In praise of old auditoriums

Whatever else they do in downtown Cedar Rapids to rebuild and recover from last year’s flood, I hope the Paramount remains. Old auditoriums are often the neatest places, venues that seem to add class to any event.

We (Audrey, Ben and I) went to Des Moines Saturday to pick up Saminu, a Nigerian exchange student who will be with us this school year. The IRIS exchange program arranged an orientation at Hoyt Sherman Place in Des Moines.

What neat, cool old auditorium. It was dark but “fancy” inside, full of the detailing that old auditoriums lavished on non-functional areas such as ceilings and walls. The interior was the inside of a dome, it felt like attending a program inside an egg. A balcony—a feature rarely seen in today’s auditoriums—was prominent, if not used.

There were box seats on the side, organ bays, a fancy proscenium arch-the works.

It reminded me very mildly of the auditorium at the old Muscatine High School, which was impractical, uncomfortable and very 1940s somber but pretty.

I’m not a person who things “older” always equals better. New auditoriums have their charms too—there is something to be said for good sound systems and a focus on the program rather than the walls. Nonetheless, there is a grace and charm in an old theater with a dark lobby and velvet seats.

It’s a bit like church, in a way. Some modern churches have their function and charms, but often it’s the old ones that have true character and whose very design helps inspire awe. There is sense of something timeless, of being connected to another era, in a stately older structure.

As Americans, we don’t seem to do a good job of preserving the buildings which represent our history. The original mansion at Mount Mercy was torn down as a fire trap. Warde Hall, our most graceful building, has a severe, unhealed elevator scar.

A few years ago, Mount Mercy moved its graduation ceremony to the US Cellular Center, abandoning the Paramount. It was a good move. The old P, while full of character, was too full of family—our graduation ceremony had outgrown its space.

But the Paramount is a “saver.” Nothing could replace it. It’s not exactly Hoyt Sherman Place, but then, that’s partly the point of old buildings—one is rarely exactly like another.


1 Comment

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One response to “In praise of old auditoriums

  1. Toni

    I couldn’t agree more!

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