Morris Performing Arts Center
The Morris Performing Arts Center first opened in 1922 as the Palace Theater. It was designed by Chicago architect J. S. Aroner and initially hosted vaudeville shows and later, serial photo shows (1920s soap operas) and other silent movies. It escaped demolition in 1959 thanks to the generosity of philanthropist Ella Morris and was renamed the Morris Civic Auditorium. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985 and still brings top-notch live entertainment to South Bend. Tours of the center are available by appointment Tuesday through Friday from 10:00-3:00 for a small fee.
Backstory and Context
The 2,500 seat Palace Theater was designed to be just that, “a little palace” by its designer J. S. Aroner and defied architectural style as it incorporated numerous European influences. During its early decades it welcomed Broadway troupes traveling between New York City and Chicago as well as the Ziegfeld Follies. Performers such as George Burns, Gracie Allen, Bette Davis, Amos and Andy, Harry Houdini, Bing Crosby, Elvis, and Frank Sinatra have graced its stage.
In 1959, the Palace was scheduled for demolition due to declining attendance. However, Ella Morris purchased the theater and re-sold it to the city for $1. The new Morris Civic Auditorium then continued to host world class entertainers such as Louis Armstrong, Hank Williams, and Stevie Wonder. However, the theater continued to suffer from neglect.
The Morris then underwent a $16.5 million renovation from 1998-2000, during which time the theater was restored to its 1920s grandeur and re-named, yet again, to the Morris Performing Arts Center. A new marquee was added in 2005 and the Morris continues to host live entertainment from musical groups, to stand-up comedians to Broadway shows.