GRAND RAPIDS CIVIC AUDITORIUM DESIGNED BY robinson and campau with smith, hinchman & Grylls. TEXT and photos by pam vanderploeg, copyright 2016.
One of the most iconic structures in downtown Grand Rapids is the facade of the Civic Auditorium. Only the neoclassical - art deco facade and interior lobby remain of the building of Indiana limestone. Detroit sculptors Carrado and Rudolph Parducci, known for their work throughout the state created the classical figures and motifs carved and cast in stone by Grand Rapids Cut Stone Company. These include the seal of Grand Rapids, signs of the zodiac, and allegorical figures representing the arts, science, sports and commerce. Read more about the work of Carrado Parducci here http://www.modeldmedia.com/features/corradoparduccidowntowndetroit.aspx
We stopped awhile to gaze at and photograph the auditoriumlocated on the East side of the river at the end of Lyon Street. The Auditorium is part of the plaza west of Monroe, slightly hidden from view behind the Pantlind hotel. The plaza was filled with walkers and families on bikes enjoying the sunny September Sunday. The two buildings located on the plaza, the Fine Arts Building and the Civic Auditorium are representative of the city's history as "furniture city" and Grand Rapids long love affair with the arts. Completed in 1932, the Civic Auditorium was also known as Welsh Auditorium after Mayor George Welsh who was the visionary behind its completion.
An article in the Grand Rapids Spectator, September 19, 1931 described the plans that were presented to the City Commission. They included the six massive columns, grand stair approach, recessed entry and impressive sets of double doors leading to the lobby. The article credits local architects Robinson and Campau, contractors Owens, Ames, Kimball and also lists the Detroit architectural firm of Smith, Hinchman and Grylls for the project. William R. Moore, president of the American Institute of Interior Decorators, led the interior design.
I hadn't realized that the foyer was intact so we climbed the steps and entered what only be described as a gorgeous lobby of burnished wood paneled walls in various patterns. The tile floors gleam, the delicate art-deco metal work on the balcony and the streamlined modern metal rails on the double staircase make a strong art deco statement. One's gaze is continuously directed upward to the large clerestory windows that flood the foyer with light. It would be nice if once you stepped through the interior doors, you would step through time to see the rest of the building. But that is gone now. It's fun to think though of the beginnings.
In the early days of the auditorium, such varied events as concerts, the circus, Shrine Ball and the automobile show were featured. The Civic Auditorium saw good days and bad days but was finally demolished (except for facade and lobby) in 2003 to make way for a new arts and convention center.
A LITTLE HISTORY: At the time the Civic Auditorium was complete, it was the Depression era. People desperately needed work, but there was little money for civic projects. City Manager George Welsh, working with Mayor John D. Karel, devised an innovative city program that paid workers with "scrip" that could be used to purchase food and other goods in a special "scrip" store.
To build the auditorium, an old brick building had to be demolished. The scrip was used to pay workers to clean the mortar off the bricks of the demolished building. They then saved the bricks so that they could be repurposed to build a beautifully designed pool house which is still the centerpiece of beautiful Richmond Park on the westside of the city.
The Civic Auditorium project preceded Roosevelt's New Deal programs. City Manager George Welsh became Mayor of Grand Rapids in 1938 and served for more than a decade. John D. Karel was Mayor until 1934 and served as a Kent County Purchasing Agent 1935-1940 and later as a three-term state legislator 1944-1950.