By: Timothy Jarvis
The Worcester Memorial Auditorium, also known as Worcester Auditorium, is a multi-purpose arena with a long local history.
The Worcester Auditorium is a World War I memorial modeled as a multi-purpose hall. It’s built in a Classic Revival style, so it really is a product of its time. It has the old American sense about it. Engraved on both sides of the building is “to honor the service in war of her sons and daughters.”
On the inside there’s bas-relief, a sculptural technique used to give the illusion that the sculpted material is raised above the background plane. This technique is used throughout the interior of the auditorium, and makes it feel like a living art piece. Another notable feature is the mural by artist Leon Kroll. It took three years to complete (1938-1941). Once completed it was the largest mural in the United States.
Upon its opening, the Auditorium was primarily used to house the Bay State Bombardiers of the Continental Basketball Association, a professional men’s basketball minor league. Also, it housed the Holy Cross Crusaders basketball team before they had a dedicated basketball court.
The auditorium has served many miscellaneous purposes. It used to be a common concert venue, hosting artists like Bob Dylan. In the back of the auditorium is another venue named “Little Theater,” currently unused. After a tornado hit Worcester, it served as a shelter for residents of the city in need.And finally, in 2013 the movie American Hustle filmed a scene in the Worcester Auditorium.
Most recently, the arena was used to house the Massachusetts trial court records and a small after-school program.
What is the city doing with a unique multi-purpose arena like this now? Nothing. In fact, it’s been empty for some time. In 2009, the Worcester Memorial Auditorium was on the Massachusetts Preservation list for “Most Endangered Historic Resource.”
Are there any future plans for auditorium? Yes and no. Many have fallen through, like the plan to move Worcester’s Higgins Armory to the auditorium, the plan to create of a “Faneuil Hall style marketplace”, and the plan to convert it into a research center (perhaps the most pragmatic of the proposed solutions, given the proximity of Worcester Polytechnic Institute).
The biggest problem is money. To convert the building to office space would cost $6.2 million; to make it a modern theater would cost over $12 million.
The Worcester Memorial Auditorium is a unique historical artifact of the city. Unfortunately, given the circumstances, it probably won’t be put to use any time soon. But it can still be appreciated as one of Worcester’s historical beacons.
Corrected 8/2/16 to properly reflect memorial inscription.
Please note – it says dedicated to “her sons and daughters” on the side – because there are 2 women listed on the memorial wall!