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«The Role of the Performing Arts in Postwar Phoenix, Arizona: Patrons, Performers, and the Public by Michelle Lynne Bickert A Thesis Presented in ...»

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The Orpheus Male Chorus formed under the auspices of the YMCA and did not have the same social connections as the PSO and PLT. When Ralph Hess became director in 1947, he began building relationships with the business world by selling full advertisements in concert programs instead of listing Business Associates and performing for the Phoenix Jaycees’ annual rodeo. A Rotary Club member, Hess had the group perform frequently for the Phoenix, Tempe, and Mesa Rotary Clubs, as well as the Elks, Kiwanis Club, and a few Women’s Club chapters, where they were exposed to the same people supporting the symphony and theater. The OMC had the benefit of showcasing a highly portable talent and could permeate the community easily to gain exposure and sponsorships. The OMC, like the PSO and PLT, built a strong cultural presence through the 1950s, but Phoenix needed to increase its artistic legitimacy beyond amateur groups in multi-use rooms.84 Building the Stage Civic leaders’ most visible achievements from the 1950s through 1970s were the venues they commissioned, which became Valley attractions in their own right. In addition to fulfilling a primary duty of the board to find space for its performers, patrons understood that a physical site provided a strong, cultural symbol. Inclusion of the PLT into the Civic Center plans, the PSO’s use of Arizona State University’s state-funded auditorium, and the city-built Civic Plaza/Convention Center in 1972 substantially Butler, “Orpheus Male Chorus,” 21-22.

improved the city’s artistic features.85 However, while the theater and Symphony Hall are both downtown, they are one and a half miles apart, diffusing the arts district. The condition of the existing venues was so poor and funding limited, so civic leaders built when and where they could. Patrons needed to meet the growing audience’s needs and build adequate venues for their groups, but the timing, location, and size of their venues were largely constrained by finances.

Postwar efforts by Phoenix leaders to revive the civic center project (their third try) included naming this incarnation the Arizona War Memorial Center at the Phoenix Civic Center. Lawyer and major civic leader Frank Snell headed the Civic Center Association, a group of professionals dedicated to completing the project. The project centered on a new central branch for the Phoenix Public Library, which had outgrown the space at the Carnegie Library as early as 1920, when the city had quadrupled in size in eight years. The city accepted the traditional responsibility for funding the library, using bond issues in 1938 and 1948, but it had no tradition of supporting art and theater facilities, so that two major Valley leaders spearheaded these efforts. Valley National Bank president Walter Bimson had long been advocating for an art museum, and he offered his personal collection, which, in addition to materials gathered during the WPA Art Project, would become the basis of the Phoenix Art Museum. PLT president Stephen C. Shadegg asked the PLT’s Board of Trustees, led by former Standard Brands vice president and bibliophile Alfred Knight, to secure a long-term lease from the Civic Center Association to build a theater. Shadegg was a man of many talents – thespian, The project was originally called Civic Plaza, but the site is now called the Phoenix Convention Center and Venues. This paper uses its current name to make the distinction between the 1970s Convention Center sites and the 1950s Civic Center sites.

publicist, campaign strategist, and head of a pharmaceutical manufacturing firm – and he used his interdisciplinary background to convince the investors, architects, artists, and public that Phoenix needed a new theater. He appealed to the Civic Center Association and the public by presenting the PLT as a civic institution whose continued future would be the result of community enterprise, simply stating, “The Little Theatre belongs to Phoenix.”86 The PLT needed to raise $120,000 for its four hundred-seat venue. After Snell secured a lease for the PLT, Knight and the Civic Center Association committed $50,000 with the stipulation the PLT must raise a matching amount. Shadegg and the PLT board sold $70,000 worth of debenture bonds in $25, $50, and $100 denominations bearing 3 percent interest payable annually that would retire in twenty years. Every year, the PLT board drew on its profits to pay the principal and interest on the obligations. Shadegg made careful budget calculations to ensure the board’s primary financial obligation was to the bondholders, noting, “In its twenty-three years of operation, the Little Theatre production schedule has never required subsidy. Operating income has always been sufficient to meeting operating expense.”87 Though Shadegg estimated the new theater would net an annual surplus of $2,085 including repayments, the bond obligations would remain a crucial aspect of the PLT’s budget until their repayment. Shadegg had friends at the Arizona Planning Mill create a design for the theater within the $120,000 budget, Shadegg, “Strictly Personal,” 29; Michael Clancy, “Library of the Century,” Arizona Republic, June 14, 1998; Stephen C. Shadegg to the Phoenix Little Theatre Board, 14 June 1948, Box 9 Folder 14, Stephen C. Shadegg Papers; “A New Little Theatre for Phoenix,” [ca. 1950], Box 9 Folder 13, Stephen C. Shadegg Papers.

