The Athletic Mothership Has Landed

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West Ripa & Conn Avenues
South County St. Louis, MO

It was an idle cruise on a summer day, heading up West Ripa Avenue between Telegraph and South Broadway, when the sight above hovered into view.  In and of itself, an arresting sight, but in the context of dense rows of tiny, 1920s bungalows, it was outright alien.  What is it?


It is the gymnasium for the Hancock School complex, also known as the Tiger Dome.   It floats like an extraterrestrial among a sea of much newer, post-modern buildings, and because the campus was so shiny penny clean and new, I wondered if the gymnasium was also new, but built to look like The Jetsons.


Venturing in under a canopy that thrusts its tentacles to the concrete walk ringing the circular gym, it was clear it was an older building.   No one would spend the time or money to construct something like this today, especially an old, established school district tucked into a confined space within an established neighborhood.


The E.T. gymnasium was built in 1964, and the rest of the campus was revamped in 1996, which was a major undertaking that required voter approval for increased taxes to fund such a major project.  What amazes me is that the gym survived !  It sits almost dead center in the campus, and you know it required all kinds of special planning to make the new buildings rotate around it, or butt right up against it.  In most cases, this building would have been sacrificed to the gods of progress, demolished without a second thought.  Yet it – and its smokestack – still stands.


The roof’s wooden frame would require regular patch and paint maintenance, as would the roof itself, which is brighter than freshly laundered tennis whites.  The deep eaves are ultra inviting to birds, so pigeon poop is a major issue.  You know the custodians know these things, and deal with it constantly, yet they opted to keep the alien gymnasium!  It fills a heart with gladness, it really does.  Go Tigers!

If any of you know the story about why this alien, mid-century modern gym was spared during a major remodel, please do share the story with us.

21 thoughts on “The Athletic Mothership Has Landed

  1. The story while I was in school is that there were a few other schools(couldn’t tell you names)with domes too who tore theirs down during renovations and that’s why ours is still standing strong, so we’d be the only school with a dome. Not sure if it’s true but I like it!! It’s time to get loud, it’s time to represent, Hancock Tigers what time is it!?!

  2. The Tiger Dome is one of the best held secrets in my opinion. As a graduate of 1976, I was able to enjoy all the wonderful experiences the Dome has to offer. We had gym class in the gym but it also included swimming classes 2 days per week. We learned life saving swim techniques also. Watched a great water polo team also. Spirit assemblies were amazing in the gym due to assemblies which was always a favorite. And since we didn’t have a football team, basketball was our thing. Such fond memories there. It’s a shame that the older school buildings had to go but I hope they keep this wonderful dome forever. Too bad the pool had to go cause we had a great time at the open swims also.

  3. I was part of the first classes to use this building. There was an olympic sized swimming pool on the lower level, along with the cafeteria. I’ve been told that the pool is gone and has been filled in. I don’t think we actually got to use it til 1965; my first year at HHS was 1964-65 and we were still using the cafeteria & gym in the main school.

  4. I graduated in 1967 and the dome was a very important to all us and still remains a lot of memories and happy times. I am glad to see it standing there..

  5. I graduated high school in 1981 and my school play in the Suburban East Confernece at that time. I will always remember playing there the crowd and the noise they generated just made it a real neat place to play a basketball game. Trully, a special gym Hancock has!!!

  6. I would like to weigh in on this discussion! As a former Hancock student/cheerleader, I can’t tell you enough what it means to have this place a part of my memories of jr. high and high school! Being there meant being a part of something much bigger! Even though they’ve remodeled and the pool is no longer there, you can still smell a bit of chlorine in the basement! It’s a great feeling to watch my son and his friends, and my friends children play here where we all have such fond memories! Don’t forget the Donkey Ball games! Those were the best!!!!

  7. I graduated from Hancock High School in 1966. Our graduation was held in this building. I remember when it was first built and we had a new cafeteria and swimming pool. I learned to swim in this building. Great to see it is still there even though our high school buildings are gone.

