Survey Number: HPS-140
Year Built: 1964
Architectural Style: Usonian
Gammage Auditorium, located at the “old highway bend” at Mill Avenue and Apache Boulevard in Tempe, is a well known local historic landmark and represents the last American architectural masterpiece of Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959). It is the only public building in Arizona designed by Wright
The structure is named in honor of Grady Gammage, longtime president of Arizona State University, patron of the arts, and friend to Mr and Mrs Wright. Gammage served as president from 1933-1959, directing the institution in its rapid growth following World War II. His efforts culminated in the renaming of the school from Arizona State College to Arizona State University in 1958. The auditorium serves as a fitting tribute to one of ASU’s longest-serving and most influential leaders.
Construction on the auditorium began on May 23, 1962 and 25 months later, on September 11, 1964, the project was completed at a final cost of $2.46 million. The first performance at the newly constructed auditorium occurred a week later on September 18, 1964 and featured the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Unfortunately, neither Grady Gammage nor Frank Lloyd Wright lived to see the completion of their masterpiece; both men died in 1959, three years before construction began. However, Grady Gammage, Jr. took over where his father left off and ensured the project’s realization.
Grady Gammage Auditorium was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on September 11, 1985, approximately 23 years after the ground-breaking ceremony. That it achieved National Register status after only 23 years serves as a testament to the truly unique nature of the structure, both for its architectural beauty and its history, being directly associated with two highly prominent Arizona figures.
Since its completion in 1964, Gammage Auditorium has been the location of thousands of theatrical productions and has hosted innumerable famous personages for a variety of purposes. Most recently the site played host to George W. Bush and John Kerry in their third and final Presidential debate in 2004.
In planning Grady Gammage Auditorium, architect Frank Lloyd Wright utilized a previously conceived design for an auditorium in Baghdad, Iraq which was ultimately never built. The design is a complex combination of geometric shapes, with heavy emphasis on circular features.
Wright was a close friend of Gammage, who commissioned him to work on the project. The construction site had previously been the location of an athletic field; Wright chose the site during a tour of the campus with Gammage. He is said to have proclaimed, “I believe this is the site. The structure should be circular in design…with outstretched arms saying, ‘Welcome to ASU!’”
Conceived in the Usonian architectural style, the auditorium itself is 300 feet long, 250 feet wide and 80 feet tall. It features two long ramps extending from opposite sides of the main building, each of which measures 200 feet. These ramps, or “flying buttresses,” were designed to symbolize outreached arms in a welcoming gesture to the visitor. The building has a seating capacity of 3,017.
The auditorium boasts a complex stage design that allows for a range of performance types. It can be adapted to accommodate a grand opera, musical/dramatic productions, symphony concerts, organ and chamber music recitals, as well as solo performances/lectures. There is a collapsible orchestra shell that can be extended to accommodate a full orchestra. When not in use the orchestra shell is contained within a specially designed storage area.
This building is important for its association with Grady Gammage Sr., Frank Lloyd Wright, and for its prominent location where it beacons as a campus gateway to the historic residential neighborhoods located south and west of the old highway curve at Mill Avenue and Apache Boulevard. The building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on September 11, 1985.
National Register Listing 09/11/1985