The Auditorium (PWA)

UA Auditoriumcochise

The Auditorium (PWA). Undergoing a $3.8 million remodeling.

A great deal has been written about the University of Arizona's Auditorium, possibly because auditoriums have glamour; they offer programs of entertainment that are open to the general public, and they are used for student assemblies and various campus meetings.

The UA Auditorium, now being remodeled, was the second one for the university, the first being the Aggie Auditorium, discussed earlier in this report.

The new auditorium was designed by Roy Place and was built by M.M. Sundt. It opened for use with dedication ceremonies on April 22, 1937, and was financed under the PWA plan. It is located just east of the original Arizona State Museum. Original cost was $221,727 and it seated 2,800 spectators. Critics of the day scoffed at the capacity, saying that the UA would never have use for that many seats. At the dedication ceremonies, however, it was filled to capacity and has enjoyed overflow crowds many times since then.

In 1963 alterations costing $148,462 were made from designs of Lew Place, head of the Place and Place architectural firm. The present alteration is an extensive one begun in May, 1984, and is expected to cost $3.8 million. Anticipated completion date at the time of this writing (1986) is uncertain.

In an interview, Mrs. Evelyn Kirmse had this to say of the present remodeling: "I was by there the other day. I think it would have been cheaper to tear that thing down and put something else there. It is a space where you could get lots of parking." Interviewer, JFC: Lew Place's father, Roy, was the designer of the auditorium and Lew is a little upset with the assertion that the acoustics were bad. Lew claims that the acoustics were perfect until it was decided to put in a public address system.

Kirmse: I think that one thing we could say when we are criticizing lacks in buildings on the campus is that we should remind people that many of those lacks came about because we had to do extensive cutting in the plans to meet the amount appropriated - to compensate for our lack of available money. One of the great criticisms that we have lived with currently with that auditorium was lack of facilities backstage. Dressing rooms, bathrooms for performers and all that sort of thing. But we have to remember that when Roy designed that building he was under the same constraints that we face today, as far as money was concerned. He couldn't say we'll do it this way and do it right. He had to squeeze. I worked with him on buildings that he designed for my department enough to know. Chiefly, as Dean of Women, I worked with him on dormitories. "

The 1963 expenditure of $148,462 was chiefly for work above the ceiling, putting in a rehabilitated air conditioner, according to Warren Moon. There was also work done on exits and behind the stage. The public address system was also, supposedly, improved.

One criticism of the present rehabilitation of the building has been that "they can't use it for the Centennial Celebration" of the university's 100th year of existence. Mrs. Lew Place Nelson states: "I remember when the auditorium was first finished. Someone stood on the stage and we were way back and could hear every word spoken. The acoustics were so perfect. "That was before the public address system was ordered installed. Lew Place tells about the original acoustics plan:

"A music professor named Rollin Pease from the UA came down to Roy Place's office during the time he was designing the auditorium. This was in 1935. Pease had a suggestion for the acoustics of the ceiling. In those days, no one knew very much about acoustics, it seems. His idea was that the trusses, which have false beams under the gable in that area, would be placed so that the sound from the stage would come up and down and that anything, any sound, that came from the stage would go up and hit that and would come back and hit the back end of the auditorium and it sounded logical and reasonable. They, the professor and Roy, worked it out on paper, so that was the way it was built.

"And the acoustics in that building, as large as it was inside, made it so that you could get up in the raised area at the rear of the auditorium and have a person stand on stage and have that person speak in a normal tone of voice, and could hear him perfectly.

"We put sounding board of wood on the back wall of the stage so that if it hit it, it would push the sound out, instead of just coming from the instruments themselves. But for some reason, somebody many years later from the Physical Resources Department - or someone who had complained about the acoustics - put in an amplifier system on each side. At the center of those gables, so that the sound that came from the amplifier; the amplifier itself, didn't do a bit of good, except distort the sound. Then you could hardly hear a thing. Because it was coming from the wrong direction, coming across the sides of the auditorium. And now, they're going in there and try to do something else with it. "

Today (late 1985) the auditorium is practically a hollow shell. The entire back end of the south has been removed. The insides are stripped. Lew Place was asked why, or if he knew the reason. "They're doing it, chiefly, because of the acoustics," he said, "I think they're enlarging the stage or putting a fly on it. (A fly is a tall addition at the back of the stage to allow for the raising and lowering of curtains and backdrops.)

"I haven't any contact with the reconstruction. As a matter of fact, anything that has ever been done at the university since I closed my office and retired, I have never once been contacted by the university about any of the structures that we designed."

At this point, Warren Moon, who was present at the interview said, "I think its ridiculous. " The dedication of the auditorium on April 22, 1937, was an auspicious affair. It was open to the townspeople of Tucson and anyone else who wanted to attend. It featured 200 performers - the university band, orchestra, a play, a dancing performance, and two speakers.

The auditorium was jammed. UA Professor Rollin Pease was the master of ceremonies; Dr. A. O. Andersen, Dean of the College of Fine Arts, held the premier performance of "Land of Light," which he composed; the concert band played the "University of Arizona March," written by Joseph DeLuca, and the students sang.

The newspapers reported that the "3,200" seats were filled to capacity. (The number of seats in the auditorium was variously listed as 2,800, 3,000, and 3,200. Perhaps no one had bothered to count them. Phyllis Ball, of the UA Library's special collections department told the author that not all seats were installed in the upper back of the auditorium on opening night.)

UA President Dr. Paul S. Burgess spoke. The orchestra played, "Prelude," written by former student Robert McBride, who had won a Guggenheim fellowship. A one-act play, "Happy Journey," by Thornton Wilder, was directed by Marguerite Morrow; a pageant by George Anson, "Pageant of the Mission," featuring Indian attacks, Spanish priests, and the completion of the San Xavier mission, was presented; the tap dancing class of Mrs. Genevieve Brown Wright, gave a review.

The audience, in closing, sang "All Hail, Arizona," written by Dorothy and Ted Monro. It was a glorious night. Newspapers announced that the present restoration will include a new sound system, stage and backstage extensions, showers and dressing rooms, sprinklers and other minor improvements.

In 1982, a UA safety coordinator was suspended from his job for 30 days after calling the auditorium a fire trap. He had violated UA policies by releasing a critical memorandum to the student newspaper, the Wildcat, and other critics said the roof leaked. The Arizona Daily Star reported that the current renovation does not include plans to stop the leakage in the roof.

Douglas E. Hedlund, head of the Department of Physical Resources, was quoted as saying that the $3.8 million renovation includes money to "remedy acoustical deficiencies" caused by "the shape of the building." If if were possible, he might find an argument with Roy Place and Rollin Pease.

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