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Historic Sheboygan arena that hosted one of first NBA teams to be demolished

Posted at 7:11 PM, Jul 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-15 20:11:06-04

"Editor's note: This story uses a racial term that many in the Native community find offensive. It is used here in the context of describing a historical sports team's name. The same term is used by Washington's NFL team, which has recently opted to change it."

Sheboygan was home to one of the first NBA teams, the Sheboygan Redskins.

In 1949, the National Basketball League and Basketball Association of America merged to create what we know today as the National Basketball Association. The Sheboygan team played in the Municipal Auditorium and Armory which is right by the lake.

"It's a big ordeal to have an NBA team in a small town in Wisconsin and Midwest," Pam Gottsacker, the daughter of head coach Kenny Suesens, said.

A few thousand people could fit inside the stadium but plenty were also listening to games on the radio. Having an NBA team in a small market city, even if it was the first year of the league, meant a lot to everyone in Sheboygan.

So much so, even after the team was no longer in the NBA, Gottsacker was still getting referred to as, "I was known always as Kenny’s daughter until I was probably 35 years old," she said.

The team only lasted one year in the NBA. They had a losing record and couldn't compete against the teams from big cities like the Knickerbockers or Lakers.

However, The Armory, as it is called, was much more than just a place to play basketball.

Old photo of The Armory. Image Preserved by the Sheboygan 
County Historical Research Center.

"When John F. Kennedy is here campaigning, that's huge in little Sheboygan. Or, you know, Bob Hope performs in little Sheboygan. Or Red Auerbach and the infamous Boston Celtics played here these are connections to much larger parts of Americana," Travis Gross, the executive director of the Sheboygan County Historical Society and Museum said.

The Armory was the center of city entertainment. Everything from parties, to dances, to wrestling matches were held at The Armory. The venue was founded in 1941 but since 2010, its doors have been closed to the public.

“It was the centerpiece of our community, you know, for almost 80 years," Gross said.

Crowds gathering to watch a basketball game inside The Armory. Image Preserved by the Sheboygan County Historical Research Center.

The last athletic event was the Sheboygan North versus South rivalry basketball game in 2006.

Now, The Armory is on its last legs. This week the demolition process has begun. Fences line The Armory. No one can go in since they are doing asbestos remediation.

The financial burdens of The Armory grew to be too much. The facility was outdated and upkeep costs were high.

While it might be gone soon, it won’t be forgotten.

A basketball game between Sheboygan and Cleveland. Image Preserved by the Sheboygan 
County Historical Research Center.

"I would say just about anyone you talk to will have some memories of being at The Armory or being involved with The Armory or something like that.”

Demolition won't begin for a few more months, so you can still see the outside of this historic building. You can also go to the Sheboygan County History Museum to see artifacts from inside the venue such as jerseys, center court, bleachers, and much more.

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