The Cary Street Gym: A Brief History

Over the years, what is now known as the Cary Street Gym has housed a public market, auditorium, warehouse, and a world-class recreational facility. It was because of the incorporation of Oregon Hill in 1891, the Third Market (The Cary Street Gym) opened its doors.

In form and function, the Third Market resembled the architectural characteristic of European department stores and markets, specifically those built in Italy and France during the late nineteenth century. One direct architectural correlation can be drawn between the Third Street Market and the San Lorenzo Market in Florence, Italy; both bear remarkably similar gabled roofs and exposed steel framing

In 1906, the City of Richmond decided to renovate Third Market. Having never realized its potential as a market, the space became an entertainment venue hosting civic presentations. It was renamed City Auditorium. The auditorium hosted such acts as John Phillip Sousa, Will Rogers, and William M. Sunday.

Many political debates were also held at the City Auditorium.

For forty years, the building was used as a multipurpose warehouse until 1978 when VCU purchased the building to create the Cary Street Gym. For ten years, the Cary Street Gym was the only recreation center on the Monroe Park Campus, providing VCU students a place to play basketball, volleyball, and racquetball and to take part in the growing fitness boom of the 1980’s. In 2007, VCU’s rapid growth in student population warranted a renovation.

While VCU took great care to preserve as much of the history as possible, modernization often comes with a cost. VCU was forced to enclose the Green Alley, an alley that had been used for centuries as a means for transportation of goods and services as well as relocate a stable across the street to be used as the Outing Rental Center. Through the renovation of the Cary Street Gym, VCU continues to serve our thriving community while celebrating the rich history in which the building holds.

San Lorenzo Market, Florence, Italy.

Third Street Market, early 1900’s.

The old floorplan vs. the new floorplan

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