Civic Center Music Hall - History
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In 1911, Oklahoma City was in a state of growth. The Chamber of Commerce and city government made an executive decision to purchase the railroad right-of-way that bisected the downtown business district from the east to west block of Main Street. Then in 1927, voters approved the bond issue for the “Civic Center Project.” However, due to the Great Depression, the railroad tracks were removed, and the lot sat empty for many years. By the summer of 1935, President Roosevelt had introduced his “New Deal” Program. Under the New Deal, Roosevelt had created the “Works Project Administration”, which was able to provide federal grants for the aid to the construction of public buildings by providing federal grants. Finally, the “Civic Center Project” was coming to life.
The project took off from the city manager and the Chamber of Commerce. They had planned to build a city/county/ complex on the vacant lot. The complete project was to include four buildings; a police station, the Municipal Auditorium, the Municipal Building, and the Municipal Courthouse. By April 1937, the Municipal Auditorium was finally complete. The auditorium held 6,200 people set for stage performance, and up to 7,500 for a convention or sporting event. In its inauguration performance, the Broadway show debuted on October 18, 1937. Tickets ranged from $.56 in the upper balcony to $2.80 in the first two rows of the orchestra. The Municipal Auditorium’s first 30 years were a great success. People would flock through its doors to see basketball games, the symphony, and even the circus. President Eisenhower also made a stop at the Municipal Auditorium and delivered a speech on its stage. But, in 1965, the State Fair Arena opened. The Arena trumped the Municipal Auditorium in seating a capacity size. The Auditorium began losing events such as basketball games and the circus to the Arena. They found that the Arena had larger and more convenient space to host the larger events.
The decision was made by the City to renovate the Auditorium and focus on the performing arts. So, in 1967, in what was called the “deal of the century”, they built a theatre-within-a-theatre. That reduced the seating from 6,200 to 3,200. The renovations and new focus prompted the new name: Civic Center Music Hall. During the 1970s, the Art’s Festival took place on the grounds of the Civic Center, attracting hundreds of people to the major event. The Civic Center continued to host many Broadway shows, rock shows, and even graduations.
Then, in 1997, the Civic Center underwent another renovation as part of MAPS 1. MAPS, otherwise known as the Metropolitan Area Projects, is Oklahoma City’s capital improvement program supporting sports, recreation, entertainment, cultural, and convention facilities. When it was decided that the Civic Center would undergo a $53 million renovation, they knew they wanted to create an acoustically superior hall. They knew they wanted to reduce the length of space from the stage to the back wall by 68 feet, but there was one key thing they had to address first. In 1937 when the building was built, it was built on a riverbed, which is the equivalent to quicksand. In order to combat the sinking, engineers drove 635 cast auger peers down to the bedrock. If you notice the stainless steel seam running around the outside of the Thelma Gaylord PAT, that seam acts as a gasket to prevent vibrations coming from the other spaces in the facility. Around the theatre, they created a 5story open-air atrium and double light and sound lock doors. All of the advancements made during the 2001 renovation have made the Civic Center Music Hall on of the best acoustical halls in the Country.
The Civic Center Music Hall celebrated its 75th Diamond Anniversary in 2012.