacher and standing room expansion to 16,000. The original building housed basketball and winter football practice facilities. When the basketball season was completed, the portable floor was taken out and replaced by a pair of tennis courts and an indoor track.
The building was remodeled in 1950. Renamed in honor of Dr. Henry L. Williams, U of M football coach from 1900 to 1921, it was divided into a hockey arena on one end and a basketball arena with a seating capacity of 18,025 on the other. From 1950 until 1971, it had the largest capacity of any collegiate basketball arena in the country. The capacity has been reduced to 14,625 in recent years due to renovation, fire-code restrictions and handicapped-seating construction. Following the 1991-92 season, the renovation of Williams Arena began as part of a $41 million project for on-campus sports facilities. The first phase was completed in time for the 1992-93 season opener. The men's locker room, training room, weight facilities, spacious offices and team meeting rooms were updated. The locker room was named in honor of former Golden Gopher coach Ozzie Cowles through the more than $100,000 in gifts from many of his former players.
The east end addition is highlighted by the Williams Arena Club on the third floor. The Club overlooks the floor and can hold parties of up to 200 fans, adding another touch of class to an already classy arena. The second phase of the renovation project was completed during the summer of 1993. It included the installation of theater-style seats, the widening of concourse areas and the addition of both concession areas and women's restrooms.
A large portion of the renovation was financed by private gifts, including those to the successful $5.5 million sports-facilities campaign, and by the generous participation of fans through the assured-seating program.
In the summer of 1997, 21 barn lofts above the second deck were built. The lofts offer a spectacular birds-eye view of the court with luxury amenities. The $2.3 million project added 304 seats to the capacity, raising it to 14,625.
Most recently, with the emergence of Golden Gopher women's basketball, the program moved from the Sports Pavilion into Williams Arena to better support its increased fan base. Minnesota ranked fifth nationally in attendance during the 2004-05 season. Recent renovations for the women’s basketball program include a new locker room for the team and coaching staff, as well as a new athletic training facility and team room.
During the summer of 2009, the original floor of the arena was replaced at a cost of approximately $600,000. The floor was extended as well and new baskets were purchased.
Directions to the Williams Arena:
Williams Arena is located on the East Bank of the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus, on University Ave. SE between Oak St. and 19th Ave. SE across from the University Aquatic Center.
Going South on I-35W: Take exit 18, the University of Minnesota East Bank exit. Follow the University of Minnesota signs, and turn left on University Ave. SE. Williams Arena will be about 10 blocks down University and on the left.
Going North on I-35W: Take exit 17C, the University of Minnesota exit. Follow the University of Minnesota East Bank signs which will lead to Washington Ave. Take Washington over the river and through campus to Oak St. SE (4th stoplight) and turn left. Take Oak to University Ave. Williams Arena will be on the left.
Going East or West on I-94: Take the University of Minnesota east bank exit (Huron Blvd). Follow Huron Blvd to Oak St SE. Williams Arena will be on the left.
From Mpls/St. Paul International Airport: Take I-494 Westbound and exit onto northbound I-35W. Follow I-35W directions (above).