Sacramento's Memorial Auditorium opened in 1927, providing the city with an impressive stage for professional performances. It is named in honor of service members who died in World War I. With the exception of a ten-year period, the venue has hosted everything from concerts to high school graduations to gubernatorial inaugurations for almost a century. It seats 3,850 and continues to host events today. The building is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is part of the Sacramento Convention Center Complex.
When Sacramento's Memorial
Auditorium opened in 1927, it was lauded as “a most significant step in the
growth of Sacramento” and “a monument to the arts.”1 The auditorium, funded by
$1 million worth of municipal bonds, was part of a larger initiative in the
early twentieth century to improve the city. Along with better utilities, new
water systems, and the city’s first college, Sacramento also invested in the
arts, building the Memorial Auditorium to offer citizens and visitors
professional symphonies and choral performances.
The Memorial Auditorium was
dedicated to those who gave their lives in World War I. City Engineer Allan J.
Wagner and City Architect James S. Dean collaborated with outside consultants
to construct the Memorial Auditorium, including G. Albert Landsburgh, who
designed a number of theatres, and Arthur Brown, Jr., whose architectural firm
designed Berkeley City Hall and Stanford University’s library. The land on
which the Memorial Auditorium is built was given to the city by John A. Sutter,
who settled the area that is now Sacramento. The land originally held the Mary
J. Waters Grammar School, which was razed to build the auditorium. This was not
without controversy, as one of Sutter’s heirs, arguing that the land was intended
only for parks and schools, sued the city. The auditorium was nonetheless
constructed and opened on February 21, 1927.
The auditorium incorporates distinct
architectural features and building materials, such as columnns, arches, a clay
tile roof, terra cotta and plaster trimmings, and brick in five shades of color.
Together, these features are an amalgamation of architectural styles found in
early European Renaissance buildings. At the time of the auditorium’s
construction, the City Architect, James S. Dean, characterized this building as
Byzantine, an architectural style developed by the Byzantine Empire in medieval
times. The auditorium’s short arches and grand columnns along its flat,
rectangular façade evoke this style.
Since its opening, the
Memorial Auditorium has hosted a plethora of performances and events, which
contribute to its diverse history. The first few events held at the auditorium
included an Odd Fellows dance, a Saturday Club concert, and the opera Aida. It then began hosting athletic
events, including wrestling and basketball, and added auto shows, flower shows,
dance contests, fundraisers, graduations, and conventions to its resume. Governors
James Rolph, Frank Merriam, and Culbert Olson hosted their inaugural balls at
the auditorium. It continued to provide a stage for performers ranging from
opera companies to the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys into the late twentieth
The auditorium closed from 1986 to 1996. During that time, it fell into
disrepair and had to be restored before its reopening in 1996. It is now part
of the Convention Center Complex and is listed on the National Register of
Historic Places. Since its reopening, the auditorium has hosted numerous
performers, including Michael Buble, Melissa Etheridge, the Doobie Brothers,
Duran Duran, and Death Cab for Cutie. The auditorium hosted Governor Arnold
Schwarzenegger’s inauguration, while many area high schools hold their graduations
on the stage, making it a site of historical importance for the state and
The Memorial Auditorium continues
its tradition of being a multi-purpose venue. Current plans to renovate the
auditorium again will help ensure it remains part of Sacramento’s arts and
culture scene. While renovations will update sound and lighting systems,
provide new seating, and improve facilities for both staff and visitors,
preservationists are dedicated to retaining its unique historic character.