City auditorium undergoes ‘total makeover’

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 28, 2000

From an extended stage to a state-of-the-art sound system, recent renovation of the city auditorium has proved to be more than a face-lift. It’s undergone a &uot;total makeover.&uot;

The auditorium, located at the corner of Wall and Jefferson streets, was built in 1939 as a basketball coliseum. But for the last few decades, it has been the setting for local garden clubs’ spring pageants, along with other events.

&uot;It’s come a long way since the first day we walked in here,&uot; said Robert Shook, site supervisor for Carothers Construction. &uot;A total makeover.&uot;

Email newsletter signup

Among the most noticeable changes in the current renovation are the replacement of seats and total redesign of the portion of the building’s interior that surrounds an expanded stage.

Because the building was designed as an arena, those people seated nearest the stage on each side were unable to see action on the stage, which was added years later.

To correct the problem, crews removed seating from those sections — about 200 seats — and replaced the area with four new dressing rooms. &uot;Every seat in the house now has a direct view of the stage,&uot; said Johnny Waycaster, project architect.

The redesign was accomplished with only a small infringement of about 3 feet on the main floor, which Waycaster said was an important consideration for the garden clubs. In fact, many of the details in the renovation were designed with the garden club pageants in mind.

For example, three adjoining seats on each side of the main floor where garden club presidents traditionally sit are removable. During pageants, the seats may be replaced with a bench to cater to the women’s large hoopskirts, Waycaster said. Also, the new dressing rooms flanking the stage also hide staircases often kept active by parents who come to see their child in a pageant and then leave.

By hiding the staircase, parents can still come and go without distracting the rest of the audience, Waycaster said.

But the almost $1 million renovation is not solely to benefit the garden clubs.

&uot;The pageant has always been the main tenant, but the whole purpose of this was to make it more usable for other events,&uot; Waycaster said.

Walter Tipton, tourism director, said he is hoping to draw more events, including concerts and graduations, to the auditorium.

&uot;We’re excited about it because it is such an improvement over the old wooden bleachers,&uot; he said.

The newly-renovated auditorium is furnished with 1,004 cushioned, flip-back seats. Fold-up chairs purchased by the city for use at the also recently-renovated community center will provide 200 additional seats when placed on the main floor.

&uot;It’s a great venue for a lot of things,&uot; Tipton said, adding that the auditorium is the largest indoor facility in the area.

But, there’s much more to the renovation than can be seen at first look, Waycaster said, including an electric heating system to replace the old boiler, a sprinkler system, new curtains, lighting and rigging and a state-of-the-art sound system.

Both sound and lighting will be operated from a new control booth in the rear of the auditorium.

The booth will eliminate the need for walkie-talkies to crew behind the stage as well as reclaim 24 seats that were normally blocked off during productions.

For the last month, crews have been working seven days a week to finish the renovations, which began in June and are scheduled for completion by the end of the month.

The first event booked for the auditorium is a Christmas cotillion on Dec. 9. A walk-through inspection tour by city aldermen is also scheduled for Dec. 12, the same day aldermen will break ground on the downtown convention center.

Both projects, along with the new community center in the old Service Motor Co. building, are part of the city’s convention center complex.