Bangor In Focus
Bangor Auditorium


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Since opening in 1955, the Bangor Auditorium has seen NBA, minor league, college and high school basketball; high school and college graduations; fairs; circuses; music concerts; ice shows; theatrical performances; political conventions; a presidential visit; and trade shows.
Among the most familiar structures in Maine with its unique v-shaped roof, the Bangor Auditorium was at one time Bangor's most-prized possession. When its doors opened Oct. 1,1955, the Auditorium was the second-largest venue of its kind in New England, the Boston Garden being the largest. And it was the third largest venue of its kind in the northeastern United States, New York's Madison Square Garden being the largest.

Since its opening, the Auditorium has been host of the Eastern Maine basketball tournament; it has seen a number of top-notch musical acts, such as Gene Autry, Garth Brooks, Daryl Hall and John Oates, Jethro Tull, and others; conventions; trade shows; ice shows; and a 1978 presidential town meeting with Jimmy Carter. On Dec. 30, 1955, the Boston Celtics and Syracuse Nationals played the first regular-season NBA game in Maine in front of 4,200 at the Auditorium. The Celtics won 110-103.

The unique v-shaped building replaced the old Bangor Auditorium, which stood in front of it until the city tore it down in 1967. The old Auditorium's capacity was a paltry 4,000 and the city wanted a much larger and more modern building to attract top entertainment events to the Queen City. Planning for a new auditorium began in 1947, but it wasn't until December 1951 when Bangor voters approved the project 2,641-1,305.

Original proposals called for the new building to be built in either Abbott Square on Harlow Street, site of the first Bangor High School, or on the city's farmland adjacent to Dow Air Force Base. Voters rejected the Abbott Square location and planners considered it too risky to have a large gathering of people near a busy air base.

An aerialist performs at the Anah Temple Shrine Circus, an annual event at the Auditorium.

Architect Eaton Tarbell, of Bangor, came up with the building's v-shaped design because the design would be better for bracing against high winds and because the roof's shape would save 235,000 cubic feet that would otherwise need to be heated.

Construction began on March 27, 1954, and finished 17 months later at a total cost of $1.4 million. On Oct. 1, 1955, the building's doors opened to the public for an open house. An ad in that day's edition of the Bangor Daily News proclaimed: "It's MAMMOTH -- MARVELOUS -- MAGNIFICENT..."

And it was for its time, with a seating capacity of more than 9,000 for boxing and more than 7,000 for basketball, horse shows, circuses, and ice shows.

"It is incredible," Bangor City Councilor Devreaux McCarthy told the Bangor Daily News. "I have been all over the world and seen the seven wonders of the world. To me, honestly, this is the eighth."

Indeed, Mainers had never seen anything like the Auditorium. Its concrete main floor could be flooded with a 22-degree mist to create an ice surface 125 feet wide and 102 feet long, and a 410-piece sub-floor could be assembled atop the ice so a crew of only six men could install an 83-piece basketball court. Within 24 hours, the Auditorium could hold an ice show and a basketball game. In fact, ice skating was the building's main attraction most of the time, with more than 1,200 turning out to skate on one day in the 1960s.

Celtics announcer Johnny Most told listeners during the Celtics-Nationals broadcast: "This game is being played in Bangor, Maine, in one of the most beautiful auditoriums you have seen for basketball or for any indoor activity for that matter."

The basketball court would become home to the John Bapst High School Crusaders and the Bangor High School Rams, as well as the Eastern Maine tournament in the late 1950s. The Maine Lumberjacks, of the Continental Basketball Association, played at the Auditorium from 1978 to 1983. The Maine Windjammers, also of the CBA, played only one season in Bangor, 1985-86, also at the Auditorium. And the University of Maine men's and women's teams called the building home in the late 1980s and early 1990s before moving back to campus and a renovated Alfond Arena that could have basketball games.

More than 4,000 attended the open house.

"There was an air of tension and apprehension in the crowd as they went through the gigantic structure," Bangor Daily reporter Bernie Graham wrote. "The people were quiet, well-mannered, orderly. Yet it was easy to see that each one of them felt a personal pride in, as Police Capt. Maurice Small claimed it, 'the big guy.'"

Fifty years later, though, the Bangor Auditorium's best days are behind it. Bangor spends about $1 million each year to maintain the building and the cost has become prohibitive. Top-rate entertainment acts are far and few between, and even Portland's much larger Cumberland County Civic Center is losing business to larger indoor arenas elsewhere in New England. In May 2011, Bangor voters approved construction of a $70 million replacement, to be funded from the city's share of revenue from Hollywood Slots Racino and Raceway.

Construction of the Auditorium's replacement began on Aug. 8, 2011, with the clearing of Paul Bunyan Park, which sat between the Auditorium and Main Street. Incidentally, the site of the new arena is where the original Bangor Auditorium once stood.

The new arena is slated to open in July 2013.

You can watch weekly construction updates here.

1995-2012, Ryan R. Robbins. All rights reserved.

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