Operating budget, [ca. 1950], Box 9 Folder 13, Stephen C. Shadegg Papers.





which he then presented to the Civic Center’s architect Alden Dow, who agreed to the plans. Finally, he had friends of the theater buy and store the building materials before the Korean War threatened supply. Phoenix’s wealthy and well-connected leaders gave the city its much-needed theater, and a Civic Center that would remain a key component in the city’s cultural life.88 The Civic Center project was a major step for the performing arts and cultural institutions, but the city still lacked a large, public auditorium. The PLT controlled their theater, and even if there was an open night during productions, the theater only sat four hundred. The Phoenix Union High School auditorium sat about two thousand, and people often could not buy tickets because seating filled quickly. Mrs. Archer E. Linde, at this time a thirty-year veteran of the Phoenix arts scene and the most ardent and persistent

advocate for a larger cultural venue, succinctly described the progress on the auditorium:

“Oh that! The men are at it now, and it’s talk, talk, talk. When they get through talkin’, the women will get the auditorium!”89 Linde wanted to bring artistic groups like the Los Angeles Light Opera and the Sadlers Wells ballet to Phoenix, but the PUHS auditorium could not accommodate such productions. She specified that her ideal auditorium would be away from downtown traffic, have spacious parking, be along a bus line, and would “A New Little Theatre for Phoenix,” Stephen C. Shadegg Papers; Shadegg, “Strictly Personal,” 29-31.

Buchen, “Phoenix’s Own,” 51.

only seat about 2,700 – anything larger would impair the acoustics. Mrs. Linde saw this ideal auditorium completed before her death in 1965, only it was in the wrong city.90 Grady Gammage Memorial Auditorium’s origin stories are numerous and intriguing. Arizona State president Grady Gammage’s postwar plans had long included an auditorium to be located in the southwest corner of campus along US Route 60, now Apache Boulevard.91 In 1957 Gammage went to Taliesin West to meet with Frank Lloyd Wright about designing an auditorium, and Wright was excited at the prospect of designing a public building for his adopted home state, after the government recently rejected his redesign for the state capitol. At that time Wright was working on plans for an opera house and cultural center in Baghdad, but when the King Faisal II was assassinated during the 14 July Revolution in 1958, Wright had to scrap the plans.

Gammage admitted he was unable to guarantee funding for the auditorium, but Wright was committed to helping Arizona State assert itself as a major university after Arizonans passed Proposition 200 in 1958, transforming the College into Arizona State University.

At the convocation for Gammage Auditorium, Mrs. Frank Lloyd Wright recounted how her husband never made plans without promise of payment, but he liked Gammage, and believed he would make this auditorium happen.92 Reynolds, Golden Age of Theaters, 116; Hermine Megargee, “It’s an Impresario’s Job to Know Who’s Who,” Arizona Republic, March 28, 1954.

The auditorium would replace Victory Village, which since 1946 temporarily housed veterans and their families in trailer homes, as residence halls were full. “The New ASU Story,” ASU Libraries, last modified December 2001, http://www.asu.edu/lib/archives/asustory/index.html.

Joseph M. Siry, “Wright’s Baghdad Opera House and Gammage Auditorium:

In Search of Regional Modernity,” College Art Association 87, no. 2 (June 2005): 270, Others also saw the value in building a major auditorium on ASU’s campus.

Frank Snell, banker Rex Staley, and retailer Robert Herberger agreed to help their friend Gammage carry out the project. After Lewis Ruskin and Walter Bimson promised to underwrite the initial fees, Wright modified the Baghdad design to include plazas, greenery, lakes, a band shell, a parking garage, and buildings for the music, graphic design, and fine arts departments. When Wright died in April 1959, Ruskin wondered about scrapping the idea. Arizona Republic and Phoenix Gazette publisher Eugene C.

