While the bricks and mortar which have framed the home of Rice basketball for better than 50 years remain, the interior of the fabled arena was transformed into a state-of-the-art facility with the amenities fans have come to expect from new stadiums during a foundation-to-roof renovation which occurred between the spring of 2007 and the fall of 2008 leading up to the opening of the new Tudor Fieldhouse complex.
During the renovation process, Rice University's basketball teams were displaced and played their 2007-08 seasons at venues across the city of Houston. The Rice volleyball team played the 2007 and 2008 home schedules in Fox Gymnasium.
Among the new features of Tudor Fieldhouse are a club area located behind the upper north end zone seating. The club will also offer a panoramic view of the Rice University campus. A reconfigured seating arrangement includes new mechanized seating along the sidelines which can be retracted for more court space as well as new east end zone seating for Rice students.
Amenities also include a new sound system and game information scoreboard, new concession areas and rest rooms.
At the same time, a new student-athlete excellence center including the Robert E. and Elizabeth W. Bixby Academic Center has been built between Tudor Fieldhouse and Fox Gymnasium. The center is the new home for the athletic department offices as well as training and support facilities for the Rice athletic program.
A $7 million gift from Rice University trustee and alumnus Bobby Tudor and his wife, Phoebe, allowed Rice to move forward on the $30 million project.
The cozy dimenssions and great sightlines that made Autry a feared game site in the past have been maximized in Tudor Fieldhouse. The enthusiasm of the Rice students, the "Autry Army" and band -- the famous "MOB" -- gives every visiting team an added obstacle when playing the Owls. In 1989, that reputation was enhanced when Dallas Morning News writer Steve Richardson dubbed Autry the "Jungle Gym" due to its lack of air conditioning. That deficiency was eliminated in 1991, however, when a central air conditioning system was added to the facility.
The air conditioning was of most benefit to the Rice student-body that uses the gym for its myriad recreation programs. The project was funded in part by a drive headed by Joyce Pounds Hardy-McDonald, a former member of the university's board of trustees and long-time booster of the Rice athletic program. In addition to the air-conditioning project, Autry Court underwent a number of additional renovations over the past 25 years, highlighted by a state-of-the-art low-impact wood court was installed in the spring of 2002.
Capacity for the original Autry Court was 5,000 on a permanent basis, but as many as 5,600 were wedged inside thanks to the installation of temporary bleachers on the south baseline. A record 5,680 watched the Owls' men's basketball team defeat Texas 103-97 on March 5, 1992.
The arena was originally designated "Autry Court" in memory of Mrs. James L. Autry. Her daughter, Mrs. Edward W. Kelley, made a generous donation to the gymnasium building fund in honor of her late mother, an ardent supporter of Rice.