Thursday, November 29, 2007

As "attractive a small theater. . ."

Work concluded in March 1913; on the 15th of that month the Auditorium was opened with a Saturday afternoon matinĂ©e performance of “Modern Eve.” The daytime show was scheduled for the “benefit of our of town patrons,” with consideration also extended to the children of the community. The discounted fifty-cent seats in the balcony were reserved for children twelve years of age and under. The formal dedication of the auditorium occurred that evening with the presentation of “The Only Son.” Prior to the performance, Richland Center’s Mayor P. L. Lincoln addressed the audience and extended public thanks to the community, to the building committee and to the contractor. Within months of opening, the success of the auditorium required the city to expand the width of the sidewalk in front of the building to accommodate crowds congregating before and after performances; at that time the city also placed two ornamental electric light posts at each corner of the building.

Shortly following the completion of the auditorium, journalist Walter A. Dyer visited Richland Center and wrote a piece for the New York-based publication World’s Work. In the August 1915 issue Dyer shared his complimentary perceptions of Richland Center and provided a national audience with a glowing description of the community, which he said exemplified cooperative action and the spirit of the Middle West. Dyer’s article offered an excellent description of the features and the arrangement of spaces in the new auditorium. He commented that it was “as attractive a small theater, opera house, and lecture hall" as he had ever seen, and offered further that “its decorative beauty scarcely conceals its look of confident efficiency.” In his final analysis of the building he wrote,

The Richland Center Auditorium has undoubtedly contributed in a degree to the community spirit and democracy of the place, and it has given the leaders a confidence in social experimentation. It is a popular institution with no taint of philanthropy, and it is used by the people largely because they built it themselves.

(Photo courtesy of the Richland Center History Room)