The History of Peace Memorial Auditorium

Following World War II, the citizens of Manhattan set out to build a living memorial to honor the 2,610 Riley Countians who had served and the 101 servicemen who lost their lives in the war. The national trend at the time was to construct a memorial that would have a use and serve the community, i.e. a “living” memorial.

In 1946, voters were asked to approve an $800,000 bond to construct a memorial auditorium. An editorial in the Oct. 30, 1946 edition of The Manhattan Mercury-Chronicle asked citizens to cast their votes favorably and described the community’s sentiments:

“Manhattan voters Tuesday will have the opportunity to combine their desire for a living memorial to the honored dead of World War II with their recognition of the need to build a suitable memorial in the city. The 101 who did not come back, whose bodies lie in rest over the world, are still with us spiritually. Granite shafts or temples of memory have their place, but these 101, we believe, would want something more than that. . . Let us all help to build a Peace Memorial Auditorium by voting Yes on the ballot Tuesday. Then our 101 honored dead may say in whispered commendation, ‘Well done, Manhattan!’”

Voters approved the bond, and the plans for an auditorium that would serve the community began to take shape. Construction of the auditorium didn’t begin immediately in hopes that high post-war building prices would decline and because there was uncertainty as to where to locate the auditorium. In 1950, a nonbinding referendum was submitted to the public to determine if the auditorium should be built in City Park or elsewhere, and citizens voted to not locate the auditorium in City Park. The 1100 block of Poyntz Avenue was eventually settled on for the location.

“This memorial is for the boy I lost and for many others lost in the war. I don’t think there’s any place on earth too good to put it.”

--Clyde Powell, Feb. 15, 1950

The original bond language called for the erection of a public auditorium. As plans progressed, city offices and a fire station were added to the project, causing some citizens to be concerned that these additions went beyond the original intent of the bond. The city attorney’s opinion was that city offices and a fire station could be included. When bids for the project came in higher than expected, voters were asked to approve another bond of $75,000 in April 1954 to provide additional funding, and the bond vote included language that made it clear that city offices and a fire station would be included, which validated the city attorney’s opinion and assuaged concerns.

The project was completed in 1955, which was Manhattan’s centennial year, and dedication ceremonies took place in September. Mayor N. D. Harwood presided over the ceremonies and said in his remarks, “I accept this building for the city, and dedicate it in honor of the pioneers and the men and women who gave their lives in the service of our country.” The building featured a memorial auditorium with proscenium stage, raised permanent seating, and a basketball court; city offices; police, court, and jail areas; and a fire station.

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