Graves gym is one of the most important buildings in Whitworth's history. Up until the time it opened in 1942, Whitworth did not have an appropriate gymnasium to play intercollegiate basketball. President Warren, who began his tenure in 1940, indicated that building a new gym would be his first priority. Warren and trustees decided to name it in honor of Spokane developer and entrepreneur, Jay Paul Graves. Graves had been instrumental in donating the land for the Whitworth campus in north Spokane back in 1914.
However, the gymnasium proved difficult to build. Because of World War II, many materials were in short supply. Not to be denied, President Frank Warren did all he could personally to secure nails, sometimes a handful at a time. He reserved a carload of concrete just before the government issued a freeze order, and the project began. Once construction had begun, funds were still in short supply. Warren convinced students that they could help by raising money among local businesses. Students decided on what they called a “Brickskrieg Campaign,” an obvious reference to the German “Blitzkrieg” style of warfare. Students organized the city into 30 districts and on May 5 and 6, 1942, they were let out of class to canvass the city and sell paper facsimiles of bricks for 50 cents apiece. $3,100 was raised and the project generated a remarkable level of student participation.
The construction proceeded, but not without incident; perhaps the most elaborate prank in college history was carried out primarily by a student named Sydney Eaton. Eaton decided that it would be fun to place a rock in the excavation site with a message that he and other students had chiseled into the stone that read: “10 day sence Vige John has feaver 1703.” After construction workers unearthed the rock, word of the discovery spread quickly as Whitworth Professor Al Culverwell, from the department of Sociology, alerted local newspapers. Professors from Eastern Washington came out to the Whitworth campus as well officials from the Eastern Washington State Historical Society. Someone suggested that the rock might have come from the eastern coast of North America through an Indian trade network and may have been placed in or around a grave of a Native American. When it became evident that people were taking it much too seriously, Eaton confessed. Fortunately for Mr. Eaton, enrollment pressures were such that after admitting it was a hoax and apologizing, he was able to remain in school. Once the controversy was settled, construction resumed and while the building was not completely finished, commencement was held in the new gymnasium in June 1942 to much celebration.
Graves gym provided an important boost to student morale and an important escape from the stress of the war. The commons area in the basement was well received and the first intercollegiate basketball game in Graves gymnasium occurred on December 4, 1942 between Whitworth and cross-town rival Gonzaga College. Sadly that first game ended in a loss by a score of 42-41. During that basketball season, Whitworth played its most varied schedule in school history. Pretty much any group that could muster a team played Whitworth, and so the college competed with schools ranging from Lewiston (later known as Lewis-Clark State College). Cheney Junior Varsity (Eastern Washington Normal School), Ephrata, Yakima Junior College. Whitworth played a team from the Navy, a team from the Army Headquarter at Fort Wright, a team from the 2nd Air. Force Bombers, and a team from Geiger Field. Graves gym was a center for college activity out of class as chapel, drama productions and occasional assemblies were all held in the new facility.