Atlanta’s WPA-Renovated Auditorium-Armory

The_Atlanta_Constitution_Sun__Aug_13__1933_

I ran across the architect rendering by A. Ten Eyck Brown, above, while searching for information about Atlanta’s sewer system.  In 1933, Atlanta applied for a loan from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to construct a new auditorium that was proposed to “…cost $1,500,000, seat 9,000 persons, and contain auditorium, theater and convention features which would be second to none in the country” (The Atlanta Constitution, Aug. 13, 1933, p. 1).  Brown…

…pointed out that the present auditorium on Gilmer street, which was built in 1909, is obsolete and inadequate, especially in its armory, and a hazard in many respects. (Largest City Auditorium in Southeast Planned Here. The Atlanta Constitution. Aug. 13, 1933, p. 6)

Brown proposed the new building would include a flat arena that could be inclined, a dress circle, balcony, stage, lobbies, restrooms, be fire proof, and have capacity to raise and lower the stage and include a smaller theater with separate entrances from the larger main theater.  It would include exhibition rooms and studios.  The armory would include ground-floor mezzanines, locker, supply rooms, headquarters, offices, drill room, moveable seats, mechanical heating and cooling, swimming pool, and spectator seats.

The order to design the building was preceded by a contentious city council meeting whereby much division over the budget occurred.  Those opposed were concerned because of the salary cuts to be imposed of 31 per cent in order to secure Atlanta bank funding for the city portion.  At the time, more than 4,000 city employees were more than a month behind in pay.

What of the building it was designed to replace?

The first meeting to plan the Atlanta Auditorium-Armory was held in 1907 by the Atlanta Auditorium Association with a meeting of the stockholders and the board of directors, by President James R. Gray (The Atlanta Constitution, Apr. 2, 1907).  The constitution and bylaws were adopted, and chairman J. J. Spalding presented a report authorizing a series of bonds, which was also adopted.

In the post card above, Gilmer Street is the street mid-card to right and Courtland Avenue is mid-card to left.  By July, the floor plans were presented to the building committee and illustrated entrances that fronted on both Courtland Avenue and Gilmer Street.  The main entrance to the auditorium was on Courtland, and Gilmer Street featured seven entrances.  The Atlanta Constitution, Jul. 14, 1907, p. 3 featured in depth descriptions of the interior and exterior of the building.  An alcove was designed to hold an “immense organ” (p. 3).   The small auditorium could seat 800-1000, “…while Architect Morgan declares that twelve hundred, possibly fifteen hundred, may be accommodated therein.”  Consistent with the architect’s high expectations, “the greater auditorium can take care of a seventy-five hundred minimum, and with well trained ushers can comfortably add another fifteen hundred to two thousand.”  I assume that means seating was not fixed?

The 15,000 square feet of sectional flooring for the auditorium was one and one-quarter inch thick maple, and designed to be able to be removed and relaid depending on the need.  This decision was arrived at when the need for dirt on top of concrete for the horse show would necessitate excessive cost installation and removal of dirt (The Atlanta Constitution, Feb. 13, 1909, p. 7).  By November, the project had sufficient revenue to repay the stockholder subscriptions in the amount of $7,817.50 when the city took over the building and assumed the obligations for the bonds.  Contractors were Gude and Walker, and Morgan & Dillon were architects.

So how did the Atlanta Auditorium and Armory get from 1909 to the proposed new building pictured below in 1933?  Let’s go back to Architect A. Ten Eyck Brown.

The_Atlanta_Constitution_Sun__Aug_13__1933_

According to Robert M. Craig (2002), A. Ten Eyck Brown (1878-1940)

…was the prominent architect of public buildings in Atlanta for the first third of the twentieth century; he was rivaled only by Morgan and Dillon (later Morgan, Dillon, and Lewis. (New Georgia Encylopedia, Dec. 7, 2016).

Albert Anthony Ten Eyck Brown was the son of an architect.  Trained at the Academy of Design in New York, he worked in both New York and Washington, D. C. prior to moving to Atlanta.  Even during the depression, Brown was active, designing many stripped-down Depression classical public buildings.  Brown’s new auditorium-armory was never built, and he died in 1940 prior to the completion of his last project.  He would, however, have weathered the ups and downs of the failure of Atlanta to secure the new building and see his competition, Morgan & Dillon, gain the WPA contract to renovate the old auditorium-armory building, which Morgan had initially designed.

In 1936, the plans to demolish and rebuild the old auditorium-armory were underway.

Demolition of Aud-Armory

The Constitution, March 8, 1936, p. 14

The auditorium was scheduled for completion by June 15, 1937, but was still under construction in February 1938.  “The taxpayers of the city were saved a total of $896,300 by the WPA in remodeling the auditorium” (Councilman John A. White, chairman of the building committee).  Repair work was completed by WPA workers, although private contractors were used on steel joists, new cantilever columns, renovation of entrance, lobby and cleaning (The Constitution, Feb. 27, 1938, p. 45).

The_Atlanta_Constitution_Sun__Feb_28__1943_

The renovated auditorium was completed in 1938, and in 1940, the front portion of the building was destroyed by fire A new entrance on Courtland was proposed and the auditorium cleaned and renovated to host the opera again, however, the newly elected mayor suspended the work on the front of the building in 1942, stating,

There’s not enough money to be spending on work like that.

The new front to the auditorium was finally completed in 1943.  Archival photographs show a new front erected in front of the rear nine arches of the 1909 red brick building in the post card photo.  Google map indicates that portion of the original building is no longer extant.  The 1943 front portion, pictured below is now part of Georgia State University.

800px-GSU_Auditorium_Atlanta

GSU Dahlbery Hall, 2012.  CC BY-SA 3.0 by Keizers. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Municpal_Auditorium_(Atlanta)#/media/File:GSU_Auditorium_Atlanta.JPG

 

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3 Responses to Atlanta’s WPA-Renovated Auditorium-Armory

  1. Sheryl says:

    Wow, the scale of this building effort is impressive. I enjoyed reading about it. And, it’s sad that part of the building burned so soon after it was completed.

  2. W. White says:

    I do not have my copy handy at the moment to be sure, but I believe Robert Craig’s “Atlanta Architecture: Art Deco to Modern Classic, 1929-1959” has information about this building; I believe I recognize it (from your last photograph) from Craig’s book.

    Good post. I do not click over to this blog and read your non-Preservation in Mississippi posts as often as I should.

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