ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE)- It is a place that was built out of necessity. When Johnson Gym became to small for the University of New Mexico Lobos and their basketball fans, the school decided to build a new facility. The Pit opened in December of 1966 and was completed at a cost of $1.7 million. That is a bargain for an arena. Then UNM President Thomas Popejoy had the idea of building underground to save money and the idea worked well.
There were many doubters as the project started to take shape. Many saw it as a only a big hole in the ground.
“A lot of people did think we were crazy,” said chief architect Joe Boehning while talking to KRQE Sports over a decade ago. “It was a very unique concept. So when people saw the big hole they had no idea what was going on.”
The Lobos built it and the fans did come. Boehning shared his memory of the first night.
“We talked about maybe we will have 15,000 people in the place,” said Boehning. “We had 12,000 some odd people there the first night. So it was a fantastic beginning.”
More seats were later added. A balcony brought the capacity from just under 15,000 to 18,018. That addition cost more than the cost of the entire Pit at $2 million. Later, seats were decreased to make room for luxury suites bringing capacity down to just over 15,000. The Pit also had $66 million in renovations during it’s 50 years.
No matter how big or small, fans continue to come and make The Pit one of the iconic venues in sports. The memories are many from Jim Valvano’s North Carolina State NCAA championship team winning at the buzzer to the many close Lobo games played. There is also the 50 point performance from Marvin Johnson that brought the Lobos a league title.
“That’s one of the highlights of my career at UNM,” said Johnson.
Wednesday, players will keep the memories going as the Lobos welcome Abilene Christian. Former players will be a part of the celebration and the first 7,500 fans will get rally towels as UNM celebrates 50 years at “The Pit” now known as WisePies Arena AKA The Pit.