After taking a few weeks off from my might-never-end quest to document all the New Deal Administration properties in Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana, I was back on the hunt again this week. I was intrigued by this building–the Clarksdale Civic Auditorium–when it was posted on Preservation in Mississippi. It was only recently, however, that I discovered it was a Works Progress Administration building whilst following my favorite pass-time of searching the MDAH database inventory. (I don’t know who over at MDAH thought of that, but she or he deserves a nomination for the most helpful and fun Internet site on the whole world wide web.) You can also see a wonderful photograph of the entire front of the building on the 2009 post by Malvaney, and also in the 2009 post for Name This Place.
The Civic Auditorium was completed in 1939, designed by Mississippi’s Edgar Lucien Malvaney, and built by McCandless, CP with funding from the WPA. McCandless operated in the 1930s in Clarksdale. From the nomination form for the Clarksdale historic district (Wright, Baughn, & Gatlin, 2009):
…poured concrete walls…rounded front corners…fluted columns…
And, my personal favorite of the description,
…entrances appear somewhat anthropomorphic.
Off to the dictionary to look up anthropomorphic, only to discover that it is ascribing a human form or face to a non-human object…okay, now where might that be? A nose, or mouth maybe, but eyes? Or is it the form itself that is somewhat human–rounded? Let’s hear from some of those historians and architects out there, and clear up this mystery.
A bas relief figure is centered on the front facade (shown close-up in the photograph below). She appears to be holding a skyscraper, and to the sides of her feet are a cowboy hat and a Native American headdress. Because she is dressed in a robe and due to the style of her hair, I am speculating she is representing ancient civilization, and the merging of cultures past and present. She seems to be standing on water. If there is an official explanation for the intentions of the architect, I did not locate it, but feel free to weigh in with your interpretation.
I also particularly like those rounded windows that extend along the lower wall, although their form is partially obscured by the too-tall bushes. Wright, Baughn, and Gatlin (2009) described the windows:
…a ribbon of 2/2 horizontal awning metal windows.
Perhaps “ribbon” is an architectural term, but if not, it certainly evokes a lovely image–a decorative function curving across the face of a building, rather like a ribbon lying against the sleek surface of a young woman’s hair, contrasting the texture of the other elements.
The auditorium, which still sees regular use in a variety of forms, has a seating capacity of 1500. In 2011, MDAH awarded a grant of $350,000 for a study of needed work, and to repair portions of the exterior and interior elements.