The Court Hill and Lincoln Square areas represented some of the earliest development locations in the center of Worcester, continuing well into the 20th century revealing what sits there proudly today: grand churches, civic and public buildings all displaying an unequaled elegance and grandeur.
The Worcester Auditorium
The last of the major projects in this area was the Worcester War Memorial Auditorium to be erected on the west side of Lincoln Square on what was called the “Salisbury Orchard.” As early as 1917 discussions of the needs for an auditorium space with Mayor Pehr G. Holmes stating: “That is undoubtedly one of the next large activities toward which public sentiment should direct itself.”
Although the initial concept of an auditorium was conceived in the midst of World War I, its “expression of civic gratitude” was extended back to the Revolutionary War to honor all of those who responded to the Government’s call for armed combat. But special recognition was given to the 355 Worcester residents who sacrificed their lives in the First World War. Within days following the Armistice of November 11, 1918, Mayor Holmes named an Auditorium Committee consisting of former mayors as well as other civic minded members of the Worcester community.
An appropriate site for the auditorium proved rather difficult and most certainly controversial. The first site selected was on the Common facing Salem Square with a Public Library in addition to an auditorium. (Ironically, the current Worcester Public Library now stands close to what had been proposed for both Library and Auditorium.) From 1921-1925 no further progress was made on the project. But in June of 1925, the City Council moved the project forward with the now current site as the one to be considered. Finally, in November of 1929, with a generous gift from a “group of public spirited citizens and the Trustees of the Worcester Art Museum,” 100,000 square feet at Salisbury Street, Institute Road, Highland Street, and Harvard Street, was the chosen location.
With a site secured, plans went forward for an appropriate design. As is often the case for such projects a prize was offered and outstanding architects from across the country were invited to participate. Three architects from Worcester became the finalists in the process: third prize went to Adolph Johnson, second to Joseph B. Leland, and first prize to Lucius Briggs, who collaborated with Frederick C. Hirons of New York City. The winning design is a combination of Classical Revival with large Doric columns on the front façade with strong Art Deco influences both inside and out. Ground breaking took place on September 10, 1931, and the corner stone was laid on April 14, 1932. The official dedication was September 26, 1933, at 8:00 P.M. followed by a week of celebration with concerts and special programs making use of the new facility. The completed structure sits on a base of “Deer Island Granite” supporting an upper portion of dressed Indiana limestone with ornamentation in an Art Deco style. Inside there is the main auditorium with seating for 3508 in addition to the Little Theater with seating for 675. Art Deco motifs are continued on the interior as part of Briggs design.
A mural by Leon Kroll in what was called in 1933 “The Shrine of the Immortal” was completed in 1941. Kroll was born in New York City in 1884 and died in Gloucester, Mass, in 1974. He was described by Life Magazine as “the dean of U. S. nude painters.” However, there are no nude figures in the Auditorium mural although Kroll did use local Worcester residents as figures in the mural. The mural took three years to complete between 1938 and 1941. The acoustics in this Memorial Hall boast seven second reverberation, rivaling that of many large cathedrals, making it a prime location for chamber and a cappella vocal music.
The Kimball Pipe Organ
The Main Hall includes a large pipe organ built by the Kimball Organ Company of Chicago, one of the largest organ builders of the time. The pipes are located in three levels inside large chambers to the left and right of the stage for the five divisions of the organ. An opening above the center of the stage in the ceiling was intended for a huge trumpet stop (which was never completed). The organ contains 6,853 pipes with 107 ranks and 186 stop knobs/tablets controlled from a four-manual console located on the floor of the Auditorium to the left of the stage. The console sits on its own hydraulic elevator (now inoperative) allowing the console to be raised or lowered to the height of the stage, or the floor of the auditorium or even to the level below. This instrument remains unaltered since its installation in 1933, making it one of the most important pipe organs in the country. It is very rare for a pipe organ of this size not to have been changed in over 80 years. The Kimball Company was noted for extremely fine workmanship, as is exhibited by the incredible sound of the instrument and the fact that it is, for the most part, still playing (with minimal maintenance through the years).
During the Auditorium’s history, it had been home to the Bay State Bombardiers of the Continental Basketball Association and the Holy Cross Crusaders prior to the opening of HC’s Hart Center in 1975. It has also hosted Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue and has served as a shelter after the Worcester tornado hit. There is another small performance space known as the “Little Theater” attached to the Auditorium, which can seat 675 people, but it is currently empty as well.
In 2013, a scene for the film American Hustle was filmed in the Worcester Auditorium.
– source: Randolph Bloom