Reprinted from Times Record News
Echoes of the past
Seymour stirs up efforts to save old auditorium
By Lara K. Richards/Times Record News
March 28, 2006
SEYMOUR – The opening bars of Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” float through the air of the old Seymour City Hall Auditorium. The pitter-patter of tap shoes on the wooden stage mix with the sound of fiddles playing old country music favorites.
If you listen closely, you can hear the echoes of the past inside the historic 1924 building.
For years, the auditorium was the center of activity in Seymour. From piano and dance recitals to concerts, school plays, graduation ceremonies and other performances, the auditorium was the place in town. If it happened in the city, chances are it happened there.
“It was the hub of the life of this town at one time,” Seymour Economic Development Director John Studer said. “Whenever there was a public gathering, it was there.”
Over the years, though, the auditorium became less of an attraction and more of an eyesore. The last event held in the once-bustling structure was sometime in the early ’70s, Studer said.
But that doesn’t mean the town and its residents forgot about the building.
Studer said a push to restore the auditorium, which is located on the second floor of the city hall, began about two years ago, but really got under way this past year. The city is currently pursuing grants for the restoration, estimating the project will take around $300,000 to complete. Fund-raising efforts have already begun.
“Everyone wants to see this thing done. Everyone has memories of this,” Studer said. “I did a third-grade play in here. There used to be a lot of piano recitals in here. Just think how many kids performed up there.”
It’s these memories that will propel the project to completion, Seymour Chamber of Commerce Director Myra Busby believes.
“It’s just getting everyone’s memories awakened,” she said. “Everyone remembers this.”
Everyone can also see the history that has already been buried in the town, she said. Like many small towns, Seymour has already lost many of its historic structures. The old courthouse is long gone, replaced by the newer model in the center of town. The old hotel that used to sit near city hall is no more.
And that’s why saving this particular building is so vital, said Clifton Talley, a member of the Seymour City Hall Auditorium Restoration Committee.
Seymour stirs up efforts to save old auditorium – continued
“It’s important to the community because of the history of the old auditorium,” Talley said. “We’re losing our history fast and something like this will help keep a bit of history that might otherwise go away.”
Unlike other older buildings in town that are beyond salvaging, Studer said the auditorium is still in relatively good condition.
“This is one of the things we can save because it’s so structurally sound,” he said.
The building has a new roof and the windows were recently replaced. Previously, a stiff wind would blow the old ones open, Studer said.
“Pigeons would fly from light to light. We had the hardest time getting rid of them,” he said.
Major projects in the renovations plans include putting in a new heating and cooling system to replace the old boiler. Studer said that current plans are to use the auditorium’s original wooden seats, but to reduce the number from the original 600 or so to around 500 to accommodate handicapped-accessibility requirements.
The goal of the project, though, it not to restore the building just so it can look nice, Studer said. The goal is to help return the building to its prominence in the community as a gathering place, a place of celebration, the center of life in Seymour.
“We don’t just want to preserve it to preserve it,” Studer said. “We want it to be used and filled with activity.”
Elvis almost left the building
One of the biggest stories swirling inside the Seymour City Hall Auditorium concerns the King of Rock ‘n Roll himself.
Many Seymour residents were certain that Elvis performed inside the auditorium’s walls, Seymour Economic Development Director John Studer said, so he dug to the bottom of the rumor.
Elvis did indeed perform a show in a Seymour auditorium in the early 1950s, but it was in the old high school auditorium, Studer said.
Legend has it that there was a lot of excitement surrounding the concert. Apparently, Elvis ran out of gas about 10 miles outside of Seymour and had to get a lift into town, according to local legend, Studer said. Elvis barely made the Seymour show and then he had to get a ride to Wichita Falls, where he was performing another gig.
Or so the story goes.
History of the site
The Metropolitan Opera House was originally on the site of the current Seymour City Hall, located at 301 N. Washington Street.
According to City of Seymour archives, the two-story black metal structure was used for a variety of purposes. It was home for many plays and performances that came to town, and the second floor auditorium was used to show the first picture shows in the city.
The first floor of the building housed commercial shops, including an auto repair business, a jewelry shop and a cabinet shop. The Young Men’s Social Club occupied the second floor, turning that part of building into a private club where there were pool and dice tables, as well as a ballroom floor for dancing, according to the archives.
On May 4, 1923, the property was sold to the city for $6,000. Shortly afterward, the Opera House was destroyed and work on the new city hall began. The city hall and the current auditorium were completed in late 1924.