Round Buildings from the Air

If you haven’t already, please read today’s important  post regarding the recent MDAH Board of Trustees meeting.

With several posts on the topic it may not be a surprise that I am a fan of satellite and aerial photography. I’ve even had some opportunities to do some aerial photography of my own.

Auburn Alabama from 30,000 feet.  Photo by Author March, 2013.

Auburn, AL from 30,000 feet. Photo by Author March, 2013

This view from the air stuck me oddly.  I thought surely I would easily recognize Starkville from the air by the mammoth Davis-Wade Stadium; after all cities in the region are not littered with large SEC football stadiums.  This was not the case.  Nor was the above view of Starkville immediately recognizable to me from the layout of streets, but rather from the disciform of the Humphrey Coliseum. This impression seemed strange to me because when you view the Humphrey Coliseum in elevation one does get some sense of the oval shape of the building but not enough that I thought I would be able to recognize a larger metropolitan area based only on the structure’s footprint, (This really gives a new meaning to setting and context!) especially considering it’s not the largest structure or geographic feature in the image.

Humphrey Coliseum, Mississippi State University, Starkville, Oktibbeha County, Image by Bing Maps 2012, Retrieved 8-20-2012

Humphrey Coliseum, Mississippi State University, Starkville, Oktibbeha County, Image by Bing Maps 2012, Retrieved 8-20-2012

In 1975 Mississippi State finished construction on the Humphrey Coliseum. It was designed by Brewer, Godbold & Associates with assistance from the firms of Wakeman & Martin and Benham & Perkins.  State is not alone, many other schools have similar buildings of a similar age.  This made me think “Hey 1960’s and 1970’s what’s up with all the round buildings, specifically, the round auditoriums & coliseums?”

The 60’s and 70’s seemed to be the heyday of the round building, not only in Mississippi but all across the country and all around the world.  Some of Mississippi’s institutes of higher learning saw the round building as a great venue for athletic coliseums. This round building construction boom created some of the largest round buildings in the state.  I thought that my 1963 edition of Herman J. Penn’s Encyclopedic Guide to Planning & Establishing and Auditorium, Arena, Coliseum or Multi-Purpose Building would surely- with a long name like that- provide some insight to my questions! It’s a massive tome of 600+ pages that covers all aspects of event location management, compiled over the years by Mr. Penn in his various positions in auditorium management and planning.  Unfortunately Mr. Penn gives barely a mention to circular venues. The singular mention is an off handed remark that they are good only for hosting horse shows, auto racing, or bullfights. While he embraces modern planning he did not embrace modern design. Though he disparages WPA built spaces and other 1930s structures as archaic, he seems slow on the uptake of the round coliseum design upswing of the late 1950s.  When this book was published Mr. Penn was looking back on a career.   This book reflected the past and thankfully for us, Mississippi architects were looking forward towards the next two decades, forging ahead into the seemingly bright future.

William Sillers Coliseum, Delta State University, Cleveland, Bolivar County, Image by Bing Maps 2012,
Retrieved 8-20-2012

Young-Mauldin Cafeteria, Delta State University, Cleveland, Bolivar County, Image by Bing Maps 2012,
Retrieved 8-20-2012

Delta State led the way with the Walter Sillers Coliseum 1961 designed by the firm Mattingly & Biggers, and shortly followed up with the Young-Mauldin Cafeteria in 1963-1965 designed by a joint venture of William R. Allen and William W. Easley.

Bernard Reed Green Coliseum, University of South Mississippi, Hattiesburg, Forrest County, Image by Bing Maps 2012, Retrieved 8-20-2012

Next to follow in 1964-1965 was University of South Mississippi with the Bernard Reed Green Coliseum by the firm of Landry & Matthes.

C.M. “Tad” Smith Coliseum, University of Mississippi, Oxford, Lafayette County, Image by Bing Maps 2012,
Retrieved 8-20-2012

Ole Miss was not to be left out and built the C.M. “Tad” Smith Coliseum in 1965. It was designed as a joint venture of Brewer, Skewes, & Godbold and Pritchard & Nickles.

J T Hall Coliseum, MDCC Moorhea

J T Hall Coliseum, MDCC Moorhead, Sunflower County. From Google Maps accessed 4-15-2014


Horton Science Building (top) and footprint of Vandiver Student Union (bottom) Mississippi Delta Community College. Moorhead, Sunflower County. Google maps accessed 4-15-2014

Mississippi Delta Community College in Moorhead had three great round buildings. While the 1968 James McAdams designed Horton Science Building and the 1975 J.T. Hall Coliseum still stand, the 1968 Brewer, Skewes, & Godbold designed Vandiver Student Union was cruelly demolished in 2011. Its footprint is still visible in satellite images, and even the campus map on the schools website has an abrupt blank spot.  Looking at the satellite image you might think that Horton and Vandiver buildings were Identical, being round and all.  Click on the links and see the MDAH HRI photos for buildings that might surprise you.

