UIHistories Project: A History of the University of Illinois by Kalev Leetaru
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Auditorium / Foellinger Auditorium

By 1907, the University was celebrating its fortieth birthday and the changes and new challenges that the nearly a half century of growth had brought with it. Chief among those challenges was the need for a new assembly hall where the entire student body could congregate. The new Auditorium was to be completed later that year, with 2,500 seats, capable of holding the entire student body at once. [1]

On May 18, 1907, eager to inaugurate the new Auditorium with a truly magnificent performance, President Janes James dispatched a letter requesting its recipients to send back a list of the three composers they deemed to be the best of the time. On Monday night, November 4, 1907, at 8:15PM, the new Auditorium was dedicated in honor of Edward MacDowell, [2] the first American composer to achieve international fame. [3] The opening nights performances were marred, however, by a terrible echo, which later became a life-sized experiment for the study of acoustics. [4]

The new Auditorium was designed by Bostonian architect Clarence H. Blackall, a University of Illinois graduate of 1877. [5] The original conceptual design of the auditorium envisioned a 30,000 square foot facility with a copper dome capped by a glass oculus, and wings. [6] However, the state appropriated only $100,000 for the construction, well below expected, [7] forcing the building to be scaled back to just 17,000 [8] square feet and use a sheet metal roof with no oculus. The wings also had to be scrapped, but modifications were made so that they could be added at a later date. [9] The building exterior was still constructed of brick and Indiana limestone, overlaying a massive granite foundation. [10] The total cost of the reduced construction was $135,787.78. [11]

The Auditorium underwent several renovations, including a 1937 seating upgrade and a 1951 fire code update, which forced the stairwells to be closed off from the main vestibule. [12] Originally, twin sculptures, the Lacoon Group and the Venus de Milo, fronted the staircases leading to the upper balconies, but they were removed during one of the later renovations and are now located in the Spurlock Museum. [13]

By the early 1970's, the Auditorium was showing signs of significant deterioration, and campus planners recommended that it be razed. [14] However, in 1983 Helene Foellinger donated the funding necessary to finally complete the Auditorium to Blackall's original designs and modernize it. The sheet metal roof was replaced with a copper one, and the wings and backstage areas were added. One of the few deviations from the original plan was the installation of a 4 foot tall pineapple at the peak of the roof in place of the glass oculus originally intended. [15]

Foellinger was a graduate of the class of the 1932 and had been the Director of the University of Illinois Foundation since 1977. The Auditorium was rededicated as the Foellinger Auditorium on April 26, 1985 in her honor. [16]

Today the Foellinger Auditorium is ablaze in the evenings with 396 lights on its roof arranged in two rings, 72 on the top and 144 on the bottom, with 12 interconnecting spokes of 15 lights each. Each 25-watt bulb costs around 37 cents and has a life of around 1000 hours. The bulbs are encased in glass housings to partially protect them from the elements, but these housings often collect water, making it more difficult to replace the bulbs. [17]

The vestibule is a memorial to President Edmund Janes Jame's wife and in the center of its northern face hangs a bronze tablet commemorating her. It reads [18]

In the fair memory of Anna Margaret Lance Her husband dedicates this tablet - thankful for his happiness - sorrowing for his loss - hoping steadfastly through God's mercy to meet her again when the night is past in the perfect and unending day Though standing admin the alien corn The land in which her children and her children's children will rise up and call her blessed

The table's final line, "her children will rise up and call her blessed", recalls Proverbs 31-28 stamped on Lorado Taft's Alma Mater statue, which resided behind the Auditorium for many years, spotlights casting twin shadows of labor and learning onto its southern wall at night.




[1] University of Illinois Archives, Building and Statue Dedication Programs: RS 2/0/808
[2] University of Illinois Archives, Building and Statue Dedication Programs: RS 2/0/808
[3] http://www.naxos.com/composer/macdowel.htm
[4]
http://www.foellinger.uiuc.edu/history.htm
[5] University of Illinois Archives, Building and Statue Dedication Programs: RS 2/0/808
[6]
http://www.foellinger.uiuc.edu/history.htm
[7]
http://www.foellinger.uiuc.edu/history.htm
[8] University of Illinois Archives, Building and Statue Dedication Programs: RS 2/0/808
[9]
http://www.foellinger.uiuc.edu/history.htm
[10] University of Illinois Archives, Building and Statue Dedication Programs: RS 2/0/808
[11] Sixteen Years at UI / p79
[12]
http://www.foellinger.uiuc.edu/history.htm
[13] Photographs show them present before the update and not afterwards
[14] Provisional Long-Range Campus Planning Report 1971-1980
[15]
http://www.foellinger.uiuc.edu/history.htm
[16] Onsite dedication plaque
[17] Brad Bowen of O&M in email Fri, 13 Nov 1998 - Archives Trivia Vertical File
[18] Onsite memorial plaque
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