The building itself will soon crumble to the ground, but there are a lot of memories still stored from shared experiences at the Gaillard Auditorium.
From concerts to commencements, from recitals to “Riverdance,” from Broadway shows to base-closure hearings — the building was a gathering place for any and everything since it opened in 1968.
It was the only game in town for the longest time, and even then, it was sometimes too small to attract some of the bigger shows. They would bypass us for larger venues in Charlotte or Jacksonville.
If the walls could talk, they’d tell us that longtime sound man Leonard Ripley never saw an audio problem he couldn’t fix with just a longer cord.
Stagehand Bobby Albers opened and closed many a curtain by hand and sometimes thinks the ghosts of the Gaillard might have been pulling with him. (Mmmm … Ghosts of the Gaillard, that’s my title before any of you start writing a book.)
I reported from the lobby of the Gaillard one night with round-by-round descriptions of a closed-circuit satellite title fight between Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran. A giant screen showed the grainy pictures. I’d watch a couple rounds, then give live descriptions on the late local newscast. I never knew the term “no mas” before then. (Just retelling that story makes me feel like a museum piece.)
Exit, stage left
Our children have danced recitals there and later received diplomas on the same stage. Many of you might have even seen your first cultural arts performance with a school field trip to a Spoleto event.
The Gaillard Auditorium touched all of us somehow, some way.
Will the new facility connect us with the same sense of community? Probably … in time. The new performance hall actually will be a little smaller, with seating for 1,800, reduced from 2,700. The new building also will include city offices, as well as an exhibition hall.
As Mayor Joe Riley ceremoniously lowered the boom on a canopy of concrete to kick off the deconstruction of the old building, I found my mind wandering to all of the events my family and I attended through the years. Big Bird seemed even bigger on this stage. Even in tighter environs, circus acts managed to thrill. Singers, dancers, comedians, Broadway actors, magicians and musicians … they all cast their shadows in the footlights of “The Gaillard.”
Transformative public space
In the spring of 2015, a new building will rise called The Gaillard Center. The performance hall will have horseshoe-shaped balconies and opera boxes. We’re told the acoustics will be superb and the sightlines unimpeded. It promises to be a world-class structure. But that doesn’t mean it has to erase what many of us experienced there.
In the early ’70s, I’ll never forget the music of one man with his guitar who was opening for Blood, Sweat and Tears. He introduced us to a song that seemed convoluted but catchy. It was sometime later that I fully understood those lyrics. The artist was Don McLean. The song, “American Pie.” I left singing something about a Chevy and a levee.
I bet everyone of us has a “Gaillard” memory, but it doesn’t have to disappear in the dust.
I’m just sayin’ …