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Holtzendorff YMCA Turns 100

Holtzendorff YMCA Turns 100

by Sam Blackman

It opened 100 years ago today (January 7) with no fanfare and was immediately used according to The Tiger.  The Holtzendorff YMCA and its impact on the Clemson campus and local community can never be measured.  

The following is an excerpt from The Tiger in 1916: 

“There were no formal exercises. It had been previously announced that the doors would be opened at 4:30 p.m that afternoon. At the appointed time quite a crowd had gathered.

“They were met and shown over the building by a reception committee selected from the cadet members of the association. The members of this committee wore simple badges on which was written the word “welcome “. The visitors were shown the main lobby, the reading rooms, ladies’ and men’s lounging rooms, secret society room, literary society room, auditorium, moving picture booth, bath rooms, swimming pool, bowling alley, fountain and store, cafeteria, kitchen, gymnasium, publication rooms, and cabinet room, and other interesting features of the building. Special music was rendered during this tour. The building is a magnificent four-story structure, built at a cost of $75,000.” (The Tiger, January 16, 1916.)

This building, overlooking Historic Riggs Field and to the East, was constructed in 1915 with a gift from the Rockefeller Foundation. It was built for a total of $75,000.  This housed the Clemson Swimming Teams that started competing in 1919 and the men’s basketball team from the 1916 to the 1922 season.

On  February 1, 1916, Clemson basketball began playing its games in the newly completed YMCA.  Clemson played its first basketball game at the YMCA as the Tigers and Presbyterian played to a 39-39 tie on February 1. Before this time, the Tigers played basketball on Riggs Field or in the basement of Sikes Hall.

Hollywood Comes To Clemson

In 1974, “The Midnight Man”, a detective film was released. Burt Lancaster and Susan Clark starred in the movie. Historic Riggs Field and the Holtzendorff YMCA was seen prominently in the film and offered not only a useful setting, but a picturesque backdrop in the movie. 

Hollywood legend, Burt Lancaster shared directing credits with Roland Kibbee. Co-stars included Cameron Mitchell (seen in many TV westerns), as well as the future Daisy Duke, (Catherine Bach), in her first screen appearance, and character actors Ed Lauter and Charles Tyner, who would both be featured in “The Longest Yard”, a football film that starred Burt Reynolds that was also shot in 1974.  

The movie was shot on the Clemson campus and Anderson, S.C. along with other scenes in Pickens County in 1973.  The shooting of the movie started on February 13th, 1973.  

The film was released on June 10th, 1974 in New York City, and nationwide on June 14th. It premiered at the Astro III theatre, Clemson, S.C., on March 14th, 1974 with a red carpet ceremony.

Swimming pool scenes with Burt Lancaster and Catherine Bach in “The Midnight Man” were filmed in the Holtzendorff pool. 

Holtzendorff, The Man

Preston Brooks Holtzendorff Jr. was born on Nov. 4, 1894, in or near Atlanta, Ga. Earlier that same year, on the campus of Clemson Agricultural College, the Young Men’s  Christian Association (YMCA) started a new chapter at Clemson College. Little did  anyone know at the time that the stories of these two infants would someday  be inextricably linked.

(Holtzendorff is pictured below.)

Holtzendorff grew up in Atlanta and followed in the footsteps of his three  older brothers by graduating from law school at the University of Georgia in  1916. Instead of joining his brothers in their law practice, however, he  accepted a position as assistant general secretary of the YMCA at Clemson  College, with an office in a brand new building that had just been completed  with a large gift from the Rockefeller Foundation. Not long after Holtzendorff began his tenure at Clemson, Roy John, the man who had hired him, retired from his post as general secretary. Holtzendorff was soon named as his successor, but before he could settle into the new post, he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps to do his part in World War I. By the spring of 1918, he had earned his wings and a commission as a 2nd lieutenant. The end of the war brought him home again in the fall of that year. For a brief time, Holtzendorff joined his brothers in their Tulsa, Okla., law practice, and it was there that he married Anne Linton of Georgia on April 10, 1919. The newlyweds soon moved back East to South Carolina, with Holtzendorff returning to his post as general secretary of “the Y” at Clemson. For the next 40 years, “Mr. Holtzy,” as students affectionately called him, left an huge mark on the religious, social and recreational experiences of nearly every cadet on Clemson’s campus. During that era, the YMCA was the undisputed center for the social and religious life of the students, and Holtzendorff took full advantage of his opportunity to have a positive impact. Under his direction, the Y thrived, with an array of programs. In 1931, Holtzendorff established the intramural sports program and by 1937, 80 percent of the student body participated. By the late 1940s, as many as 130 organizations and 2,000 people from the campus and community used the Y facilities every day. In addition to his daily responsibilities, Holtzendorff found time to coach freshman football for five years men’s tennis for one year, and the swimming team for 27. Holtzendorff coached the Tigers to the 1939 Southern Conference Swimming Championship.   He also served three terms on the National YMCA Board and helped establish the S.C. State Conference of YMCAs. He was a devoted elder of Fort Hill Presbyterian Church, president of the Men of the Church and the Rotary Club, and a charter member of the Clemson Fellowship Club.

(The Swimming Pool that was located at the Holzendorff YMCA is pictured below.)

But it was more than these activities that made Mr. Holtzy so special; it was his abiding love for and service to Clemson students. For example, with America’s entry into World War II in 1941, he began sending newsletters to all the Clemson men serving in the nation’s armed forces to keep them abreast of news from the home front and from their comrades. Not only were these newsletters treasured among Clemson alumni, but servicemen from other colleges also subscribed.

(Holtzendorff is pictured with members of the 1939 Clemson Swimming Team that were individual champions at the Southern Conference Championships.)


The sentiments regarding Holtzendorff’s service were captured in the program for the 1957 rededication of the YMCA building (which would later be named for him):

“Perhaps no one at Clemson College has been more closely associated with more students and has meant so much to them as Mr. Holtzy.”  The building was later named for him. In 1959, when he retired, The Tiger provided another fitting tribute, describing him as “someone who was more interested in others than himself.”

Holtzendorff was the school’s first swimming coach as he started the program in 1919. He also was the school’s first tennis coach in 1927.  He died on January 28, 1971.