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Byrnes Auditorium (1939 - )

Digitized Collection

Kinard Hall ca early 1940s

Winthrop had enough trouble financing its building program during the prosperous 1920s, but during the Great Depression of the 1930s no buildings at all were erected until New Deal monies were obtained through efforts of two prominent state politicians, James Byrnes and Strom Thurmond.

The Public Works Administration Act of 1937, extended in 1938, created jobs and public building projects with Federal spending.  U. S. C. and Clemson had already been designated for massive building grants when Winthrop began a campaign to secure its share.  Senator James F. Byrnes contacted the P. W. A. officials to expedite Winthrop’s application as soon as the bureau was set up in 1937.  Winthrop received $302,000.00 in 1937 and an additional $10,000.00 in 1938.  These monies were matched by state bonds to total $628,000.00 for an auditorium and home economics building.

In the early 1930s the Atlanta architectural firm of Edwards and Sayward provided several master plans for Winthrop, showing a monumental auditorium where Byrnes Auditorium now stands.  Their renderings were similar to the present building, but more elaborate with massive classical columns, pediments, and acroteria.  Winthrop, in the early 1930s, was still using the 1912 auditorium in the Tillman Administration Building which seats 992.  There was no place where all the students and faculty could be assembled.  In 1937, with funding available, architects for the new auditorium were selected.  James B. Urquhart of Columbia was senior architect and A. D. Gilchrist of Rock Hill was the associate architect.  Gilchrist had planned many of Winthrop’s earlier buildings (Peabody Gym, Science Building, Infirmary Annex) and worked closely with Edwards and Sayward.  Sketches submitted by Gilchrist in 1937 for the auditorium were remarkably similar to earlier Edwards and Sayward renderings.  The final design was less elaborate but retained classical front and side entrances.  This building was completed in 1939 for over $400,000.00 by Hardaway Construction Company of Columbus, Georgia.

The five story masonry building with partial basement has a rectangular plan with elliptically curved façade.  The two story projecting rectangular entrance has a heavy stone cornice and stylized pilasters over masonry arcades, second story balcony, and five pedimented doorways on the first floor.  Similar projecting exits on sides have three doorways rather than five.  The bulk of the building’s Flemish bond red brick is interrupted by a plain stone frieze on the roof parapet, and belt courses between floor levels.  The massive curved façade is decorated with a central stone frieze engraved “Auditorium and Conservatory of Music”.  A rectangular cast stone plaza and steps lead to the front entrance.

The main floor of the auditorium is approached through the five front doorways and a shallow foyer with ticket offices and dog-leg concrete stairways to either side.  There is fixed seating for 2,104 on the main floor, curving down towards the stage and separated by aisles from the four double doorways from the foyer.  The rectangular stage (36’ x 79’) is framed by a molded plaster proscenium arch conforming to the elliptically arched ceiling.  Elaborate octagonal and square plaster screenwork designs lighten the arch.  The second floor landing leads to a sloping, curved balcony, divided into three levels seating 1,374.  Restrooms and storage areas are under second level seats.  The upper third and fourth balcony levels are reached by four aisle stairways conforming to main floor aisles.  A projection booth sits at the center of the balcony.

The stage features overhanging catwalks at the fifth floor level and supports for scenery, curtains and light fixtures.  The stage basement houses mechanical equipment and an organ platform.

In 1955, a $45,000.00 Aeolian Skinner electrically powered pipe organ was installed in the auditorium.  The organ’s designer, G. Donald Harrison, died the following year and its tonal qualities cannot be duplicated today.  Organists of worldwide fame have played and praised the instrument.

Conservatory of Music

The music conservatory attached to the back of Byrnes Auditorium was designed as an extension of the auditorium by James B. Urquhart of Columbia and A. D. Gilchrist of Rock Hill, the auditorium’s architects.  It was funded with part of the $400,000.00 in Public Works Administration grants and matching state appropriations used for the auditorium, and completed in 1939 by the Hardaway Construction Company of Columbus, Georgia.

The music department had been housed in the back wing of McLaurin Hall, which had practice rooms and a rehearsal hall.  The 1939 conservatory has additional space for music instruction and practice, and provides rehearsal areas for professional performers using the auditorium.  After the new conservatory was built, the old quarters in McLaurin were converted into dormitory rooms.

The conservatory has an “E” shaped plan with stepped floor levels descending from a four story center section to a one story practice hall.  The exterior masonry walls are detailed with plain stone friezes and a variety of window types, which cover a large percentage of the surface area.  Windows on the three story wings sides, wing ends, and center section are 6/6, 8/8, and 10/10 sash respectively.  The practice hall has complex chapel windows with masonry arches, semicircular fanlights, and sidelights.

Conservatory wings contain banks of small practice rooms on each floor with large studios at the ends.  The center section has offices, practice rooms, and restrooms on the first two floors.  A large rehearsal room, music library (currently housed in McLaurin Hall), and classrooms are on the third floor, with two classrooms on the ends of the fourth floor.  Floors are connected by stairways on wing ends and in the back of the center section.

The large (85’ x 37’) recital hall has a stage and seating for 224.  In the 1970s a ten-stop Gabriel Kney organ, with different tonal qualities from the Byrnes Auditorium organ, was installed.

There is nothing of particular architectural distinction about the conservatory, but it must be considered part of Byrnes Auditorium, with a total significance to the college and state.  Stylistically it has little connection with the auditorium except for the common use of Flemish bond brick and plain stone friezes.  Historically, it has state-wide significance through its New Deal origins and construction.  The solid, spacious structure should continue to serve the campus for as long as the auditorium remains standing.


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