And bringing up the rear, but may be my favorite- Mississippi College’s 1977 joint venture design teams of Bigger, Biggers & Associates and Ray James & Associates created the Buckminster Fuller domed A.E. Wood Coliseum.

James Observatory, Millsaps College, Jackson, Hinds County, Image by Bing Maps 2012, Retrieved 8-20-2012

Millsaps College has the tiniest round building of all the universities in the state with the James Observatory built in 1902.

Of course round buildings are not the only kind of buildings that are interesting to look at from above.

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Do you know of a building that look great from above? If so let us know!

Categories: Books, Cleveland, Clinton, Cool Old Places, Hattiesburg, Historic Preservation, Jackson, Modernism, Oxford, Recent Past, Starkville, Universities/Colleges


32 replies

  1. I was finishing my four years at Mississippi College in 1975 while the “Golden Egg” was being constructed in the parking lot behind Latimer Webb dormitory. While we recognized it as an architectural marvel, the students were generally horrified about the design, a jarring contrast to the campus’ largely traditional atmosphere. In my 40 years as an alumnus, I have yet to learn to love this building.

    One humorous side to A.E.Wood Coliseum: The MC administration sent out notices to those of us living in Latimer Webb to get our cars out of the parking lot by a certain date. My next-door-neighbor on 2nd floor ignored this warning until she looked out one morning and found pilings being driven around her bright yellow VW Beetle. She went flying out in her pajamas to get “Sunshine” out of the construction zone. I might have warmer feelings toward The Egg if the car had been encased in it.

    Thanks for a fascinating set of views.


    • Thank you for sharing your history with A.E. Wood! I would gladly collect the more images in exchange for tales. What a story about your neighbor. I hope she learned a lesson haha. I am amazed they did not tow her vehicle or, being a Beetle, just have several of the workers pick it up and move it. Was it a gravel lot?

      I don’t know anything about the development of MC. According to the dates on the MDAH HRI A.E. Wood the first new building on campus in 10+ years and maybe the last for a while? Maybe the golden egg laid left a bad taste in the schools mouth for building?

      To (miss)quote Louis Sullivan maybe the architect “made a picture of what he thought was a coliseum and showed it to the college, telling them, on the side, that geodesic domes were rather the go now for banks, and the college bit.”

      Maybe we could get some insight from the designers. I believe Architect Ray James is still alive. For that matter some folks from Biggers & Biggers are probably around also.


    • I love the A.E. Wood Coliseum. I wish they would make it golden again. It’s faded way too much.


  2. And then of course there are my three round banks, all from the 1950s and 1960s:


  3. Vandiver’s demolition is particularly sad seeing that they had no purpose in its demolition than demolition.It was a great little building and not in bad shape. Another waste of taxpayer dollars, in my opinion.


  4. Does Aberdeen High School still have a round coliseum?


  5. Does “octagonal” buildings from the air count? Tupelo Middle School formerly Tupelo High School. Building on the front left. View from Bing Maps looking southward.


    • Wow! What a bizarre group of structures. Do you know any history on them?


      • Not these particular units but a friend of mine saw these one time when he was lost in Lee County Mississippi so we finally figured out about where he was and we went google mapping to find them. That’s been a few years ago and at the time I think I found the style on the internet. THey come in some standard shapes like arches for the center part and you can add one or more arches together to make the house longer then add the end pieces to complete the structure. Very aerodynamic for the tornado winds up that way. I think they are fiberglass or something. Not sure but I think they assemble the pieces on site. Google fiberglass igloo houses or something similar and see what you get.


  6. The Shelby M. Bailey Coliseum on the campus of Forest Hill High School in South Jackson is a very interesting hexagon shaped building. It is a stand-alone basketball arena that has coliseum-like seating…in tiers to boot! Notice also the octagon shaped stand-alone band hall next door.

    It’s interesting to note that (I think, or at least was told) both buildings were added to the campus while FH was a Hinds County school and still outside of the city limits. Eventually the land was annexed and the school was absorbed into Jackson Public Schools.

    Google maps visual of the two buildings:,-90.2815433,114m/data=!3m1!1e3

    A peek inside the unique on-campus high school arena:


  7. Because it is otherwise such an interesting post, I feel one error needs correction: the 30,000 ft photo is of Auburn, AL, and not Starkville, MS.


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