Remember When, Chattanooga? Memorial Auditorium turns 100 this year

Chattanooga News Free Press file photo / This 1991 photo shows the Memorial Auditorium main theater after a $7 million renovation to the property.
Chattanooga News Free Press file photo / This 1991 photo shows the Memorial Auditorium main theater after a $7 million renovation to the property.

When the Memorial Auditorium opened in Chattanooga in 1924, it was only a few years removed from the end of World War I. Built between 1922 and 1924 as a tribute to the soldiers and sailors of WWI, Memorial Auditorium remains one of the most utilized public theater spaces in Chattanooga.

In just the next six months, it will host former Broadway shows (including "Annie" and "To Kill a Mockingbird"), appearances by comedians Ron White and Leanne Morgan and a performance by rock singer John Mellencamp, among other productions.

(READ MORE: When children from segregated schools were dropped off at Memorial Auditorium in 1964)

The accompanying photo is from the archives of the Chattanooga News-Free Press and was published in the newspaper Jan. 20, 1991, as part of an article on a $7 million renovation of the Memorial Auditorium that brought it up to modern standards.

The main theater, shown in the photo, seats more than 3,860 spectators and has been the site of countless entertainment productions over the decades.

The photo and others in this series are digitized at, a website devoted to documenting historically significant photos of the Chattanooga area.

The theater, built for $700,000 at 399 McCallie Ave., was designed by well-known architect R.H. Hunt, who also designed the Tivoli Theater in downtown Chattanooga. The Memorial Auditorium was first renovated in 1965 and then again about 25 years later.

(READ MORE: Main Street bank branch designed by R.H. Hunt)

The early 1990s renovation included a wider stage, a new sound system, better theatrical lighting, new oak doors in the lobby, the removal of hanging acoustical ceiling to expose ornate grill-work and an updated facade that included a new portico. For comfort, 21-inch seats were reupholstered in plum colored fabric in the main theater.

"Unlike the the auditorium of the '20s, this new facility is now a high-tech, streamlined complex designed to accommodate all aspects of the entertainment business," the Chattanooga News-Free Press reported Jan. 20, 1991.

After the renovation, some of the first stars to grace the stage were Shirley Jones, "star of stage, screen and television," according to a report in the News-Free Press, and Red Skelton, a comedian and musician who, at the time, had starred in 88 movies.

Launched by history enthusiast Sam Hall in 2014, is maintained to present historical images in the highest resolution available. If you have photo negatives, glass plate negatives or original nondigital prints taken in the Chattanooga area, contact Sam Hall for information on how they may qualify to be digitized and preserved at no charge.

To read more articles in this series visit or join "Remember When, Chattanooga?" public group on Facebook.

Contact Mark Kennedy at or 423-757-6645.

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