The Illinois State Armory at 107-11 E. Monroe St. in Springfield was built in 1936 to replace the State Arsenal, which previously stood on the site but had been destroyed in an arson fire. The new Armory was equipped with what was for that day a massive auditorium/gymnasium, which with ground floor temporary seating could accommodate several thousand people.
During the workday, the building housed offices of Illinois state military and, later, police agencies. However, its spaciousness made the Armory Springfield’s all-purpose venue for large-scale indoor events.
The Armory has been the site of governors’ inaugural balls (beginning with that of Governor Dwight Green on Jan. 13, 1941) and all manner of theatrical and musical productions, from pop concerts to circuses.
The Armory also was the site of city of Springfield functions, such as mayoral swearings-in. It was at the Armory where the city gathered March 14, 1970, to formally accept the award as an All America City from Look magazine and the National Municipal League.
Among people who appeared at the Armory were Willy Brandt, the Cold War mayor of Berlin, boxing great Muhammad Ali, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Both John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon spoke there as presidential candidates, and former president Harry Truman was guest speaker at an Armory banquet in the 1960s.
It was as a sports arena that the Armory is probably most widely remembered. The boys’ basketball City Tournament was held there for many years, along with qualifying games in the state tournament. The Illinois State Armory also was the site of amateur boxing matches, which attracted large crowds into the late 1950s. Armory seating was racially segregated during the building’s first few years, but local African Americans forced that policy to change in the late 1930s.
The building’s electrical and drinking water systems were never upgraded over the years, and it suffered water damage from a leaky roof. Its specialized spaces are not adaptable for modern office use. A Capitol complex development plan drawn up toward the end of the James Thompson administration called for complete rehabilitation of the building, but the money was never approved.
The Illinois National Guard moved to new facilities at Camp Lincoln and the building was taken over by the Illinois State Police. In 2008, the State Police moved most of their operations out of the Armory as well, relocating in the former Franklin Life Insurance Co. building, which the state purchased for the purpose. The Armory currently is unused.
The Armory has been designated an official City of Springfield landmark by the Springfield Historic Sites Commission. Designed by State of Illinois architect C. Herrick Hammond, the structure is a good example of Art-Deco architecture, typical of the late 1920s and 1930s. The Armory’s exterior facades and interior gathering space have been changed very little since its construction.
Original content copyright Sangamon County Historical Society. You are free to republish this content as long as credit is given to the Society.