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    The above photo shows Louisville Memorial Auditorium's original layout versus its current. Tonight, the auditorium will host a showing of the 1925 silent film, Phantom of the Opera, with the nearly 90-year-old Pilcher organ accompanying. A raffle will help raise money to preserve the instrument and the auditorium. Period costumes are encouraged, but optional.
     

    1929 The Greek Revival-style building commemorates the men and women who served in World War I. Organist Charles Courboin plays the inaugural concert on what remains today the world’s largest Pilcher organ, with six chambers and 5,288 pipes.

    1934 George Gershwin performs.

    1935 Ethel Barrymore performs.

    1937 Pilcher repairs the organ after the Great Flood damages it.

    1954 A $170,000 renovation to improve acoustics involves lowering the ceiling, closing off the side balconies, and reducing the seating capacity from 2,349 to 1,742.

    1954-1974 WHAS’ Crusade for Children is held here.

    1959 Frankie Avalon and Dion and the Belmonts perform.

    1961 At the Crusade for Children, a not-yet-famous Diane Sawyer places second when the Crusade queen crown goes to someone else.

    1964 Tickets to the Rolling Stones show cost $4. (Collectors today are offering $5,000 for the show’s poster.) Other ’60s and ’70s shows at the auditorium: Chicago, Bruce Springsteen, Kiss, Arlo Guthrie, Tom Petty, Rush and Billy Joel.

    Mid-’70s The new Louisville Ballet starts performing here. The ballet doesn’t want to pay for union stagehands, and the workers go on strike. WHAS starts hosting Crusade for Children at its own studio.

    1978 Mikhail Baryshnikov performs with the Louisville Ballet. The building joins the National Register of Historic Places and becomes a Louisville Landmark.

    1983 The ballet leaves for the new Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts.

    1980s Iron Maiden, R.E.M. and the Pretenders perform. Plays are also popular.

    1994 The building gets an elevator. Metro government starts sharing the building for its training and meetings. Organist Tim Baker, who has worked on the Pilcher organ since the early ’70s, starts the William H. Bauer Foundation to oversee the organ’s upkeep. The auditorium raises funds by showing silent films from the ’20s, such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Phantom of the Opera, with the organ accompanying.

    1996 Poet Ron Whitehead hosts the Official Hunter S. Thompson Tribute. Johnny Depp, Roxanne Pulitzer and David Amram attend. Writer Paul McDonald says, “It was a wild evening” and that Thompson was “blasting anyone within close range with a fire extinguisher.”

    1997 Ani DiFranco performs.

    2011 The organ goes out of order while Baker and pro-bono craftsmen, as Baker says, “apply 2015 technology to a 1929 instrument.”

    2015 The auditorium schedules more than 100 events. “I’ve been told we host more national dance competitions than any theater in the U.S.,” says executive director Dale Royer, who has worked here since 1977.

    For more info on the Louisville Memorial Auditorium and tonight's event, visit their website louisvillememorialauditorium.com.

    This originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

    Mary Chellis Nelson's picture

    About Mary Chellis Nelson

    Mary Chellis Nelson is the managing editor of Louisville Magazine.

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