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Official Review by Paul Baker, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The Payne Whitney Gymnasium is one of the largest athletic facilities ever built. The second largest gym in the world in terms of cubic feet, it contains twelve acres of interior space. Included in this nine-story facility is a swimming pool on the third floor, a polo practice room, a fencing salon, a gymnastics studio, a trophy room, three crew tanks, recreational basketball courts, a fitness center, squash courts, several recreation rooms and an outdoor running track on the roof. Also located in the Payne Whitney Gymnasium is the John J. Lee Amphitheater, home of the Yale basketball teams.
The building was donated to Yale by John Hay Whitney, Yale class of 1926, in honor of his father, Payne Whitney. Designed in the same Gothic Revival style that many buildings on the Yale campus built of the 1920's and 1930's share, the gymnasium's design won its architect, John Russell Pope, a silver medal in the 1932 Olympic Games Art Competition.
The John J. Lee Amphitheater was named in 1996 for the class of 1956 Yale alumnus, star basketball player, and benefactor in the building’s renovation. The amphitheater also serves as home to Yale’s volleyball and gymnastics teams.
Basketball has been played at Yale since 1896. Yale is credited with introducing the concept of playing basketball with five-man squads. Previously, as many as nine players took the court at a time. The team was named national champion six times over their first eight seasons, but success has proven elusive since then. The Bulldogs have qualified for the NCAA Tournament only four times in their history. Their 2016 tourney appearance marked Yale’s first trip to the Big Dance since 1962. The school’s upset win over Baylor was the Bulldog’s first tournament victory in school history. Three Yale alumni have played in the NBA.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
When the Payne Whitney Gymnasium was built back in 1932, it's likely that concessions were not high on John Russell Pope's to do list. There is one small concession stand located just outside the entrance to the John J. Lee Amphitheater.
The menu here sticks to the basics with pizza, hot dogs and nachos the featured items. Peanuts, pretzels, popcorn and cotton candy are available for those looking for a quick snack. Coca-Cola products are sold here. No alcohol is offered at this on-campus facility.
What the concessions may lack in variety, it makes up for in affordability. No item on the menu costs more than five dollars.
If you were asked to imagine the game day atmosphere at an Ivy League school, chances are you would imagine a very laid-back, old-timey presentation, without many of the bells, whistles and distractions that come along with big-time college basketball today. While you wouldn't be entirely correct, the game day presentation at Yale does have more in common with, say the 1980's than the 2010's.
Several seemingly standard aspects of newer basketball venues are nowhere to be found at Lee Amphitheater, such as video scoreboards, in-game hip hop music piped in at maximum volume and arena emcees exhorting the crowd to make noise during play stoppages. Even if these elements were present, they would seem quite out of place in a gymnasium that looks and feels equal part church and basketball court.
It can be said that the atmosphere at a college basketball game is driven largely by a school's pep band. Yale's excellent pep band, formally known as the Yale Precision Marching Band, fills the Lee Amphitheater with noise throughout Bulldog games. Unfortunately, there isn't a whole lot of representation from the student body to support them. Basketball plays a distant second fiddle to hockey here at Yale, and on nights where both teams are playing, you can expect that most of the student body will be over at nearby Ingalls Rink.
Other standard elements of game day presentation can be found at Yale, including a small cheerleading squad, contests during play stoppages for younger fans and t-shirt tosses. With the intimate setting of the Lee Amphitheater, fans are right on top of the action, and the place can get loud when a capacity crowd starts to rock.
Yale is a downtown campus, so one does not have to travel far to find good places to eat or things to do. The Yale campus itself is a popular destination, with several buildings of historic importance or interesting architecture located within a few city blocks of each other. The school provides campus tours for visitors interested in exploring the area. As you would expect, several world class museums are located here, including the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, the Yale University Art Gallery and the Knights of Columbus Museum.
New Haven has a reputation as an excellent destination for foodies, with some legendary culinary choices located around town. Louis Lunch, the birthplace of the hamburger, is located just over a half mile from the Payne Whitney Gymnasium. New Haven boasts its own style of pizza, known locally as apizza (pronounced "Ah-Beetz"). It's a coal-fired, thin crust, Neapolitan style that has been touted by many as the best pizza in the country. Several local restaurants are internationally known for their versions of apizza, including Frank Pepe's, Sally's, and Modern Apizza. All are located within a mile and a half of the gym.
There are several restaurants closer to Payne Whitney Gymnasium should you feel like staying close before or after the game. Box 63 American Bar and Grill and Three Sheets are popular spots before and after Bulldog games.
Yale averages just over 1,500 fans per game at the Lee Amphitheater, a modest increase over previous years, but still under the Ivy League average.
Basketball plays a clear second fiddle to hockey here at Yale, and on nights where both teams are playing, expect the majority of the student body to be over at nearby Ingalls Rink.
As is the case in most sporting events here at Yale, tickets to Harvard games are much more difficult to come by. If visiting New Haven for one of these games, be sure to get your tickets ahead of time.