Pulliam agreed ASU should have an auditorium, and supported bringing the plans to the Arizona Board of Regents. The regents were initially skeptical: Wright’s designs were controversial, and concerned citizens bombarded newspapers with their opinions. Ruskin, Bimson, and Gammage made concessions and rearranged budgets, only asking the Board of Regents to fund functional buildings, not aesthetic pieces like a statue atop the auditorium’s dome. Sadly, Gammage died ten days after presenting the revised proposal to the regents in December 1959. In April 1960, the regents finally agreed to fund the project and appointed Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation architects under William Wesley Peters to draft plans for the $2.46 million auditorium. Construction began on May 23, 1962, when Gammage’s son Grady Jr. broke ground with a ceremonial shovel.93 281-283; Olgivanna Lloyd Wright in “Convocation Dedicating Grady Gammage Memorial Auditorium,” September 16, 1964, Ephemera Collection.

Dean Smith, Grady Gammage: ASU’s Man of Vision (Tempe, AZ: Arizona State University, 1989), 201; “A Wright Design Divides Arizona,” New York Times, July 5, 1959; “About ASU Gammage,” ASU Gammage, accessed November 4, 2013, http://asugammage.com/about; Tim J. Kelly, “No Small Dream,” Arizona Days and Ways, November 29, 1964, 28-31.

Gammage Auditorium opened on September 16, 1964 to wide public acclaim.

Governor Paul Fannin declared, “It will be one of Arizona’s greatest tourist attractions. It is said that visitors will most want to see two things when they visit our state – the Grand Canyon, and the Gammage Auditorium.” At the groundbreaking ceremony, Mrs. Wright praised the “spirit of men who fought for an ideal and won.”94 Gammage and Wright garner the most praise for the auditorium as the primary driver and designer, but the support of powerful and determined citizens was essential to creating the political support and pressure to bring the vision to reality.95 Gammage changed the possibilities for attracting and featuring top performing arts groups in the Valley, but if anything, this accentuated Phoenix’s need to build its own cultural center. To accomplish this, leaders in Phoenix, following development ideas generated in other cities, linked the auditorium/concert hall project with plans for a convention center to spearhead downtown redevelopment. In 1960 the Citizens’ Action Committee, comprised of civic leaders, had commissioned Stanford Research Institute to conduct an economic study that established the need for an auditorium and made planning recommendations. The group concluded Phoenix’s facilities were inadequate for attracting larger conventions (those with over two thousand delegates), and the city would need a center featuring an arena-convention hall, an exhibition hall, a theater, an assembly hall, and meeting rooms. If Phoenix wanted to compete with other cities to host Kelly, “No Small Dream,” 31.

Paul Fannin in “Convocation Dedicating Grady Gammage Memorial Auditorium,” September 16, 1964, Ephemera Collection; Kelly, “No Small Dream,” 31.

big conventions – and possibly lure executives to relocate their business – it needed to build a large, state-of-the-art facility. 96 Gammage was designed, financed, and built in about six years, but the Civic Plaza project (known today as the Phoenix Convention Center and Venues) was municipally funded, not state funded, and took over a decade to finance and plan. City Council tacked a 1 percent sales tax onto hotels and a 0.5 percent sales tax on bars and restaurants, reasoning a convention center would significantly increase visitors patronizing these establishments.97 This plan generated some opposition. In 1967 it became the major issue between the Charter Government slate, which supported the tax, and the Representative Citizens’ Association of Phoenix slate, which opposed it.98 Additional difficulties came from Newton Rosenzweig, who was allied with the CGC group and chairman of the Civic Plaza Building Corporation, and who supported the project but not the tax. He argued that 80-85 percent of bar and restaurant patrons were Phoenicians and revenues would comprise $800,000 of the $1 million annual financing costs – hardly fair for the people least likely to use the space. He advocated using general revenues and general obligation bonds, as the city had done with the Civic Eric E. Duckstad and Richard H. Raymond, A Study of Auditorium and County Office Facilities for Maricopa County, Arizona (Menlo Park, CA: Stanford Research Institute, 1960), 3.

“Café Owners Hit Tax Boost,” Phoenix Gazette, December 1, 1966.

“A Week’s News in Brief,” Arizona Republic, November 19, 1967.

Center and new Municipal Stadium.99 Rosenzweig was committed to informing the public about the project’s realities, writing countless letters clarifying reporters’ facts, advocating saving taxpayer money, and never inflating the project’s expected results.



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