Tucson Historic Sports Venues and Artifacts: McKale Memorial Center from 1919-1973

NOTE: The 20th in a series of tracking down lost or forgotten sports venues, trophies and artifacts in the Old Pueblo.


Tucson Realty and Trust Co. advertised homes in what was called “Rincon Heights” in October of 1919. The boundaries were Hawthorne Street to the north (cutting through the tennis courts, the Hillenbrand softball stadium right field fence and north of the Flandrau Planetarium), Campbell Avenue to the east, 8th Street to the south and Cherry Avenue to the west (the football stadium east addition).

(Tucson Citizen ad Oct. 19, 1919)

Over 400 homes were advertised and about three full blocks of homes still remain between 7th and 8th Streets. Water mains were installed in 1921 and roads were improved in 1922. As a sign of the times, the lots were part of a “restricted select home community.”

An unknown photographer took this photo of Bear Down Gym in 1929. As you can see, homes dotted the area east of Cherry at the time.

Meanwhile, built in 1903, Herring Hall served as Arizona’s gymnasium long before Gittings Gym, Bear Down Gym and McKale Center and it housed Pop McKale’s first office. Plus, it was the only gym in Tucson with running water for showers.

It was the Men’s Gymnasium (1903 – 1925) and it housed the Women’s Physical Education program (1925 – 1937) before Bear Down was built in 1926. Arizona beat Tempe Teachers College in the first game in Bear Down 29-18 on Jan. 21, 1927.

The Navy took control of Bear Down from 1942-1945 so the gym at Tucson High School was the official home for the Wildcats at that time. The 81-game win streak at Bear Down started in 1945 and ended in 1951.

Bear Down Gym. (Andy Morales/AllSportsTucson)

Funds for McKale were cut from the state budget in 1966. Talks of $4.5 million moved along in 1967 and the Regents approved naming the facility after Pop McKale. Governor Jack Williams cut funding in half for the arena in 1968. University of Arizona officials began to discuss using the TCC for home games for the 1971-72 season with private bids for construction coming at over $7 million.

An additional $4 million was allocated by the state legislature in 1970 and the M. M. Sundt Corporation began construction. Fred Snowden was hired on March 21, 1972, two weeks after Bruce Larson resigned. A Tartan court was installed ($60,000) on. Jan. 16, 1973 and tickets for the last five home games were put on sale for $18. Wyoming (Feb. 1), Colorado State (Feb. 3), ASU (Feb. 17), Utah (Feb. 23) and BYU (Feb. 24).

Tucson Citizen. (Jan. 30, 1973)

Arizona defeated Wyoming 87-69 on Thursday, Feb.1, 1973 in front of the biggest crowd to watch a basketball in the state of Arizona.

Larson went on to teach hundreds of future educators in McKale Center in both basketball and handball/racquetball. (There were five handball courts at McKale). He passed away in 2021.

Snowden led Arizona to an Elite 8 appearance in 1976 and he resigned in January of 1982. He passed away in 1994.

Arizona had a 71-game win streak in McKale from 1987-1992.

Builder H. Wilson Sundt passed away in May of 2008. His daughter, Perri Touche, coached Salpointe to six state tennis championships from 2004-2011.

McKale Center also served as a local concert venue with acts such as Ringo Starr, Stevie Wonder, Don Henley, Stevie Nicks, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Howard Jones, Bob Seger, Dan Fogelberg, Fleetwood Mac, Barry Manilow, Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, James Taylor, Jimmy Buffet, Garth Brooks, Kanye West and Van Halen.

Rincon Heights today has boundaries of 6th Street to the north, Campbell to the east, Broadway to the south and Park Ave to the west.


Named one of “Arizona’s Heart & Sol” by KOLD and Casino del Sol, Andy Morales was recognized by the AIA as the top high school reporter in 2014, he was awarded the Ray McNally Award in 2017 and a 2019 AZ Education News recognition. He was a youth, high school and college coach for over 30 years. He was the first in Arizona to write about high school beach volleyball and high school girls wrestling and his unique perspective can only be found here and on AZPreps365.com. Andy is a Southern Arizona voting member of the Ed Doherty Award, recognizing the top football player in Arizona, and he was named a Local Hero by the Tucson Weekly for 2016. Andy was named an Honorary Flowing Wells Caballero in 2019, became a member of the Sunnyside Los Mezquites Cross Country Hall of Fame in 2021 and he was a member of the Amphi COVID-19 Blue Ribbon Committee. He earned a Distinguished Service Award from Amphitheater and he was recognized by City Councilman Richard Fimbres. Contact Andy Morales at amoralesmytucson@yahoo.com

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