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Gazette Premium Content Side Streets: City Auditorium is where we really live

9 photos photo - The City Auditorium in 1925 Photo by Courtesy of Special Collections, Pikes Peak Library District (044-4508) + caption
The City Auditorium in 1925 Photo by Courtesy of Special Collections, Pikes Peak Library District (044-4508)
By Bill Vogrin Updated: September 20, 2013 at 5:08 pm

Where in Colorado Springs can you relax and catch a friendly roller derby match?

Or the next day attend a flea market?

Or maybe paint your face and slam dance in a mosh pit to some death metal band?

Or eat a sack lunch while the pipe organ plays?

There's only one place where all that and more regularly occurs: the City Auditorium.

And if the Pioneers Museum is the city's attic, as I call it, where all our cool old stuff is stored, the City Auditorium, at Weber and Kiowa streets downtown, is the family rec room where we really live.

But instead of playing Twister, we might be watching a bare knuckle cage fight or a college basketball game. Or attending a metaphysical fair. Or a high school graduation.

I love its colorful history and its impressive architecture including a Latin inscription "Usui Civium Decori Urbis" - "for the use of the people and the glory of the city" - and its gritty charm.

In fact, I think it's cool that this colossal blond brick structure, formally attired in Classic-Revival-style architecture complete with four Ionic columns, is the place where we have watched the Harlem Globetrotters, enjoyed fancy cat shows and rocked out to the Young Rascals.

My fondest memory is seeing John Prine in concert there a few years ago. He was great, even after he blew an auditorium fuse during his encore and kept playing without amps!

So I'm happy to join in the festivities Sunday when the city celebrates the 90th anniversary of the auditorium. A host of free events are planned from noon to 6 p.m. including:

- Musical performances by local bands, including the Air Force Academy's Wild Blue Country

- Kids' Art Fest by Concrete Couch

- Theater Workshop by Alley Cats

- Music played on the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ

- City Rock climbing wall

- Free birthday cake

- Silent auction

- Building tours

While you are there, wander around and try to imagine all the history that has occurred in the building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and remains structurally sound.

Imagine the 60,000-square-foot building at its grand opening in 1923.

Imagine how much has changed since then. Seems like everything has changed.

Except the boiler that heats the auditorium, said John Carricato, facility manager since 2006. Same for the cooling system.

"The heating and ventilation system is the original system," Carricato said. "We'd like to upgrade it to a more efficient system."

Supporters estimate it would cost $350,000 to upgrade.

Wooden seats in the auditorium are on the to-do list. Plans developed by the Friends of the City Auditorium call for replacing the seats at a cost of $300,000.

The acoustics in the building suffer and would require about $200,000 to fix with a new ceiling, supporters estimate.

Finally, the bathrooms. There are not nearly enough toilets to satisfy modern building codes. The Friends recommend remodeling the downstairs restrooms and reopening toilets on the mezzanine level at a cost of $300,000.

Throw in some other repairs, and the bill would approach $2 million. But that's a bargain, supporters say, considering it would cost upwards of $15 million to replace the building today.

And where else can you find a multiuse facility with cheap rent and so much character?

"This celebration is also a community awareness event," Carricato said. "This is a community asset. And we're trying to figure out funding sources to get those projects going."

I hope a lot of people come to Sunday's party and appreciate all that the auditorium offers. Maybe folks will be convinced, as I am, that we should never again consider demolishing or selling the auditorium, as some have tried in the past.

Instead, let's fix up the old rec room. Put in surround sound and some new furniture and invite everyone over.

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Read my blog updates at blogs.gazette.com/sidestreets.

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