Nine Decades of Arena History
The oldest ice hockey arena in the world and one of the exemplary athletic facilities in the nation is the Matthews Arena, a recently re-polished gem named for George J. Matthews, and his wife, the late Hope M. Matthews. Matthews is Chair of the Northeastern University Board of Trustees. As a respected member of the Boston business community, Matthews is president of the Matthews Group, and former owner of the Boston Breakers of the United States Football League.
Perhaps more widely known as the Boston Arena, the Matthews Arena is home to Northeastern's hockey and basketball teams. The building is one of the bastions of the country's sporting history and a spectator's dream for live athletic contests.
In September 1995, the arena officially made its fourth reopening when it unveiled a spectacular new ice surface and lobby at the St. Botolph Street address. A state-of-the-art ice surface expansion to olympic-sized 90x200 dimensions has added 2,000 square feet of skating area to the arena, for decades one of the nation's smallest rinks. Completion of the renovation involved a $1.6 million capital campaign designed to make the larger rink compatible with more creative play, the specifications of world championship and international competition and the needs of figure skating performances.
The old ice house that gave birth to the Boston Bruins, the Boston Olympics and the New England Whalers was also the cradle of high school and college hockey in Greater Boston. The hockey programs at Boston College, Boston University, Harvard, MIT, Tufts, and of course, Northeastern all had their geneses at Matthews. Tournaments that brighten New England winters such as the Beanpot had their start at the Arena, as did competitive figure skating.
In1994, Nancy Kerrigan graced the ice at Matthews with an entourage that included Paul Wyle and Scott Hamilton, continuing an 85-year tradition of figure skating that numbers Sonja Henie, Dick Button and Tenley Abvright. That sparked a renewed marriage with figure skating, and last year world champions Todd Eldredge and Michelle Kwan, along with the beloved Dorothy Hamill, held audiences spellbound in the sports basilica of the Back Bay.
The Matthews Arena chronology reads like a Who's Who in American sports, and starts with ground-breaking in October 11th, 1909. Legendary pugilists Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney and Joe Louis graced ringside, Paavo Nurmi ran here in a BAA track meet, and Olympian Henie wove her magic-on-blades to phonograph music. The Boston Bruins played their first home game at the Arena and defeated the Montreal Maroons, 2-1, on December 1, 1924. Less fortunate in the Arena debut were the Northeastern hockey Huskies, who lost, 2-1, to MIT on January 17th, 1930. Even the great Babe Ruth, then a young left-handed pitcher for the Red Sox, was a frequent visitor to the Arena. The Sultan of Swat passed idle time in the winter by playing in hockey scrimmages with the Arena A.C. team. Chuck Connors, alias The Rifleman, jumped center and smashed the glass backboard in the Boston Celtics first game ever on November 5th, 1946. And, the world famous Texas Rangers brought their rodeo there in 1932, complete
with outlaw horses and wild steers.
Today, the stately Victorian lobby that welcomed the modest and the mighty for nearly a century cater to academic and athletic needs of the university. Convocations and a large portion of the intramural docket are conducted at the Arena, whose walls once echoed with the podium entreaties of president Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Past Arena dignitaries include Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhardt, James Michael Curley, Reverend Billy Graham, Admiral Chester Nimtz and General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
In the spring of1993, the city of Boston and Northeastern paid tribute to one of its athletic heroes when it held funeral services for Reggie Lewis, Class of 1988, at the Arena.
The Arena has survived two crippling fires, in 1918, and another in 1948, to prosper as a stationary jewel of the community. Northeastern's association with the Arena covers more than 50 years, since hockey became a varsity sport in 1929. Husky basketball adopted the Arena as its home in 1981, although the Huskies played a game there in 1936, losing to Rhode Island.
For decades, the Arena has been home to countless scholastic hockey teams, particularly those in the Boston City League and to its next door neighbor, Wentworth College. In 1996, the back end of the arena enjoyed a one million dollar polishing. Once known as Santos' Gym, it was there that wrestlers and fighters trained, the last of whom was Muhammad Ali for the second Liston Fight. That portion of Matthews now houses the expanded Makris Varsity Club Lounge adorned with viewing platform and kitchen facilities, along with newly renovated offices for both the men's and women's hockey coaches.
With more than $6 million already invested in the Matthews Arena, Northeastern continues to meet the needs of the university and the surrounding community for a superior recreational facility. Neither the time nor materiality has disrupted the daily patterns of Arena life, though. In quiet afternoons, there are special hours set aside for free public skating. As the ancient edifice improves by, her sensitivity to the common good remains as high as ever.
Source: Northeastern University Sports Information Office