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80 years of Asheville, N.C.’s Thomas Wolfe Auditorium

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The Asheville Auditorium, which would be incorporated into the Civic Center in 1970. | Photo courtesy of the NC Collection, Pack Memorial Library

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Today is the 80th anniversary of Asheville’s Thomas Wolfe Auditorium. HBD, Thomas Wolfe (the space – the author’s birthday is Oct. 3). 🎂 It’s also the second week into the City’s naming rights agreement with Harrah’s Cherokee Center – Asheville (formerly the U.S. Cellular Center and the Asheville Civic Center).

Harrah’s Cherokee made a $5.75 million bid for the naming rights and was selected by City Council last May for a 10-year contract. The name change will be rolling out over the next couple of weeks – including on a redesigned website. And, $750,000 in funds is earmarked for renovations at the Wolfe.

While that funding will go to some of the needed improvements at the auditorium, there’s more to do – the auditorium was last renovated in the 1970s and needs major updates to acoustics, seating, facilities + more.

On Jan. 15 at 6 p.m., the City is holding a free public event in the Wolfe to highlight a potential large-scale renovation to the historic theater – which will include a presentation of the conceptual design from architectural firm Earl Swensson Associates, Inc. (ESA), a proposed budget, info on future programming opportunities, and a moderated panel. And, a new community organization, Transform the Wolfe, has formed to help raise awareness, support, and funding for the full, likely multimillion dollar redesign.

To celebrate the auditorium’s birthday, we’re using this #WayBackWednesday to give you all the deets on the history + future of the space –

DYK: The Thomas Wolfe Auditorium has 80+ days of booked events. It’s the home space for the Asheville Symphony, and hosts ballets, concerts, live comedy + other events. It seats 2,431 audience members.

City Auditorium

  • Built in 1902 by the Asheville Auditorium Company as a “hall of accommodations and large assemblies.”
  • Burned down in Oct. 1903.

Municipal Auditorium

  • Built in 1904 using some funds from the City Auditorium insurance settlement.
  • In 1911, the City of Asheville became the building’s owners.
  • Condemned in 1931 and was demolished in 1937 because of safety issues.

Asheville Auditorium

  • Opened in 1940, and funded through the federal Public Works Administration at the end of the Great Depression.
  • 20,000 square feet with a 3,000 person capacity.
  • Designed for performances, athletic events, conventions + more.
  • Designed in the Art Deco style by Lindsey M. Gudger, and considered one of the greatest buildings in that style at the time.

Asheville Civic Center

  • Approved in 1968 by Asheville’s City Council, it incorporated the Asheville Auditorium and added an exhibition hall, an arena for large events, banquet rooms + more.
  • Groundbreaking took place in June of 1970, and the Civic Center opened in 1974.
  • The newly-named Thomas Wolfe Auditorium opened on Dec. 13, 1975 with a performance of “Christmas Concerto” and “The Nutcracker” by the Asheville Symphony.
  • The auditorium was also the home of the Mountain Dance & Folk Festival until 1998.

When the Civic Center became the U.S. Cellular Center in 2010, the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium received a few much-needed improvements, including a lobby expansion.

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