The Burleson Gymnasium
By Robert Griffith, Updated July 2013

The Burleson Gymnasium, constructed between April 1 and July 14, 1936 with financial assistance from the Public Works Administration is the oldest structure owned by the Burleson Independent School District and the last Depression-era public building in Burleson. From its dedication in October 1936 by Texas State Attorney General William McCraw into the 21st Century, the Burleson Gymnasium was a center of community and school activity. Yet despite the adversity out of which it rose, the Burleson Gymnasium has never been as threatened as it is now. Once the centerpiece of the Nola Dunn Elementary campus, the gym stands alone after the Burleson ISD demolished the venerable old campus in early 2009.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram ran an article by Bill Hanna on February 21st, 2009 headlined "In need of costly repairs, 1930s gymnasium is stuck in limbo" which introduced the gym's plight to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. A meeting of individuals from area civic groups at the Burleson Heritage Visitors Center on February 17th, 2009 highlighted the need to work with the Burleson ISD to repurpose the Burleon Gymnasium and the nearby Lunch Room, constructed as a memorial to the veterans of World War II in 1947. Unfortunately, the Burleson ISD rebuffed the group's suggestions. On March 17, 2009 less than twelve hours after a meeting between BISD officials and the "Save the Gym" committee, Garrett Demolition stepped in to bulldoze the old Lunch Room. In the immediate aftermath, former Mayor of Burleson Clayton Boyd stated in an editorial to the Burleson Star, "I'd rather negotiate with a snake" than the BISD.

According to a July 19, 2013 article in the Burleson Star, interested parties, including the Burleson Heritage Foundation, are attempting to raise money to save the gym through a November bond election. Details to come.

Why save the gym?

A group of girls gather in front of the Burleson Gymnasium about 1940
Photo Courtesy Mary Ruth (Haynes) Arnold

The Thursday, February 21 edition of the Burleson News carried the headline "Considerable Interest Manifested at First Meeting of Burleson Progressive League" and reads in part -

The initial meeting of Burleson's new civic league was held at the school auditorium Thursday night with an estimated attendance of 250.

The new league, sponsored by business leaders of the community, will have as its purpose, according to officials, the making of a better town and community. It is reported to be non-political.

At Thursday night's meeting, Winston Taylor was elected president and Clayton Griffin vice-president. Three committees were also appointed: Highway, Recreation Building and Sewer Committees.

The Highway Committee, composed G.E. Bransom, E.M. Wilson, A.W. Haskew, A.H. Loyless, Eldo Bean, George Stone, Jim Baker and Mark Green, will work on the new air-line route to Grandview.

The Recreation Building Committee, composed of J.W. Norwood, Noble Clark, Clayton Griffin, Russell Shannon and Milt Norris, will work out plans for the new recreation building that is planned for Burleson.

The Sewer System is composed of A.W. Haskew, Harold Warren.

It is reported that Burleson has applied for a $34,000 P.W.A. loan to be used to build a recreation building and swewr system. Both will be self sustaining according to officials of the new league, who also claim that the debt will be liquidated from revenue of each.

The Burleson Gymnasium became the backbone of the community upon its dedication by Texas State Attorney General McCraw on October 9, 1936. In a stirring speech, McCraw declared, "This building is a monument that time never can destroy," continuing, "It is a tribute to the citizens of the community and shows they are willing to go to the limit that their children may have the best of opportunities." On June 10, 1937 the Burleson News reported: "The free picture show given at the school auditorium Wednesday night by Thompson Motor Company was enjoyed by a large crowd, and another treat is in store for Burlesonites Friday night when the Big Four Grocery Company sponsors another free movie."

According to Robert Leighninger of the National New Deal Preservation Association, the Burleson Gymnasium was built by the Public Works Administration at a cost of $18,640.

Doris Jo Haas, a 1941 Burleson graduate, recalled watching the gym's construction in fifth grade, "It was a wonderful thing to us. A hardwood floor was put down in the summer time and it became a skating rink. All ages came to watch or to learn to skate. At the south end was the Homemaking area. There was a kitchen, and I learned to sew in another room. The boys had FFA (Future Farmers of America) classes in the gym with Ben Whitehouse. The Senior Banquet, Graduation, piano recitals, everything took place in that building. It was all we had. I graduated from high school there in 1941."

Gene Harris's father Emmett was the contractor for the gym's construction. In a statement to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Harris recalled "playing basketball and roller-skating inside the gym, which was the hub of activity in town. [...] The thing I remember more than anything is it had the prettiest polished oak floor. [...] Back in those days, everything was oiled down to keep the dust down. For several years, we were forbidden to walk on it with our shoes on. It was prettiest thing you could imagine, with the windows all the way around that pushed out to provide ventilation."

Additional Photographs

Masonic Meeting in the Gymnasium ca. 1940
Photo Courtesy John Gregory Family

Burleson Gymnasium in the 1940s
Photo Courtesy Mary Ruth (Haynes) Arnold

Burleson Gymnasium in 1950
1950 Elk Yearbook Courtesy Robert Griffith


Recent Images of The Burleson Gymnasium

January 19, 2009
Photo Copyright Robert Griffith

December 28, 2008
Photo Copyright Robert Griffith

December 28, 2008
Photo Copyright Robert Griffith

December 28, 2008
Photo Copyright Robert Griffith

February 21, 2009
Photo Copyright Robert Griffith

January 19, 2009
Photo Copyright Robert Griffith

January 19, 2009
Photo Copyright Robert Griffith

It is the opinion of this writer that the Burleson Gymnasium should be restored to its 1936 glory with proper modifications made for safety, convenience, and energy efficiency. As part of research into the building's origins, I uncovered the architectural drawings to the Burleson Gymnasium and over five hundred documents detailing costs, materials, and additional information.

Related Articles:
The Burleson Gymnasium and Lunch Room, by Robert A. Griffith
Replanting the Seed: Origins of the BISD, by Robert A. Griffith
In need of costly repairs, 1930s gymnasium is stuck in limbo, February 21, 2009 article by Bill Hanna for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Heritage Foundation aims to preserve history, July 19, 2013 article by Kara Riley for the Burleson Star

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