Civic History


Note:  The nomination was submitted in 1978. Since that time new ownership
and a new plan for restoration has been put in place.  

Name:  The Dalles Civic Audiorium
E. 4th and Federal Street
The Dalles, Oregon  97058

Owner (at the time of nomination to National Register)
City of The Dalles
313 Court Street
The Dalles, Oregon  97058

Nomination Form Prepared by:
Jean Krier, with assistance of Joan Nugent, Phyllis Bkaer and Edward C. Wundrum, AIA
March 12, 1978

Accepted on December 11, 1978


The Dalles Civic Auditorium circa 1978

The Civic Auditorium in The Dalles occupies a quarter-block site (150 x 100 feet) at the northwest corner of E. Fourth and Federal Streets. The entire site is developed; the building abuts sidewalks and rear alley. Erected in 1921 in the Neo-Classical Revival Style from plans and drawings by the Portland firm of Houghtaling and Dougan, the building presents a pleasingly-proportioned 150 foot-long south-facing facade to E. Fourth Street.

Construction FB photo


Opposing the buff-yellow pressed brick facade with its limestone trim are setback dwellings of modest size dating from the early years of the century. The parking strip in front of the yards on the opposite side of the street is shaded by lofty, mature elms and sycamores which are a remarkably apt foil to sedate civic architecture and are an integral part of the Auditorium’s monumental effect.

The focal point of the Auditorium’s facade is a central, columnated section in which eight strip pilasters are finished with limestone bases and capitals. The section is crowned by a limestone entablature, in which the words “Auditorium AD 1921” are carved in Roman Style, and a triangular pediment with limestone raking cornice. In the tympanum of the pediment is a nine-panel circular window with rowlock brick trim. Fenestratlon is trabeated. Typical openings are fitted with double-hung window sash with six over six or twelve over 12 lights. A wooden canopy added in the 1940s shelters doorways in the central bays of the columnated section.

Theater interior

Interior of the Theatre

The remainder of the front elevation and the side elevations are rendered flat, with the same face brick and punched window and door openings. The only ornamentation is a continuous limestone cornice at the roof, a rowlock course of bricks just below small, paired attic windows, and flat limestone lintels over the exits.

The rear, or alley, elevation is an irregular arrangement of windows in a stucco wall. The building is topped with a mansard roof up to the level of the pediments on the front elevation.

Improvements to the exterior of the building will be mainly to remove the added canopy and restore the windows to their original condition. The outside fire escape will be replaced with an interior stair, and telephone wires attached to the structure will be removed. The flat composition material on the sloping segment of the mansard roof will be covered with ribbed metal roof covering. In general, exterior work is planned to restore the building to its original design and condition.

Construction FB photo b


The interior plan is divided in half, with the auditorium on the west, the gymnasium and the ballroom on the east. The major internal modification planned is the removal of the unsafe auditorium balcony (unsafe the day it was built, and now strengthened with steel rods at the front edge up to the roof structure) and re-opening of the foyer. The stage and proscenium arch of the auditorium are to remain much as they are now. The art deco cascading glass cones and the wall mounted light fixtures will be removed and replaced in the remodeled auditorium to recall the earlier design.

Fireplace in Fireside Room

One of the outstanding Period features of the interior is the chimney piece in the “Fireside Room” which is of Italianate design with a high mantel supported on brackets over two slender, twisted columns which rest on a raised hearth. The smoke chamber over the mantel is designed to carry the fireplace form up to the ceiling. A popular room for receptions, this space will be opened up with paneled folding doors on common wall with the gymnasium so the two spaces can flow together for large functions.

The gymnasium represents one of the important multiple uses of the building as the building was originally planned. It is used by over twenty different groups in The Dalles for various purposes, but especially for basketball. The roof beams are of riveted steel, reminiscent of steel construction of the turn of the century.

The Civic Auditorium in The Dalles was erected with public funds at a cost of $125,00 in 1921 and dedicated as a memorial to local veterans of the First World War. Its restrained design in the Neo-Classical Revival Style by the Portland firm of Houghtaling and Dougan was economical, but nonetheless dignified. It gave the appropriate effect of monumentality and complemented two earlier civic buildings in the immediate neighborhood – the Carnegie Library in the idiom of Beaux Arts Classicism, opened in 1910; and the Second Renaissance Revival Wasco County Courthouse, completed in 1912.