New Haven is located on the south coast of Connecticut at the intersection of Interstates 95 and 91. It is located about a 90 minute drive northeast of New York, 45 minutes south of Hartford and 90 minutes southwest of Providence. Besides being easily served by car, Union Station is located just two miles from Payne Whitney Gymnasium, providing both train and bus service to New Haven. For fans taking public transportation, the G, B, Z and D routes of the CT Transit bus service stop near Payne Whitney Gymnasium.
Yale University's campus intertwines with several blocks of downtown New Haven. Payne Whitney Gymnasium is located near the Grove Street Cemetery and Law School buildings, just a few blocks from I-91 and I-95. Driving directions to Payne Whitney Gymnasium can be found here. With Payne Whitney Gymnasium's downtown location, there is ample on-street parking available in the immediate area, as well as several parking lots. A detailed parking map can be found here.
With the many different facilities at Payne Whitney Gymnasium, it's a very busy place. Fans visiting for basketball games will enter the gym through the main entrance, which leads to the building's lobby and the original Handsome Dan, who stands eternal guard near the entrance. Lee Amphitheater will be located on your right. Before entering, take a minute to look around at the high cathedral ceilings, arched entrances and wrought iron gates. It hardly looks like a basketball gym.
The Gothic styling continues into the John J. Lee Amphitheater, as fans enter the facility onto a balcony that overlooks the court and provides some standing room area during the game. Most of the seating is located on either side of the court, accessible via hallways that run underneath the seating area. There are wooden bleachers at court level that serve as student seating, with individual wooden seats making up the rest of the seating. These seats look uncomfortable, and in the words of one fan, feel like "sitting in church." Somehow, this seems fitting here. Additional seating is located in balconies located on either end of the gym. The Ivy Lounge is located in the first balcony on the far side of the gym, reserved for members and pass holders only.
Tickets to Yale basketball games start at $11. All seating is sold as reserved seating, there is no general admission at the Lee Amphitheater. There is a $1-$2 dollar surcharge if purchasing tickets on the day of the game. Selected games, such as Harvard, are designated as premium games and are priced accordingly.
Parking is available in the lots surrounding Payne Whitney Gymnasium for a charge of ten dollars. If walking from these lots is too much, valet parking is available for $20 per vehicle. There is on-street parking all around Payne Whitney Gymnasium, but be warned that meters are in affect until 9pm most nights.
The stuffed original Handsome Dan, Yale's bulldog mascot and the first college mascot, stands guard at the entrance of Payne Whitney Gymnasium enclosed in a glass case.
An extra point for the Gothic Revival architecture here at Payne Whitney Gymnasium. They just don't build them like this anymore. One has to wonder, did they ever build them like this?
An extra point for the unique seating options here at the Lee Amphitheater, including the multiple balconies that overlook the court on either end. Some seats offer ridiculously obstructed views, but others are among the best seats in the house.
In a building this old, you are bound to find some features that are either historic in nature or relics from another era. In one of Lee Amphitheater's hallways you can find a photo of a young George W. Bush from his playing days on the Yale baseball team. Also, there is a plaque on the concourse from 1893 containing several athletic records from the day. Included on this display are records from events including rope climbing, the running high kick, as well as the hitch and kick.
You would certainly be hard pressed to find a more unique college gymnasium than the John J. Lee Amphitheater in the Payne Whitney Gymnasium. The facility doesn't get the national publicity that other gymnasiums of its ilk receive, probably because of the lack of success the Yale team has experienced over the years. Any basketball fanatic in search of a unique venue would be well served to make the trek to New Haven to visit the "Cathedral of Sweat."
Follow Paul Baker's stadium journeys on Twitter @PuckmanRI.
Member Review by Ed Pelle on Apr 29, 2013
Yale traces its roots as one of the oldest and most influential Universities in the United States. Founded in 1701 as the Collegiate School, the name was changed after a large financial donation was made by Elihu Yale. Those associated with the university are still referred to as an Eli to this day. The large list of notable alumni affiliated with Yale comprises 5 presidents, including both recent presidents Bill Clinton and George W Bush, hundreds of other notable diplomats, leaders of business, inventors, top scientists and influential artists.
Yale began its men's basketball program in 1895 where they innovated and introduced the concept of using only five players at a time. Prior to this time up to as many as nine players were used at once. Yale was awarded the National Title in Men's Basketball in 1901 and 1903 by the Helms Athletic Association, since this was prior to the invention of the post season basketball tournament.
The Bulldogs play their home games in the John J Lee Amphitheater inside of the Payne Whitney Gymnasium where there is a capacity of 2,532 for Men's Basketball games.
Member Review by sportsroadtrips on Jan 31, 2016
A beautiful old gym on one of the most appealing city campuses in the nation. Limited food options the only negative, though for $15, you can try the all-you-can-eat buffet in the Ivy Club, which also has an open bar until the start of the second half. A full student section with many dressed in crazy costumes adds to the atmosphere, and you can move around the venue. The standing area behind the west basket provides a unique view as do the balcony seats at either end. The seats are very old and uncomfortable, but the game is only 2 hours long so not a huge problem. There is street parking nearby and plenty of bars and restaurants within 10 minutes. Try Prime 16 for burgers and sandwiches, or Three Sheets if you prefer a dive bar.
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