|Dr. Livingston W. Houston Field House|
|Location|| Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute|
|Opened||October 13, 1949|
|Surface||200x85 ft (hockey)|
|Former names||RPI Field House (1949-78)|
|Tenants||RPI Engineers men's hockey (NCAA, 1949-present)</br> RPI Engineers woman's hockey (NCAA, 1976-present)</br> Capital District Selects (EJHL, 1995-present)</br> Capital District Islanders (AHL), 1990-1993)|
Houston Field House is the name of the multi-purpose arena/venue on the campus of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, New York. It is the second oldest arena in the ECAC Hockey League behind Princeton University's Hobey Baker Memorial Rink. Until the opening of the Times Union Center in Albany in 1990, it was the largest arena in the Capital District.
Popular legend holds that Houston Field House was previously an airplane or Airship hangar for the United States armed forces during World War II. In reality, it originated as a warehouse for the United States Navy in Davisville, Rhode Island.
Following the war, the federal government established the Veterans Education Facilities Program (VEFP) to help colleges build facilities to handle the increased enrollment of veterans returning from the war. One aspect of the VEFP was to offer buildings designated as "war surplus" to colleges and academic institutions who applied for them.
Originally, the RPI Board of Trustees, led by then-RPI President Dr. Livingston W. Houston, sought a hangar from the VEFP in order to establish a "sports-civic arena" for the RPI campus and the city of Troy. Unfortunately, hangars were not considered "war surplus." An investigation sponsored by the Board of Trustees discovered the warehouse facility in Rhode Island and applied under the VEFP to bring it to campus, despite the fact that its original design was not satisfactory for the creation of an arena.
The VEFP underwrote both the cost of transporting the warehouse from Davisville to Troy and the cost to reassemble it upon its arrival. RPI, however, spent nearly $500,000 on its own to redesign the warehouse to its own specifications, including the re-fabrication of initial materials and the purchase of new materials.
Construction was originally planned to be completed by June 1948, however, inclement weather throughout the project pushed completion back 16 months to October 1949. On October 13, Houston officially opened the building as the RPI Field House as part of a ceremony honoring the Institute's 125th anniversary.
A month later, on November 12, 1949, the RPI Field House hosted its first event, an Interfraternity Ball. On December 3, 1949, the first sporting event in the Field House's history took place as RPI defeated the New York State Maritime Academy 55-43 in basketball.
A large impetus for the construction of the Field House was to create a home for the school's ice hockey team, which had played its first games in 1901 at Van Schaick Pond in nearby Cohoes, NY, and later played in various other locations in Cohoes and Albany, NY. From 1912 to 1938 (with the exception of 1937), the team played on an outdoor rink built every winter on campus along Sage Avenue, at the current location of Anderson Field. After the 1938 season, the team went into hiatus. Houston, an RPI alumnus who played hockey for RPI during his school years, originally sought to build the Field House as a means of returning hockey to campus. On January 10, 1950, the "Engineers" under legendary head coach Ned Harkness played their first game at home since 1938, dropping an 8-2 contest to Middlebury. However, and possibly thanks largely in part to the construction of the Field House, Harkness would lead the Engineers to an NCAA championship only four years later in 1954.
On December 27, 1951], the Field House hosted the first annual RPI Invitational Tournament. The first tournament featured 8 schools playing 12 games over three days, and was won by Brown University. The following year, the tournament was cut to 4 teams playing a round-robin schedule over 3 days, which remained the tournament's format until 1982, when it gained a 2nd-day consolation game/championship game format. Today the RPI Invitational is the nation's oldest in-season invitational tournament in college hockey.
In March 1959, the Field House hosted the NCAA tournament known today as the Frozen Four. North Dakota won its first of several NCAA championships, defeating Michigan State, Boston College, and St. Lawrence. Three of the tournament's four games went into overtime.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the RPI Field House was often referred to as "The Madison Square Garden of Upstate New York". In its first two decades, it played host to more than 300 theatrical and musical events, countless hockey games, and several commencement ceremonies.
As the popularity of hockey grew, tickets became hot items among students. Owing to its origins as a military warehouse, most views were obstructed at at least some angle between the rink and the seats due to large support columns that held up the Field House's roof. This led to the birth of what is known simply as "hockey line." Groups of people - usually members of various fraternities and sororities - take a place outside of the RPI Student Union building. Traditionally, the line began sometime during late July or early August prior to the beginning of Fall classes and continued until tickets went on sale in mid-September. People in line are allowed to buy up to eight tickets and can have people hold their place in line while they eat or go to class. Students set up beds, couches, television sets, and, more recently, computers and video games to pass the time as someone occupies each place in line on a 24 hour basis.
Following the Engineers' 1985 national championship victory, the Epsilon Iota chapter of the Psi Upsilon fraternity set a hockey line record by beginning the line on the very next day - March 31, 1985 - and continuing the line through the summer until tickets went on sale on September 25, 1985 — besting the previous record of 33 days with 178 days.
Renovation and rejuvenationEdit
In 1978, a new tradition started that continues today - the annual Big Red Freakout! event. This event fills the Field House with thousands of screaming fans, and there is a giveaway each year.
Following Houston's death later that year, the Institute announced at the 1978 Commencement ceremonies that the RPI Field House would be known as Houston Field House in honor of Livingston W. Houston, president of RPI from 1943 to 1958.
1983 brought several changes to the Field House. The Institute spent $2.5 million to renovate the building during the summer, including a support renovation which allowed the removal of all but four of the columns which had given rise to "hockey line." New scoreboards were installed, and the ice surface was lengthened to a full NHL size. In 1984, the NCAA tournament returned to Houston Field House for the first time since 1959 as the Engineers took on North Dakota. The Fighting Sioux, coming in as heavy underdogs, upset the homestanding Engineers on consecutive nights, ending the Engineers national title hopes. The next season, the Field House would host its final two NCAA tournament games as RPI dispatched Lake Superior State on their way to their second NCAA championship. Today's NCAA tournament games all take place at neutral ice sites with a minimum capacity higher than that of the Field House.
The 1987 Big Red Freakout! event featured plastic horns as the giveaway. These horns made Houston Field House reverberate with noise - so much noise, in fact, that the evening's opponent, Brown, filed a complaint with the NCAA. In turn, this led to the creation of what is today known as "the RPI rule" nationwide, which prohibits fans from bringing artificial noisemakers into NCAA events.
In 1990, the New York Islanders of the NHL moved their primary minor-league team to Houston Field House, naming them the Capital District Islanders. "CDI" played in the American Hockey League from 1990 to 1993. In 1993, the Capital District Islanders withdrew from the AHL, and became the Salt Lake Golden Eagles of the International Hockey League. The Albany River Rats moved into town to play at the Knick/Pepsi/Times Union Center, as the former Utica Devils from the AHL.
The RPI women's hockey team, a club team beginning in 1976, hosted the AWCHA national women's club championship at Houston Field House in 1994, winning the national championship, and in 1995, when they finished in 3rd. The team became a varsity program later that year, and joined their male counterparts in NCAA's Division I in 2005.
During the 1998-1999 hockey season, a new four-sided scoreboard was added to the center of the Field House, replacing the scoreboards on the eastern and western walls.
Houston Field House todayEdit
Today, the Houston Field House seats 4,780 for hockey games, and remains the largest capacity in the ECAC Hockey League despite a decrease from its capacity of 5,217 in 2008. Its modern function is primarily as a home for the RPI men's and women's hockey teams to compete and practice, though several skating clubs also call the Field House home. The Capital District Selects of the Eastern Junior Hockey League (EJHL) also practice and compete at Houston Field House.
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