The Assembly Hall was born out of a need for a single arena that could seat an entire University class. The growing number of students had long since overwhelmed the Auditorium's seating capacity, so on Honors Day, Friday, May 3, 1963,   the new Assembly Hall was dedicated. It cost $8,350,000 to build, which was funded through the sale of bonds to be repaid via student fees.  Designed by Max Abramovitz, the building is one of the world's largest edge-supported structures.  Abramovitz also designed the Krannert Center for Performing Arts and his firm was responsible for the Philharmonic Hall, the RCA Music Hall, the Time-Life building and the Metropolitan Opera House. 
When the Assembly Hall was first built, it bordered the University's 9-hole golf course, affectionately known as "Death Valley". First opened in the 1920's, it was the only public golf course in the city until the UI Orange Course opened in 1949. Its first four holes zigzagged east-west and then west-east, leading many a stray golf ball to a near miss with a fellow golfer. Over time this part of the course became known as "Suicide Alley", and "when play was heavy, smart golfers kept at least one eye on the skies". Golfers weren't the only would-be targets, and passing cars on Kirby Avenue and the peaceful plots of Mount Hope Cemetery also began the final resting grounds for many a missed shot. By the later years of its operation, it was closed on July Fourth because the parade ran near the course and "they didn't want anybody to get knocked off a float by a golf ball". It was also joked that the UI "might be the only Big Ten team that has putting greens in their parking lot" due to the fact that the course doubled as parking for games at Memorial Stadium. The course was finally razed in the summer of 1985 to make way for the new baseball and track stadiums and the Bielfeldt Administration Building. 
The building was constructed on a truly massive scale in every respect. The 400-foot diameter of the building reaches its peak at 128 feet above the center floor. During construction a special horizontal-wheeled tractor was borrowed from missile silo work to wind 614 miles of 1/5" steel wire around the dome's edge, circling the dome 2,467 times. This placed more than 130,000 pounds per square inch of tension on the concrete, which caused it to squeeze inward and rise upwards, such that the 800,000 square feet of wooden scaffolding which had supported the concrete when it was poured was uncovered and removed. The dome today is 2 inches less than it was when it was originally poured due to this operation. Even the concourse was built on an impressive scale, with 24 bridges leading onto the quarter mile concourse, which is lit by 24 skylights. 
A building with such impressive construction pedigree should have a seating capacity to match, and the Assembly Hall does not disappoint. The building has 16,000 permanent seats and for sports events and performances an additional 2,000 temporary seats can be brought in.  The center floor can also be covered with 225 sectional panels to create a regulation basketball court, and a unique theater grid hovers 85 feet above the ground. 
With the death of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963, Illinois Governor Otto Kerner sent a letter to the Board of Trustees requesting that the newly-opened building be named in honor of the fallen president because "he brought to the Presidency a love of athletics and the arts - two vital facets of our life for which the assembly hall was erected". The request was referred for further consideration, with Trustee Dilliard recommending that the Board "secure student opinion on the proposal". 
Today the Assembly Hall is the largest venue in Illinois outside of the Chicago United Center and has played host to such performers as The Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, U2, and The Harlem Globetrotters.