A Brief History


The Civic Auditorium site sits in the Bigelow Addition, platted in the early 1900’s.  It was a residential area.  As the downtown grew, it included this block and came into the commercial district.  No houses show on this quarter of the block, though there were two to the west, and one incorporated into the Medical Arts Building.

A large livery stable, probably from turn-of-the-century times stood on the east half of the block.   It is told that one of the last public/civil executions was performed here from the east hay-mow loading arm…of a horse thief.

The devastating downtown fire of 1912 burned this all down.  There were discussions by the City and Wasco county as to local needs that could be provided here.  The Wasco County Chamber proposed to float a city-wide bond for a community center covering all the bases of Public/private/municipal needs.

A $125,000 bond was issued…passed in May 1920 by a vote of 389 to 235.  The plans committee was made up of Chairman W.J. Seufert, H.S. Rice, F.F. Thompson, and B.C. Olinger.

The services of Houghtaling and Dougan of Portland was secured to do the architectural and engineering plans, and were completed in June 1921. Immediately there was a site ”erection” dedication to The Dalles and Wasco County World War Veterans.  Construction was begun by contractor Robert Paysee, and continued on through the winter.

By the fall of 1922 enough was finished for “occupancy”, and opening ceremonies commenced.  The first “home” here was provided to the American Legion who contributed so much from beginning to end. This office was located in the area of our luxurious downstairs restrooms.  Upon “recompletion” of the whole building it will be rededicated to all Veterans of War…and Peace.

The warehouse building was styled in the popular “Beaux-Arts Classic Revival” – art deco-ish décor filled the interior.  Seating capacity for the building was estimated at 3,500.

The fourth street façade top-peak sported an 8 foot flag pole with an 8 inch ball. In the 1940’s two separate sets of flood lights were installed.  One remains and is operational.


Historic fireplace photoRenamed in the 1970’s to the “Fireside Room”, with a Community Kitchen at the west end in the renovated hall and exit stairs.  It also has an ancillary restroom at the NE corner and a Terrazo tiled lobby.

The original ceiling was at the gym ceiling height. In the late 1930’s a metal lath and plaster dropped ceiling was installed with three lighting alcoves.    Its ceiling joists were carried by metal support rods into the Ballroom floor beams, thereby creating another room, called the Arts/Crafts Room.

In the 1960’s a suspended tile ceiling was added below it. In the early 1990’s the original maple floor and sub-floor was found to be compromised by termites and dry-rot (old).   All was removed.  Two of the 10×12 joist support beams were found to have a 4” deflection-sag to the center.  This was demolished, and new glue lams were made, recycled 2×10 floor joists were put in, new sub-floor, and new maple, new sheet rock-texture, paint and new trim and restored doors, with lobby and rest room upgrades…all paid for by local donations from Stan and Florence Mayfield.  A two sided catering kitchen was added.


The primary focus here was to facilitate a multiplicity of athletic events. Originally there were no  walls on and under both balconies…only an 8’x8’ storage room existed at the southwest balcony corner.  The stairs were moved to their present site to accommodate the elevator.

There were two sets-tiers of bleachers on and beneath the balconies. The walls were covered in clear tongue and groove fir.  It was salvaged, framing and fire-sheet rock the present position and fir reinstalled.  Walls provided for the elevator and mechanics room, janitor’s closet, full-sized ADA restroom with shower, storage rooms, a catering kitchen, and balcony CAHPC office.

West wall common to the theatre is 14” thick, covered with metal lath and plaster, tongue and groove 1×4 fir and ¼” plywood. The steel I-beams and posts are one of the area’s first use of hot riveted-annealed system…it supports the Ballroom structure; a smaller I-beam on top carries the ledger of 2×10 joists.

In its hey-day, (especially basketball), there was a “Spirited-Rivalry” between town teams and various other area and commercial athletic teams.

The day of basketball is over….our intent is to create a more elegant-user friendly venue.  To this purpose, we have sanded out the old floor striping used to play basketball, volley ball, and    badminton.



 The Ballroom has what is called a “Floating Dance Floor”…one of three west of the Mississippi.

