“This auditorium has been a solid foundation, a cornerstone of this community since 1925,” said local attorney Leevy Johnson. “This auditorium has provided the underpinning on which great pride has been built.”
The Chappelle Administration Building, which houses the auditorium, was opened in 1925 and serves as a symbol Allen University’s standing as a historically black college in the Waverly neighborhood in Columbia, in addition to its connection with the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
“This hall was a meeting place for politicians and a number of other community issues that arose within the Waverly community,” said Lady June Cole, president of Allen University.
When it first opened, the building included administrative offices, an assembly hall, classrooms, a kitchen, a dining hall, a library, a print shop and a mail room. It was designed by architect John Anderson Lankford, who established a firm in Washington, D.C., in 1902 and was known as the “Dean of Architects” within the African-American community.
Over the years, the auditorium hosted many notable African-American leaders and performers including Malcolm X, jazz pianist Duke Ellington, Muhammad Ali, opera singer Leontyne Price and Martin Luther King Jr.
Chappelle Administration Building was listed as a National Historic Landmark in 1976, and it was closed for 38 years before it underwent its recent eight-year renovation. The work was made possible with a $1 million allocation of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds in 2009 to begin the restoration project.
“This has been historic and I hope that this will be a renewal for us,” said U.S. House Rep. James E. Clyburn said of the auditorium’s impact on the community.
Friday’s ceremony also acknowledged the efforts of the chairman of the Allen University Board of Trustees, the Rev. Richard Franklin Norris, to raise the profile of the school. Norris and his wife were presented with proclamations from the state of South Carolina and the city of Columbia and also were given several gifts, including commemorative South Carolina plates and a key to the city.
The building, which houses the auditorium, was also renamed the Richard F. Norris Center for Performing Arts in recognition of the board chairman.
Norris said the renovation of Chappelle Auditorium also was made possible by a $350,000 donation by Boeing, as well as $500,000 from an anonymous donor. Another donor purchased an organ dedicated to Norris and his wife that is housed on the building’s stage.
“There has been more outreach, more giving, more presentations made to Allen than in any other year,” Norris said of the donations.
Cole said the renovation of Chappelle Auditorium and that the re-dedication ceremony already has had an economic impact on the community through jobs in construction and restoration, and she hopes that it continues.
“We expect that once again it will be a historical tourist and community destination,” she said.
Article courtesy of ColaDaily.com.
View photos of the Chappelle Auditorium during and after renovation at TheState.com.