The Auditorium is significant as a well-preserved and exceptionally early example in Oregon of a community center specially designed to serve a range of recreational needs. With its auditorium, gymnasium and banquet/ballroom, the building has been the primary setting for the community’s cultural events for over fifty years. Plans are underway to upgrade the building for continued use by diverse segments of The Dalles society.

Theater stage and false balcony

Theatre stage and seating

Before long, it was suggested that the two diverse groups work together to acquire and remodel the old courthouse or construct a new building on its site. As these groups worked to find a place for their activities, they enlisted not only the help of The Dalles Chamber of Commerce, but the American Legion Club as well. On April 8, 1920, The Dalles Chamber asked The Dalles City Council to consider putting development of a civic theater and a community center on the ballot for a special election. The Council voted its support and, on May 20, 1920, the people of The Dalles agreed to a $125,000 bond issue to build an auditorium, restrooms, and a gymnasium. The vote was 389 for, 235 against; thus the measure passed by 154 votes.

The American Legion had worked hard to pass the bond issue, and, when the building was finished, it was dedicated as a memorial to World War Veterans in The Dalles and Wasco County. In February of 1921, the site for the new building was fixed at Fourth and Federal Streets, where the old Wiley livery stable stood. The acquisition cost was $11,000. In May of 1921, Houghtaling and Dougan were awarded the contract for design, an added feature of which was the ballroom with its hardwood floors measuring 68 x 76 feet, and its “gallery with seating capacity for 300, Blood and Williams were consulting engineers.

Box Office

The Civic Box Office

P.J. Stadelman was mayor at the time of the dedication of the Civic Auditorium.The plans committee consisted of W.J. Seufert, chairman; H.S. Rice; Fred Thompson; A.W. Manchester; and B.O. Olinger. Others contributing to the planning were H.R. Fanche: Dr. Thomas Cobreth, W.E. Walters, E.H. French, J.T. Rorick, John Van Dellen, Malcolm Moody,and F.W. Sims.

On its completion, the Civic Auditorium housed a short-lived swimming pool in the partial basement, gymnasium, reception room, ballroom and gallery, and an auditorium space which, with its balcony, provided seating for 800 people. The Dalles was the first important stop east of Portland for concertizers and road companies traveling by railroad.

For example, Madame Matzenhauer, a leading contralto with the Metropolitan Opera Company accompanied by local pianist George Vause, provided the program for the Monday Musical Club at the Auditorium on April 30, 1927. Concerts of such distinction waned, however, as the popularity of motion pictures increased and, in time, the auditorium space came to be used more and more for the showing of movies in competion with downtown, theaters.

By the 1940s, a box office had been inserted into the foyer, and a marquee carrying the neon title “Civic” had been added to the facade.

Theatre intenrior b-w

Theatre showing balcony

Spurred recently by a citizens action group, the City has embraced a plan to update the Civic Auditorium for contemporary use. It is planned that the exterior will be restored and the marquee removed. In response to information gathered from questionnaires distributed to current users by the City Parks and Recreation Department, which is responsible for scheduling activities within the building, the gymnasium and the ballroom – with a kitchen addition – will be retained. The auditorium will be remodeled as a more intimate 600-seat playhouse; its condemned balcony will be removed and a lounge and .meeting area will be developed in its place. Under the plan, the mezzanine is to be used for art exhibits and storage; restrooms are to be enlarged, and an elevator added.

New corner stairwells will be added to provide access to the mezzanine at either end of the foyer, which, though subdivided in intervening years, will be reopened as a single formal space.

Chester A. Houghtaling (1882-1940), a native of Cleveland, Ohio, studied structural engineering at the Lewis Institute in Chicago and worked for the Chicago firm of Purdy and Henderson before migrating north and west to Saskatoon, Spokane, Twin Falls and Portland, where he opened an architectural office. Leigh H. Dougan (b. 1883), a native of Indiana, had studied, architecture at the Armour Institute of Technology in Chicago and arrived in Portland in 1911. The pair formed a partnership in 1914 which lasted through 1924. Among the firm’s best known works in Portland are the elaborately-decorated Second Renaissance Revival Elks Temple (Old), a National Register property; Washington High School; and the Medical Arts Building.


The Dalles Chronicle, assorted notices on construction and completion, 1920-1921.

Original construction blueprints, firm of Houghtaling and Dougan, Portland, Oregon.

Withey, Henry F., and Withey, Elsie Rathburn, eds. Biographical Dictionary of American Architects, Deceased (Los Angeles: New Age Publishing Co., 1956).Biographical note on Chester A. Houghtaling.