“Dr. Wilkinson said the new center will be more than a sports pavilion and music hall. It is being designed to accommodate devotionals, student assemblies, forums, lyceums, convocations, religious assemblies, public gatherings, and other activities.” -Office of the News Bureau, Brigham Young University, September 17, 1968
Before the construction of the Marriott Center, the George Albert Smith Fieldhouse served as the main sports arena and general gathering venue on campus. However, the growing athletics program and other student body activities created a need for a new facility to accommodate the growing campus. At the conclusion of his tenure as university president, President Ernest L. Wilkinson was successful in getting approval to build a new arena, the future Marriott Center. Construction of the Marriott Center began in the spring of 1970.
The Marriott Center was an ambitious project from the start. First, a space needed to be procured to accommodate the gigantic arena. BYU found the perfect place north of the Smoot Administration Building. It was a large parcel of land full of temporary war surplus homes, named Wyview Village. After removing the buildings, the construction began.
The construction of the Marriott Center was pretty unique. Rather start with the mainframe of the arena, work first began with the roof. The ceiling of the Marriott Center is held up by a single-span space frame. Construction crews worked on building the steel, four million pound frame that eventually covered 130,000 square feet. It took extensive work, but eventually frame was ready to be raised. One hundred feet from the ground, approximately the height of a ten-story building, the roof was hoisted into place and the construction of the main building commenced. “The [Marriott Center] measures 380 by 340 feet and covers nearly three acres, enough space to place two football fields side by side.” For the seating area cement was formed to created the raised levels. Benches were installed to accommodate more people in the arena. A full-size basketball court floor was built at the center of the arena. In its completion, the Marriott Center contained 10,092 chair seats, 12,590 bleacher seats, and 372 other spaces for a combined seating of 23,054. Based on the gigantic measurements and the large seating capacity, the Marriott Center became the largest college arena in the United States at the time.
The Marriott Center was completed in December of 1971 under a new BYU administration headed by Dallin H. Oaks. It was completed in time to host its first home basketball game. A formal dedication ceremony was conducted on February 4, 1973, with then LDS Church President Harold B. Lee presiding. The ceremony honored and celebrated the arena’s main donor and namesake, J. Willard Marriott.
Since its construction, smaller renovations have been made in the seating to increase legroom for patrons and update technology in the building. The last major renovation in 2015 included removing the lower benches and replacing them with padded chairs, replacing the old scoreboards and adding four LED video boards above the center of the court, and a brand new training facility next door to the arena. The Marriott Center Annex, entirely funded by private donations, includes offices for the coaches, locker rooms, training and conditioning room, and an exact replica of the Marriott Center court for the players to practice on.
The Marriott Center has truly become a center for student and community activities. Its functionality as a multi-purpose arena allows it to serve more than just a venue for BYU basketball. It can serve as a venue for gymnastics, volleyball games, and other competitions. The Marriott Center also becomes the stage for music and dance concerts. Traditionally annual concerts like BYU’s Homecoming Spectacular and Christmas Around the World are performed on the Marriott Center court. Many performing artists have showcased their talents at the Marriott Center, including popular artists Kristin Chenoweth and David Archuleta. Weekly university devotionals and forums are broadcasted from the Marriott Center floor. Speakers range from BYU faculty, general authorities and officers of the Church, to social and political and business leaders throughout the world. Public figures such as former president George H. W. Bush, have addressed BYU campus from the Marriott Center podium. Even the unique walkways surrounding the Marriott Center provide a center of activity for the student body. More likely than not, one can find a small body of BYU students and local youth gathering in one of the ‘tunnels’ on a Sunday night, singing hymns and socializing with each other. Perhaps the highlight of most students’ time at BYU comes with the opportunity to walk across the Marriott Center stage and receive their university diploma. Surrounding high schools also use the Marriott Center for their own graduation ceremonies.
Since its construction in the 1960's, the Marriott Center has become an iconic building on BYU campus, serving as a gathering place for the BYU and Provo, and other surrounding communities.