March 27, 2001
In the spring of 1973, many Perry people were elated by the approaching completion of their new high school auditorium, a major addition to the city’s cultural landscape. Construction had been underway for several months on the large reddish brick, single-story building and sidewalk superintendents had followed the process closely. The auditorium was viewed as the last element of a brand new school campus, including a classroom and administrative building, band building, manual arts building and a field house for wrestling and basketball teams. Other components were the junior high school and the vocational agriculture building, both built several years earlier. All this was located on school property between Eighth and Tenth streets and bounded on the north and south by Fir avenue and Elm street. The school had been without an auditorium for several years, ever since the old three-story high school building was torn down with a combination auditorium-gymnasium-manual arts wing attached. A paved parking lot was part of the auditorium construction project.
For several years, major events such as graduation ceremonies and the annual PHS band concert had been held in the field house where acoustics were, to put it mildly, terrible. The words of commencement speakers were virtually inaudible, but some cynics said no one ever remembered graduation addresses, anyway. The band certainly could be heard, but the fine tonal quality escaped the ears of most of those in the audience. Seating was at a premium, so the new auditorium was built to accommodate the largest potential crowds at any school event. A head count was held at each graduation ceremony for several years and that provided the basis for the finished size of the new building. It was a 1,000-seat auditorium, less one in order to avoid exceeding a crowd limit that would have dictated much higher fire insurance rates.
The availability of a large, comfortable, well-outfitted auditorium inspired many suggestions for its use. School officials had been careful to emphasize that the auditorium was for community use, not just for the school. Other than the school itself, no single entity existed in the city to plan and coordinate cultural events for possible showcasing in the auditorium. Out of that concern came a community meeting, held in the junior high cafetorium because there was no other place suitable. The purpose was to create an organization that would arrange and direct musical events, theatrical productions, and anything else of an artistic nature that they selected for presentations in the new auditorium. The morning after that meeting, Perry had its own Arts and Humanities Council with officers and a board of directors to guide its planning. The first year, more than 400 members were signed up, indicating a strong interest locally in a cultural program for the community, with the auditorium as a focal point. It was an exciting time.
We’ll have more about the formulative stage of the Perry Arts and Humanities Council in subsequent columns.