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ASU Gammage, Part 1

In 1957 Grady Gammage, who was at the time the President of Arizona State University, envisioned construction of a unique and distinctive auditorium on the ASU campus in Tempe. He was a close friend of Frank Lloyd Wright and asked the famous architect if he would help complete that vision. Wright proposed using a design that had been drafted for an opera house that had never been built.

Wright toured the campus and found a site at the edge of university property that he liked which was then in use as an athletic field. The circular design together with the pedestrian bridges to the parking lots were meant to represent open arms saying "Welcome to ASU".

Wright modified the original design to fit the site and purpose but unfortunately passed away prior to construction. The architectural work was completed by Wright associate, William Welsey Peters.

Unfortunately, Grady Gammage also died in 1959 (same year as Wright) so neither saw the completion of their shared vision. The R.E. McKee Company was hired to complete the construction which began in 1962 and was completed in 1964 with a total cost of $2.46M.

The structure is 80 feet tall and measures some 300 by 250 feet (since the design is circular, that is just an approximation). Note that ASU Gammage is the only public building in Arizona designed by Wright — there are several residences (in addition to the David and Gladys Wright House) still in use (but not available for viewing) — as well as the Wright designed spire that was constructed in Scottsdale (originally designed for the state capitol but which was not built at the time).

The performance hall has three seating levels and holds some 3,000 patrons. The hall is so well designed that the most distant seat is only 115 feet from the stage and performers can be heard well from any seat in the house.

The stage is adaptable for almost any type of production from a lecture to grand opera. The orchestra shell can be extended to accommodate a full orchestra, chorus and pipe organ. When not needed, it can be collapsed into a storage area — thus not wasting space for unneeded function.

The grand opening was on September 18, 1964 with a performance by The Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of legendary conductor Eugene Ormandy. Since then ASU Gammage has been host to many well-known entertainers such as Bruce Springsteen, B.B. King and Elton John — and famous dance companies plus Broadway plays and musicals. I saw Phantom of the Opera performed here some years ago. It was a wonderful performance in a wonderful venue.

It was a surprise to me to learn that ASU Gammage has a number of programs for students of all ages providing contact with the arts both with performances but also with workshops and artist residencies. They even partner with the Kennedy Center to bring artist-mentors to schools in the Phoenix area integrating the arts into the core curriculum.

The previous photo and this one show the entrance to the box office.

And next to the box office is this poster wall showing upcoming shows. I love the last poster which is requesting donations for remodeling and expanding the restroom facilities.

On the other side of the box office is a plaque honoring the Board of Regents, the architects and contractor.

This area I presume to be backstage (I have not yet taken the tour to verify that). It is interesting in its own right but I also noticed the building in the background (bottom right) with architectural scallops, just like ASU Gammage. I do not know what building it is but I have to wonder if they intentionally copied that small feature in order to fit it better. Who knows?

To be continued...

Life is good.

B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com