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Mares: Memorial Auditorium Survey

Liam Elder-Connors
Practicality marries reverence in the sturdy walls of Burlington's Memorial Auditorium.

The city of Burlington is polling residents for ideas on how to re-develop Memorial Auditorium, hopefully an easier task than trying to save the hulking Moran Plant on the lakefront.
Ninety years ago, Memorial Auditorium joined the ranks of "living memorials" across the country. Following World War One, there was a widespread feeling that in addition to erecting "doughboy" statues and monuments, municipalities should construct useful objects that would both honor the dead and serve the living.

Practicality would marry reverence in the form of playgrounds, buildings, highways, bridges, parks, libraries, community centers, athletic stadia like Soldiers Field in Chicago and civic auditoriums like those in Barre and Burlington.

Memorial Auditorium itself was never a thing of beauty. It looks like the inside of a kiln with its burnt bricks on the outside. And the windows haven't been cleaned in decades. But what stories those bricks and windows could tell!

They’ve hosted rock bands and symphony orchestras; plus Bob Dylan, Marcel Marceau, Golden Gloves boxing tournaments, large-screen films, a semi-pro basketball team, variety shows, political rallies, and farmers’ markets.

A kindergarten, an art school, and a small theater for youth rock bands have shared the basement. And a drumming troupe practiced weekly on the second floor - their sound, like steady rain, bouncing off the walls of adjoining buildings.

In the lobby, twenty massive bronze plaques still remind visitors of why the building was built. They list more than 2000 Burlington residents who fought in World War One as well as the dead from World War Two, Korea and Vietnam.

In answer to the online poll question about how Memorial Auditorium could best support Burlington’s cultural future, I’d suggest figuring out what the Flynn Center and the Waterfront do best, then revamp Memorial to accommodate what's lacking - to create and sustain a sturdy tripod for Burlington's cultural life.

The poll also asks respondents to suggest innovative ideas for the building itself. And unlike the Moran plant, Memorial Auditorium already has a history of many different civic activities.

So whether it’s repair and restoration, additions that merge styles like the Fletcher Free Library, or an entirely new building from a competition among Burlington's many architects, I hope we take its rich history into account.

And whatever the future brings for Burlington’s Memorial Auditorium – the online survey ends this Sunday.

Writer Bill Mares of Burlington is also a former teacher and state legislator. His most recent book is a collection of his VPR commentaries, titled "3:14 And Out."
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