  8. As a proud graduate of Hancock High School(Class of ’89) I was priveledged enough to have played basketball in the dome from 3d grade up to graduation. The look of awe on opposing players faces as they entered the “Thunder Dome” was priceless. Bigger, better funded schools in the region have nothing on “our” gym! This landmark has truly transcended the economic poverty of the area and has become a symbol of pride for the district. I am honored to have been able to experience games, spirit week assemblies, and so much more there. GO TIGERS!

  9. As a Graduate of Hancock in 1995, I still feel the pride of the Blue and Gold. It is great that someone has recognized the wonderful Tiger Dome and by posting this article, many alumni are speaking out about what it feels like to play or watch in the Tiger Dome. The accoustics are amazing and the pride that we share in the Tiger Dome is unbeatable! Go Tigers!

  10. I graduated in 2001. We were going to have the ceremony in Jefferson Barricks park, but due to rain, it was held in the Dome. The Barracks would’ve been nice, but there’s something nice about having the Tigers recieving our diploma’s in the Tiger Dome that brings it home. What’s really amazing is because of the shape, the accustics are amazing. You can say a whisper in the middle of the court and everyone can hear you.

  11. My name is Kevin Johnson and I am the school board president. The dome has stayed the way it is and we will probably be remodeling it within the next couple of years. This neighberhood is very proud of this building and do not want to see it go.

  12. I graduated in 1995 from Hancock and I couldn’t be more proud to see our school get some recognition. I remember playing volleyball and cheering for our basketball team in the Mighty Tiger Dome. It was the best place in town to be on a Friday night. When I look back the dome is such a vivid memory of my days at Hancock. What an awesome place to have as your home court! GO TIGERS!

  13. While I never had the pleasure of playing a varsity game as an athlete in the dome I did have the pleasure of being the Tiger mascot my senior year. There is no better place to watch a high school basketball game than HHS. The echo of the Tiger Dome can turn 100 fans into 1000.

  14. The TIGER DOME is the place to play for sure. On a Friday night during a rivalry game, it is the only place to be. It is a landmark in many eyes and one of only a small number still standing. I graduated in 93′ and will never forget running out of the tunnel through a decorated framed poster to “Eye of the Tiger” and fans yelling, stomping on the bleachers, sporting painted faces, wearing our Royal Blue and Gold, and the clock ticking down to game time. I still love to go and play with other alumni or watch our high school teams compete. LONG LIVE THE TIGER DOME!

  15. I graduated from Hancock in 1976. Back then the street level was and still is the Basketball court. But underneath, on the lower level was an indoor swimming pool. One of only a few in the area schools. I understand that it has been covered now, but the memories of our free swims and water polo teams will live on. Thank you for reminding us alumni how really awesome it was.

  16. I graduated Hancock in 2004 and I have to admitt, I never noticed the beauty in our Dome. Growing up across the street from it, and now living less than a block away, I was not as impressed with it. I would like to thank you for opening my eyes, before this I didn’t know how amazing it is!

  17. As a 1994 graduate of Hancock High School and a current employee I would like to share with you why I believe the Dome was spared. I actually heard about your post from a student of mine whose comment was “Hey, Ms. Herman….isn’t it kind of cool that we caught a random person’s eye”? So, I guess, that might actually answer your question. We are a very small district with a lot of pride and tradition. We sometimes get lost in the shuffle of all the big schools and to be honest not many people outside of Lemay have even heard of us. However, those who have ever seen or played in the Dome NEVER forget it. No matter how much everything around us changes, the Dome is Hancock and i selfishly hope it stays!!

  18. How cool would it be to round up some sleek mid-60s sedans/wagons to line the drive for that first shot?

  19. Toby-

    I so appreciate you introducing me to such interesting architecture. I wasn’t aware of this cool structure & love your commentary on these finds.

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