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Charleston Civic Center

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The original portion of Charleston Civic Center opened on Reynolds Street in 1959. The $3 million facility included a Main Arena which had 6,000 seats, the Little Theater seating 750 and three meeting rooms plus kitchen and administrative offices.

In 1960 the Civic Center was an important stop on President John F. Kennedy’s campaign visit to West Virginia.

On February 14, 1966 Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia 76ers broke the NBA’s all time career scoring record of 20,884 points with a 41 point performance against the Detroit Pistons at the Civic Center .

A $1.8 million expansion in 1968 added 2,400 seats to the west balcony of the Grand Arena and included installation of air conditioning, construction of a recreational ice skating rink and other improvements.

In the mid-1970’s city officials realized if Charleston was to take its place as a regional entertainment and convention center, expanded public assembly facilities were necessary. The decision was made to construct a new coliseum and two-story lobby connecting it to the existing Civic Center. The existing Civic Center would then be renovated into a first-class convention center featuring meeting rooms, exhibit halls and major banquet facilities.

In 1975-1976 Elvis Presley performed five sellout shows during his Charleston Civic Center appearance.

Ground was broken on July 24, 1978, for the coliseum and lobby. The $19 million project was financed by federal funding (from the Economic Development Block Grant funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development), a $10 million general obligation bond issue overwhelmingly approved by the citizens of Charleston and revenues from the city’s hotel/’motel room tax.

In October of 1982 the original grand arena was closed and work began on a major $5 million dollar renovation project which transformed the grand arena into a first-class convention hall. The renovation project was completed in one year and the convention hall was officially dedicated on October 23, 1983.

The coliseum which seats 13,500 is connected to the Convention Hall by an expansive two-level entrance lobby which spans 32,000 square feet. The convention hall contains an additional 12 meeting rooms, 52,000 sq ft exhibit/banquet facility with a complete line of services to meet the requirements of meetings and trade shows.

Additionally, two parking structures capable of handling 1,300 vehicles were constructed adjacent to the facility at a cost of $9 million dollars. The parking structures opened on March 1, 1983 and brought the number of parking spaces available for the Charleston Civic Center events to over 2,000.

In 2000 a $9 million dollar expansion / renovation program resulted in the expansion of the Grand Hall by 10,000 sq ft. This unobstructed area is devisable into four separate sections and is the region’s largest exhibit / banquet facility.

Municipal Auditorium

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Cultural activities have always been important to the residents of Charleston and organizations that were started in the 1920's were growing to meet the demand and interest in entertainment and education. These groups included the Charleston Community Music Association, the Kanawha Players and the Chamber Music Society.

As citizens began suggesting the need for a larger more adequate facility, Larry Silverstein, President of the Community Music Association, was disturbed to action. He led the crusade to get voters to pass a bond referendum on December 29, 1936 which provided the City’s portion of the funding for this $500,000 project. The selected site was referred to as “a hole in the ground” because it lay in a swale several feet below street level in a “debris littered, weed clogged catch basin for stagnate rain water.”

The Municipal Auditorium was the scene of a dedication ceremony on November 4, 1939. Five thousand persons visited during the four hour program in which the Public Works Administration regional administrator declared that the “PWA feels that the $212,000 it spent on the building was fully justified and that the building compared with some of the finest in the United States.

The Auditorium is a monolithic concrete and steel structure across from the Charleston Town Center in the central business district. The building is an excellent representation of the Art Deco architectural style in a public building. The Auditorium was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999 as a Public Works Administration project designed by Charleston architect Alphonso Wysong.

The first event was a Community Music Association concert featuring violinist Zino Francescatti before a capacity crowd on November 7, 1939. Harry Silverstein recognized the need to provide a variety of quality entertainment and organized chamber music concerts housed on the stage and organized the non-profit Community Enterprises, Inc. to promote a series of legitimate stage shows in Charleston. The first Broadway show, “What a Life”, starring Jackie Coogen, was held on November 25, 1940.

A venue for musical and theatrical shows, concerts and other performances by local, state, national and international artists, the Auditorium has made a substantial and lasting contribution to the area’s cultural heritage for seven decades. Given its tremendous seating capacity, the auditorium has made the arts accessible to many who could not afford the ticket prices of smaller venues. The classic styling of the “Art Deco Grande Dame,” is high level of architectural integrity, enduring functionality and affiliation with the New Deal-era Public Works Administration all add to the building’s historical significance, setting it apart from other playhouses.

Among her famous guests, President Harry Truman “Gave Them Hell” in a campaign speech that was a live national radio broadcast on October 1, 1948. During the 1941-42 seasons, Morris Harvey College’s basketball team called the Auditorium stage its home court. Other notables included Jeanette McDonald and Nelson Eddy, Bob Hope, Ray Charles and Billy Joel. If walls could whisper, they would tell us of the hundreds of thousands of people who have come through these doors to watch and hear dance recitals, choral and band festivals, fashion shows, symphonies, gospel sings, cooking schools, political rallies, stage plays, operas, plus country and rock & roll shows.
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