During World War II, the city turned the Municipal Auditorium over to its service men twice a month for dances. On May 11, 1955, while on their first tour of Florida with Hank Snow's All-Star Jamboree, Elvis, Scotty, and Bill performed at the Auditorium in Orlando for the first of three times.
From its shining glass front, anyone can assume that the Bob Carr Theater, originally the Orlando Municipal Auditorium, has been around for only a few decades, not knowing that behind the exterior is a brick structure that began life 97 years ago as the Orlando Municipal Auditorium.
The story of the building dates back to the early nineteenth century when Orlando was a rural area. As the population of Orlando doubled between 1910 and 1920, the city rapidly transformed from being a rural citrus-growing area to a major city. A great building boom aided the city’s continuing prosperity in the 1920s evidenced by the opening of the Orlando Public Library in 1923 and the Municipal Auditorium in 1926.
The Municipal Auditorium now known as Mayor Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre located at 400 West Livingston St. in Orlando was built for approximately $175,000 on land that was originally owned by Orange County and reserved for the annual Orange County Fair and other events.
On February 21, 1927, the brand new venue presented its first event, the opera Aida, performed by the La Scala Grand Opera Company of Philadelphia. During the first years after its opening, the Municipal Auditorium also hosted stage productions and organ recitals. It also served as a movie house!
As Orlando grew during the 1950s, the “Muni Aud”, as called by the residents, incorporated more diverse events, and in 1950, the Florida Symphony began playing their subscription series in the venue.
Over the years, the auditorium has housed the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, Orlando Opera, and the Orlando Ballet. Other notable performers included Elvis Presley, Andy Griffin, Liberace, Nelson Eddy, Grace Moore, and the Florida Theatrical Association.
On May 11, 1955, while on their first tour of Florida with Hank Snow's All-Star Jamboree, Elvis, Scotty, and Bill performed at the Auditorium in Orlando for the first of three times. According to Peter Guralnick and Ernst Jorgensen in Elvis Day by Day, in Faron Young's recollection, “the audience calls for Elvis when Hank Snow takes the stage. The announcer tries to restore order by telling the crowd that Elvis is out back signing autographs, and the auditorium empties.”
In the early 1970s, Mayor Carl Langford and others decided the city needed a state-of-the-art performing arts venue. But with the economy shrinking, finding the $7 million to $9 million needed was out of the question, so a committee began to weigh whether the auditorium could be revamped.
Local architect Tom Price who was on the committee eventually became the lead designer on the renovation project. “I caught fire on the thing when I realized we could take this old barn of a building and make a state-of-the-art performing arts center within or close to the budget we already had,’’ Price recalls. Amazingly, that budget was only $2.2 million.
The project included gutting the interior, installing every other row of seating, increasing legroom, improving technical equipment, and an acoustical shell for orchestral performances was put into place. The most significant alteration was the exterior glass shell which enclosed the original brick façade.
Price recalls his design group was having a heated discussion about the front one day when he finally blurted out, “Well, what do you want to do—build a glass box around it?!’’ Well, why not? Price designed the front you see today, consisting of a garden lobby and upper promenade, at a total cost of $90,000. That three-arched entrance to the lobby bar was the entrance to the original auditorium.
The glass shell was a considered design aimed to honor and preserve the theater’s rich past while elevating it to a more contemporary style. These improvements shifted the focus of the facility to musical and theater productions. In May 1978, the venue was christened the "Mayor Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre", in honor of Bob Carr mayor of Orlando from 1956 to 1967.
The structural and technical changes to the theater helped it become the home to the Orlando Ballet, Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, Festival of Orchestras, and Broadway Across America.
Price says he would like to see the Carr “have a third life.’’ And it just might. While he makes no promises, Creative Village developer Craig Ustler says there’s a chance the venerable venue could find a place as part of the digital city of the future, possibly as a performance space for digital media or alternative arts. Adds Ustler, an Orlando native, “I see value in the history and story of this building.’’
Author’s Note: This article is solely for information purposes. The embedded links and information shared in the article are attributed to orlando.gov, goodreads.com, scottymore.net, orlandomagazine.com and en.wikipedia.com..
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