“We dedicate here today a civic improvement not uncommon in the complexity of modern city life. But the structure to be erected here will be more that an evidence of the prosperity and activity of a great people, more than a mere monument to their enterprise. It will represent their vision and within it will abide their spirit.” Senator Hiram Johnson, Memorial Groundbreaking Ceremony, July 16, 1925
In 1910 a civic organization called the 100,000 Club was the first to propose the idea of Sacramento building a municipal auditorium for the purpose of attracting convention trade, building community spirit and providing a venue for cultural and sporting events. This idea never took wings.
Just after Armistice Day in 1918, the Chamber of Commerce proposed building and dedicating a municipal auditorium to Sacramento citizens who had made the supreme sacrifice in service to the country. Many patriotic organizations pledged support for the concept but it would take until 1921 before the city council took up the idea.
In 1923 citizens of Sacramento voted on a bond issue that would raise funds for the auditorium. This same year local leaders of the national “little theater movement” proposed the addition of the Little Theater, now the Jean Runyon Little Theater, for “the play spirit and natural craving of expression of the dramatic instinct of the people.” After much discussion, the site for the building was selected and in 1924 the Mary J. Watson School was demolished to make way for the auditorium. The ground-breaking ceremony took place in July 1925, with Senator Hiram Johnson, former Governor of California, present to officiate the proceedings.
On February 22, 1927 Sacramento Memorial Auditorium opened to the public with much fanfare. The opening ceremonies included performances by the Sacramento Municipal Orchestra and Choir, official transfer of the building to the Sacramento City Council and an opportunity for citizens to “inspect the building.” The Little Theater was dedicated on March 7 that same year.
After its opening the auditorium became the center for entertainment and civic activities. For nearly 60 years the auditorium was home to boxing matches, circus performances, orchestral concerts, art balls, dances, banquets, graduations and rock concerts.
In 1986 the auditorium was closed over seismic concerns and the building’s fate seemed uncertain. Through the efforts of the City of Sacramento and the Friends of the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium, the building was restored and reopened in 1996.
To this day the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium is one of the most recognizable and beloved buildings in the region. Listed on the National Historic Register in 1978, for over ninety years, with the exception of the ten-year closure from 1986-1996, the Memorial Auditorium has drawn audiences to a variety of events, from Big Bands and violin virtuosos to the Beach Boys and Rolling Stones. Since its reopening in 1996, the auditorium stage has welcomed artists such as Josh Groban, Michael Bublé, Melissa Etheridge, Yo Yo Ma, Ellie Goulding, comedians George Lopez, Mike Epps and Ron White and bands from The Doobie Brothers, The Moody Blues, Duran Duran, Death Cab for Cutie and The Avett Brothers. Memorial Auditorium is a sentimental venue for the many thousands of graduates from regional high schools, colleges and professional schools that hold their commencements each May and June in the building. It has lived up to its mission as a multi-purpose venue, as it still serves as the venue of choice for not only entertainment and sporting events but meetings, conferences, banquets, receptions and speaking engagements.
The Memorial Auditorium recently reopened after a $16 million renovations as part of the City of Sacramento’s C3 Project. The auditorium will host the 2019-2020 Performing Arts Season while the SAFE Credit Union Performing Arts Center is undergoing it’s renovation.