The headlines over the Washington city auditorium’s need for new doors, and what to do about them, has done one very positive thing — it has focused on the need to preserve and restore the auditorium. That’s going to take a resolve to act, and, of course, spend some money. It does appear that the 40-year-old doors will be replaced.
That is the will of the city council, which is going to rebid the project, with new specifications.
The auditorium should be granted a future. It has a purpose. It still is a house full of potential. It must be maintained. The site has more good memories for people than any other public building in the city! It has been used by the public more than city hall.
Perhaps when the city goes to voters to renew its sales tax for capital improvements, it can be included for major improvements. In the meantime, it must be maintained.
It might be wise for the park board to appoint a citizens committee to study and recommend improvements that should be made. It needs an interior overhaul. Could and should it be expanded? There is room for an addition, which may not be practical.
Now we know there are people, probably even architects, who would say it would be best to raze the structure, built in the mid-1930s, than to try to preserve and expand it. That’s always voiced when this type of situation comes up. That’s to be expected. And, arguments dollarwise can be made to support that position.
But, the city auditorium stands as a monument to an important era in America’s history, and the history of Washington. It was a federal WPA project, built during the Great Depression. WPA stands for Works Progress Adminstration. WPA projects were scattered across the country to help the economy. They put people to work particularly on public works projects that communities needed.
It is a house of memories, as mentioned, and played a key role in Washington from the 1930s to decades forward. At one time, before the Knights of Columbus and Elks had large auditoriums, it was the place for large events of all kinds. The need for larger facilities prompted the Knights of Columbus and the Elks lodge to construct new facilities.
The city auditorium once was a popular site for high school basketball games. The semi-pro Master Bakery team played there in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Basketball tournaments were played there. Both high schools used it. For a period after the 1946-47 season, Washington High and Borgia High did not play scheduled games for some time. The final games prior to that period, 1946-47 season, the Blue Jays and Knights split in two games. Both games were close. The auditorium was packed with fans of both schools. Because of the emotions of adult fans, the two schools decided not to play regular season games. Some years later, that policy changed. During that no-play-each-other in the regular season era, they did meet in tournaments. One of the memories!
The auditorium was a popular place for wedding receptions and countless other events. We can remember some events when both the auditorium and dance pavilion were rented for a large event. The forerunner to the Washington Fair was the Farm Products Fair. The auditorium was used to display farm products. During World War II, troops from Fort Leonard Wood camped in tents next to the auditorium and used its restrooms. The troops were here to serve as guards along the railway tracks when the president and other high officials passed through on trains.
We remember when the city elected its officials by political parties. Nominating conventions were held in the city auditorium. It also was used for other political rallies, or when federal or state officials were here to speak. Not too long ago it was the senior center.
We could go on as to the events and meetings held there. Enough said. Probably, no members of the city council or park board remember the early history of the auditorium — too young. That’s not their fault or perhaps they didn’t live here at that time.
It is good news that the city council appears to appreciate the auditorium and the need to maintain it.