1929 - 2019
The Louisville War Memorial Auditorium was the outgrowth of two movements: one for a
public auditorium which began before the smoldering fires of the World War were yet to burst
into flame; the other for a memorial to commemorate of the sons and daughters of Louisville and
Jefferson County who served their country in World War I.
Seventeen years elapsed between the time when the public auditorium was first formally
proposed and the date of its dedication in the war memorial form into which the project finally
evolved as a consequence of the war.
1912: July 10, 1912, building of the auditorium was formally proposed and a special committee
named for the purpose.
1917: United States entered war. Federal Government prohibited unessential building and the
auditorium plans were postponed for military activities.
1919: After the signing of WW1 Armistice, planning recommenced for the memorial.
1920: The Act was authorized to build the auditorium and the first commission was to
administer funds was appointed
1926: After years of campaigning for public funds, bond issues, stock offerings and site
planning, the property at Fourth and Kentucky Streets was purchased for $100,000.00.
1927: Ground was broken and construction began by Struck Construction Company.
1929: The Greek Revival-style building was dedicated on May 30, 1929. Organist Charles
Courboin plays the inaugural concert on what remains today the world’s largest Pilcher
organ, with six chambers and 5,288 pipes.
World’s Largest Pilcher Pipe Organ
Entrance to Flag Room:
1929, From UofL Herald-Post Collection:
Photos from 1929, UofL Collection, Caufield & Shook Collection.
The Trophy Room/Lobby:
Photos from 1930, UofL Collection, Caufield & Shook Collection.
Photos from 1933, UofL Collection, Caufield & Shook Collection.
Photos from 1940, UofL Collection, R. L. Polk Co. Collection.
Man checking tires made at Memorial Auditorium
Photos from 1960, UofL Collection, Royal Photo Co. Collection.
Spotlight from Reddy Electric
1931: Sergei Rachmaninoff performs.
1933: Ignace Paderewski performs
1934: George Gershwin performs.
1935: Ethel Barrymore, George M. Cohan and Helen Hays perform.
1939: Marian Anderson performs.
1937: Pilcher repairs the organ after the Great Flood damages it.
1948: Arthur Rubenstein performs.
Flood - 1937
1948: Flags presented to the Flag Room by Carolyn Apperson Leech of the Louisville Society
for the Perpetual Observance of Armistice Day.
Miss Carolyn Apperson Leech and Lt. Gen. Leonard T. Gerow
February 12, 1948
Capt. Omer A. Kneeland, Navy, Mss. Carolyn Apperson Leech, Col. Don. E. Carleton,
Army and Luther R. Stein
November 12, 1948
1952: William Hoke Camp, Auditorium Manager, retires.
1954: A $170,000 renovation to improve acoustics involves lowering the ceiling, closing off the
side balconies, and reducing the seating capacity from 2,349 to 1,742.
1954-1974: WHAS’ Crusade for Children is held.
1959: Frankie Avalon and Dion and the Belmonts perform.
1959: Buddy Holly scheduled to perform on February 11, 1959, but died in a plane crash on
February 3, 1959.
1961: At the Crusade for Children, a not-yet-famous Diane Sawyer places second when the
Crusade queen crown goes to someone else.
1964: Tickets to the Rolling Stones show cost $4. (Collectors today are offering $5,000 for the
show’s poster.) Other ’60s and ’70s shows at the auditorium: Chicago, Bruce
Springsteen, Kiss, Arlo Guthrie, Tom Petty, Rush and Billy Joel.
The new Louisville Ballet starts performing here. The ballet doesn’t want to pay
for union stagehands, and the workers go on strike. WHAS starts hosting Crusade
for Children at its own studio.
1974: Aerosmith performs.
1975: Kiss and Rush perform.
1978: Mikhail Baryshnikov performs with the Louisville Ballet. The building joins the National
Register of Historic Places and becomes a Louisville Landmark.
1978: Patti Smith Group performs.
1979: Memorial Auditorium, 50 years.
1980: The Peking Opera performs.
1981: Historical Marker #1692 commemorates the Louisville Memorial Auditorium, which was
built to honor those who died in World War I and was dedicated in 1981 through the
generosity of students at Bellarmine University.
1983: The ballet leaves for the new Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts.
1980s: Iron Maiden, R.E.M. and the Pretenders perform. Plays are also popular.
1994: The building gets an elevator. Metro government starts sharing the building for its
training and meetings. Organist Tim Baker, who has worked on the Pilcher organ since
the early ’70s, starts the William H. Bauer Foundation to oversee the organ’s upkeep. The
auditorium raises funds by showing silent films from the ’20s, such as The Cabinet of Dr.
Caligari and Phantom of the Opera, with the organ accompanying.
1996: Poet Ron Whitehead hosts the Official Hunter S. Thompson Tribute. Johnny Depp,
Roxanne Pulitzer and David Amram attend. Writer Paul McDonald says, “It was a wild
evening” and that Thompson was “blasting anyone within close range with a fire
1997: Ani DiFranco performs.
2006: Silent Film Festival Showcase.
2011: The organ goes out of order while Baker and pro-bono craftsmen, as Baker says, “apply
technology to a 1929 instrument.”
2015: The auditorium schedules more than 100 events. “I’ve been told we host more national
dance competitions than any theater in the U.S.,” says Executive Director, Dale Royer, of
the Memorial Auditorium since 1977.
2017: Dale Royer retires and Kelly Gream is hired as Executive Director, whose goal is to
restore and revitalize the auditorium.