Shortly after the end of World War I, the Lowell Board of Trade proposed plans for the creation of a new monument that would honor local Veterans of all wars. A Memorial Auditorium was decided on as an appropriate structure. A commission was formed under Mayor Perry D. Thompson, to decide on both the site and the architecture of this memorial. The Commission named John J. Harrington as Chairman. Governor Calvin Coolidge signed the legislative act necessary for the implementation.
The corner stone was laid September 25, 1920. The cost was approximately $1,000,000. The building contained a seating capacity in the main auditorium for 4,000 with and additional 675 seats in the Liberty Hall Theater. Special attention was paid to the acoustic properties and the ventilating system. There were quarters provided for the Great American War, Spanish War, The American Legion, The American Red Cross and, the veterans of World War I.
Work proceeded without major problems and finally, the building was ready for the dedication. The ceremony took place on September 21, 1922. The former Governor of Massachusetts, now the Vice-President of the United States, Calvin Coolidge, made the formal dedication. In addition to the Vice-President, other dignitaries present at the dedication included the Mayors of several Massachusetts cities and towns, Judges Qua, Leggat, Enright, Pickman, and Fisher. Also, the Reverend Appleton Grannis of St. Anne’s, and the Reverend Daniel J. Kelleher of St. Peter’s, who gave the invocations. State Representatives Charles Slowey, Victor Jewett, Henry Achin, Jr., Thomas Corbett, and Owen Brennan, along with members of the city government as well as Mayor George H. Brown, former Mayor Perry D. Thompson, the Building Commissioners, Chairman Harrington, Sec. Arthur L. Eno and Commissioners Walter Parker and Clarence H. Nelson. Governor Channing H. Cox, and former Private in the Army, Congressman John Jacob Rogers and Mrs. Rogers.
After its dedication in 1922, the Lowell Memorial Auditorium hosted a variety of conventions, civic and religious affairs, and programs of purely recreational or educational values. Liberty Hall became the home of the popular Parker Lecture Series.
One of the most unusual uses of the building was a weekly Bingo game, which was held on every Thursday evening for several years. Lowell’s East End Club sponsored these games, with the proceeds going to charity. John Carney, a Lowell carnival man, ran the weekly event, which often sold out the more than 3,000 seats available to the public. Life magazine featured the event in a pictorial spread in their January 15, 1940 issue. The article was titled, “Life Goes To A Bingo Game; In Lowell 3,000 fans play weekly.” Life called Lowell “A natural Bingopolis,” explaining that the games were held, “not in a club, church or cinema, but in the million-dollar Corinthian-column Lowell Memorial Auditorium.”
The coming of World War II offered new opportunities for the auditorium stages. Enlistment and War Bond drives sponsored appearances by decorated heroes and famous stars of the entertainment world such as Dorothy Lamour and Betty Davis. Big bands of the era, such as Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman, appeared here for the listening and dancing pleasure of the public, and the hopes that the patriotic atmosphere of the events would increase the sale of War Bonds or aid military enlistment.
With the end of World War II, the Golden Gloves were brought to Lowell, and have become the most popular series in the hall’s history. Here, Rocky Marciano began a career that would terminate in his retirement as the only undefeated Heavyweight World Champion in history. Many other fighters brought recognition to the Lowell Gloves, including Marvin Hagler.
In 1979, the Lowell Memorial Auditorium was over 50 years old. The building’s original beauty and grace remained, but in a somewhat tarnished and shop-worn way. Floods and hurricanes, as well as the Great Depression and World War II, had left their marks. Lowell’s legislative contingent, State Senator Phil Shea along with State Reps Ed LeLacheur and Timmy Rourke, aggressively and successfully, made a bid to participate in the grant to revitalize the building, ultimately obtaining about $4 million for the project. The City had to raise $2.5 million to complete the project.
The plans called for the creation of a new heating plant, the installation of a much needed air conditioning system, the replacement of all wiring and plumbing, as well as new windows. The acoustics were to be improved and the building was to be insulated. In addition, all the permanent seats were to be removed and sent out for refinishing and upholstering. The balcony behind the stage would be completely removed to make additional space available for dressing rooms and stage props so that larger attractions such as Broadway shows and other attractions could be presented. To accomplish this it would be necessary to reduce the seating capacity from 4,000 to 3,000 seats.
In 1995 management of the Lowell Memorial Auditorium was assumed by Mill City Management, which is owned and operated by Tom McKay, Terry McCarthy and Leo Creegan. Under MCM’s leadership, the Lowell Memorial Auditorium continues to flourish as a destination for attractions of all types and today is busier than ever. In recent years, the Lowell Memorial Auditorium has had events nearly 250 days out of the year.
To walk around the building is to relive the Military History of Lowell and the United States. The names of all well-known battle sites from the American Revolution, through Bunker Hill and Trenton, Gettysburg and Appomattox, San Juan Hill, Bellows Wood and Chateau-Thiery are well remembered. But many fought, bled and died in lesser-known battles and these are also recalled in the inscripted entablature. Fair Oaks, Cold Harbor, Spottsylvania, Chapultec, Soissons and others. All battles are of equal importance to those that fought or died there.
On July 1, 2013 Global Spectrum took over management of the facility. Global Spectrum is the fastest growing firm in the public assembly facility management field with more than 110 facilities throughout the United States and Canada.
Today, the Auditorium stands at the entrance to Historical Downtown Lowell, a beautiful and fitting monument to greet those visitors entering the city, and perhaps, Belvidere’s proudest building.
Written by Ed Harley
Belvidere Neighborhood Association