Northeast Tarrant

Our Backyard: Historic Rock Gym

With distinctive walls that have withstood countless activities from basketball to roller skating, welcomed numerous proms and graduation ceremonies and even narrowly escaped flames, the Keller Independent School District’s historic Rock Gym, officially called the Keller Recreation Center, adds turning 80 to its colorful list of accomplishments this fall.

Constructed in 1933-34 as part of the Civil Works Administration, a short-lived program in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, the structure was made of native sandstone and petrified wood, and cost $16,000 in its day. It included meeting rooms, locker rooms, two basketball courts, a stage and a fireplace for heat. Scores from the 1957 champion football team, the fireplace and inspirational graffiti from past students (“A winner never quits”) remain on view in a back hallway and office.

“It was more than a gym; it was a social center,” says Don Blevins, a member of Keller High’s Class of 1958.

Back in 1948, Blevins attended the adjoining “Keller School” when most of the classrooms were destroyed by fire. Most students were at recess when the building went up in flames. Blevins remembers going inside to get his new jacket and seeing smoke billowing from the roof as he came out. The Rock Gym was not damaged and held several classes, as did some U.S. Army surplus buildings that were moved to school district property on College Street and Price (later renamed Keller Parkway). A new school opened at the site in 1951, and Blevins says a common dare among students during his school days was to try to walk on the narrow waist-high ledge that wraps around the building.

Over the years, the Rock Gym continued to cater to the community, even after the first Keller High School (now Keller Middle School) opened a new gymnasium in 1966. The old Keller School became Keller Elementary School. Benann Turnley, Keller High Class of 1984, remembers roller skating in the Rock Gym during the 1970s — adding that skaters had to watch their glide to avoid the rotted portions of its original maple floors.

After some years of neglect, the building was given a new purpose in the 1990s when bond issues in 1992 and 1995 included $3.2 million for renovations and Keller Elementary School became the Keller ISD Education Center, while its adjoining Rock Gym became the board meeting room — its sandstone and petrified wood walls once again playing host to a variety of district and community events.