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Nicholson Pavilion’s unique architecture and history

Cody Spencer, Staff Reporter - February 20, 2013

Central Washington University is well-known for its history of dominance in college athletics. Nicholson Pavilion has been home to multiple Wildcat sports teams for over half a century.

The building was named after Leo Nicholson, who began coaching basketball at Central (then called Washington State Normal School) in 1929. For 35 years, he was head coach of basketball and an assistant coach for both baseball and football.

Leo’s penchant for winning quickly established a tradition at Central. As stated in the 1933 Campus Crier, Washington State Normal School’s student newspaper, “The word champion means practically nothing to students and townspeople, since winning had ‘become a habit’ under a Nicholson-coached team.”

Nicholson amassed over 500 wins during his basketball tenure before handing his coaching duties to his son, Dean, who is the namesake of Nicholson Pavilion’s adjoining boulevard.

Dean Nicholson continued his father’s winning tradition until 1990. When Dean retired, he and his father had 1,114 combined wins - the most out of any father/son coaching combination in the history of college basketball. Dean was inducted into the State of Washington Sports Hall of Fame in January 2010.

The venue that encompasses this story is one of the most unique and recognizable sports facilities in the nation.

Constructed in 1959 and opened in 1960, “The Pav” has been a prominent Ellensburg landmark for generations of students and community members alike. With its self-supporting system of suspended cables, the building seems to be an exception to the general rules of physics.

“When I was a kid,” said Rocky Hively, Assistant Curator at the Kittitas County Historical Museum and lifelong Ellensburg resident, “I saw the pillars and thought it was something out of Star Trek.”

Nicholson Pavilion’s space-age features are the creation of architect Ralph H. Burkhard, who was also the architect for Highline Community College in Des Moines, Wash. Burkhard won an award from the Seattle Institute of Architecture for his work, cementing Nicholson Pavilion as a state-of-the-art athletic facility when it opened.

Although Nicholson Pavilion’s exotic features remain an intriguing facet of architecture, its facilities have weathered upgrades and changes throughout the years.

“The field-house originally held a swimming pool,” Hively said. “It was replaced with a new floor in 1989.”

In March of 2006, renovations included a new ceiling, new lighting, an expansion of the training and weight room, and a new exhaust system to provide cleaner air in the building.

In 2008, an addition of theater-style seating for Wildcat basketball season ticket holders was made. Also, the installation of the Connor Sports Floor, using the same type of hardwood used at Gonzaga University, was added.

So far, the maintenance of Nicholson Pavilion has been relatively problem-free.

“We’ve had a few little things to fix here and there,” said Joey Huerta, senior industrial engineering technology major and a student technician at Facilities Management, “but the building in itself is not at the point to where it needs to be remodeled.”

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