Auditorium and Music Hall
Backstory and Context
The Old Auditorium Building was one of the most popular music halls in the downtown waterfront area from the late 19th century onwards. The building was first designed, constructed and owned by F. Manson White. White arrived to the USA from Derby, England, in 1875. He studied at Cornell University, MIT and the Ecole des Beaux Arts. He arrived in Portland in 1889, and first worked as an architect at McCaw and Martin, with whom he helped design the High-Victorian Gothic-style First Presbyterian Church, and the so-called “Dekum” (he would later work on the Sherlock Building, the Men's Resort, the Salvation Army Citadel, the Flat Iron Building, and possibly even the Plaza Hotel).
White eventually chose to practice independently, and the Auditorium was his first solo commission. The rectangular four-story building was designed in the decorative Richardsonian Romanesque Revival style of Louis Sullivan, which during the 1890s was extremely popular across the city, though he also made use of Greco-Roman Classical elements. This building in particular contains a startling variety of architectural characteristics. It features a flat roof decorated with sculptural features, and an exuberant brick façade in a running bond divided into three bays, which fronts the entrance into the two-storied lobby decorated with a coved ceiling. The exterior walls are embellished with carefully shaped bricks, high quality terra cotta plates, ceramic and stone capitals carved into individual designs, and stone window sills. The terra cotta spandrel panels and a frieze on the front of the building display intricate vegetal motifs and Sullivanesque geometric patterns. Inside, the concrete and brick masonry structure was fitted with timber columnns and joists.
During its lifetime the function of the building has changed a number of times. In the 1890s the building was managed by Emil Jorgensen. The ground floor and basement were occupied by a wholesale liquor business. One floor up was a dance hall operated also managed by Jorgensen. On the third floor was a concert hall, complete with a fourth story used as a balcony during performances. This topmost floor was filled in and converted into apartments during the early 1900s, and the dance hall was subsequently used as a dining hall for the tenants. A floor was extended across the entrance lobby, masking the coved ceiling from view. Between the 1920s and 1950s the dance hall experienced a revitalised period of use as a boxing gym. Following a fire that closed the upstairs accommodation, the building was used as a pub and an adult book store.
Today only four examples of this architectural style remain in the city (the others being the Dekum, the Sherlock Building, and the Plaza Hotel). The Auditorium Building is very well preserved, with the dance hall and façade remaining almost unchanged from its genesis.