Built between 1906 and 1907 at a cost of $350,000, the St. Paul Municipal Auditorium sat proudly between Fifth and Fourth Street at Franklin just west of the St. Paul Hotel and the old post office.
The oblong building was 180 by 300 feet. Modeled on the Opera House in Bayreuth, Germany, the auditorium had a fan shaped interior. The stage was with a 123 foot wide and 140 feet long. The flexible seating capacity could be adjusted from 5,000 to 3,000 by letting down the side of a proscenium arch.
Cellular walls with a 6 foot space between the outside and inside lining contained numerous stairways and passages. The Fourth Street side was graced with 2nd, 3rd and 4th level rows of windows and a vertical sign that read “Auditorium” in large, friendly letters.
The grand, old place was primarily used for theater and conventions. In hopes of showing up the swells across the river in Minneapolis, St. Paul built an addition to the auditorium between 1931 and 1932. The new building designed by municipal architect Clarence W. Wigington, contained a much bigger arena adjacent to the existing building. The new facilities hosted conventions, concerts and circuses. The buildings could easily accommodate seating for up to 15,000.
The facility brought in big name performers. The St. Paul Auditorium was the first venue in the the city to contain an artificial ice rink. The building hosted the first, ever Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament in 1945 and was was used by the University of Minnesota hockey team until 1950s. On Mother’s Day, May 13th, 1956 Elvis Presley started a Midwest tour with an afternoon appearance at the St. Paul Auditorium. The opening act was St. Paul’s own Andy Garcia.
The old St. Paul Municipal Auditorium was finally demolished in 1982. In 1984 the remaining arena was renovated and renamed for civil rights leader, Roy Wilkins. A few years later the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts opened on the site of the original St. Paul Auditorium.