Another one is in the Elks Club, and the third one is Portland’s Crystal Ballroom.  The “springy” effect is created by three layers of 1×4 lumber crossed at right angles every 16 inches, over felt paper over diagonal 1×6 shiplap on  2×10 joist…this system was topped by maple…which floated and had no direct contact to the static sub-floor.

The room décor had stylized painting on the walls and door/window trim.  The west wall, common to the theatre was never totally painted out.  It was to be faux painted, which mirrored the windows of  the east wall and a doorway that balanced a door to a minor kitchen at the northwest corner.  This room, our present catering kitchen, had a dumb-waiter from the ground level up.

The balcony deck (sometimes known as the “wall-flower deck”), was used many times as a dance bandstand.  This floor structure used the 2×10 lumber from the buildings concrete wall pours.  The 2×10’s are laid together on edge.

Original capacity was never set, however, estimates ranged up to 800 people.  Out the northwest exit narrow exit stairwell wound four times around to the ground level.  This exit was upgraded in the 1990’s.

There are 674 new prism crystals from Italy on the 16 light fixtures.  From one of our many grants came our drapery.  Also, we found an artisan in New Zealand who silk-screened the stained glass effect of the upper windows.

In the Ballroom’s declining years, the 1980’s, with a legal occupation capacity of 11, tennis court lines were painted on the floor and lessons given.  Crystals knocked down were given as rewards by  instructors.  With fixtures in storage, one turned up missing.  Announcements and ads went out and it  “reappeared”.  One glass globe with grape etched décor was broken, and research found it on the  internet.  It was a very close match and was purchased for $800.

In the 1950’s and 60’s to the early 70’s, the Ballroom was home for a teen center.  Hundreds came to eat, drink, and dance to 45 rpm records.  Many live bands from that era came to perform…including Paul Revere and The Raiders and the Kingsmen of “Louis-Louis” fame.



At the opening ceremony and dedication, the 59th Infantry Band from Portland played.  TwelveTheater Interior seats hundred people were expected.  However, the seats had not arrived to the site yet.  The whole of The Dalles and surrounding community contributed chairs to fill the house.  Mayor P.J. Stadelman presided.

Thus began a history of events.  Which included travelling road shows, concerts, and plays, plus our own events and celebrations.  Most notable being the first recital of Doc Severson at the age of nine.

In 1925 a major structural occurrence happened.  During a concert, the packed balcony sunk 3-3/4”.  This was due in part by the normal shrinking of post and beams in the attic.  The correction by encapsulating the full length of the support beam with channel iron and placing four steel posts on the main floor.  Adjustable rods were run into the eleven-foot bridge trusses.  Some steel repair was done on these too.

The increase in the slope at the top of the aisles was added to match the added height of lobby to level with the increase of the street height.

Many events used the theater.  Through the late 20’s to early 40’s, many conventions popularized this venue and the rest of the building.  Most notable in 1927 was a big convention of the Klu Klux Klan.  They marched from here about town to intimidate the Catholics.

By the mid 40’ events slackened.  Movies too were thinned down.  In 1950 Sterling Theaters leased the venue.  Their remodel included these two 50’s colors.  In fact, they painted over the two chandeliers. We are restoring them in the basement to their original wrought iron and brass.  They expanded the projection room.  Inside the main lobby was a concession booth.  Outside they added a roof, several billboards, and a half-glassed ticket booth.  After several decades they dropped their lease.

The late 60’s saw the venue change.  Portland Wrestling put in a ring, and almost a decade and a half occupied avid spectators.  Most notable was Jessie Ventura – he was here at least three times.

Because of deteriorated conditions and code violations, the theater was shut down.  In the mid 90’s we worked with state codes and managed to correct most modifications to the point that we could use it for four plays.  These were produced by our local Theater Company.

After addressing more violations we focused on trying to make it usable temporarily. Sterling Theater had thrown out the original seats and installed 1940’s salvaged  seats.  Then we put them in storage and recycled them.  We salvaged the arms from the old chairs which contain the seats purchased by patrons of the theater.  In the late 2000’s we found used seats and installed 425 of them.  Carpet we had purchased in the early 90’s was installed.

The theater has one of the best acoustics in the state.  It is compared to the theater in Ashland, Oregon.