A year in, the Mayo Civic Auditorium is a hit

A strong showing in the winter of 1939-40 helped put the venue in the black.

The Mayo Civic Auditorium arena, set up for a Rochester High School graduation during the building's first year of operation.
Contributed / History Center of Olmsted County

As the one-year anniversary of the opening of Mayo Civic Auditorium rolled around in March 1940, the building was setting attendance records.

In fact, 3,600 people, the largest seated crowd to date in the arena portion of the complex, attended the Boy Scout circus on March 8, and “jammed Mayo Civic Auditorium to the rafters,” according to the Post-Bulletin. It was exactly one year from the opening of the building on March 8, 1939.

Extensive use of the auditorium during the period of Jan. 28 through Feb. 28, 1940, allowed the building to operate in the black for the first time. Expenses were $2,894, while income was $3,202. During that month, there were 24 days of public skating in the arena, as well as eight other arena events, eight events in the theater portion of the building, six in North Hall and 31 in South Hall.

Peak attendance of 9,841 came during a week that featured a Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra concert, a talk by the physician for the Dionne quintuplets, and skating and hockey, according to a report filed by Donald D. Murray, auditorium manager.

And the new month was off to a flying start. On March 7, a crowd of 1,500 attended a hockey game between the St. Louis Flyers and the St. Paul Saints. Clearly, the ice rink, which had been a last-minute addition to the building, was paying dividends for users and spectators alike.


Unfortunately, the two men who had donated the $450,000 auditorium to the community, were not around to see their gift become a success. Doctors Will and Charlie Mayo had both died in the previous year.

An anniversary open house was held on March 11, with 2,000 people in attendance. In an official presentation, Paul A. Grassle, Rochester mayor, reviewed highlights of the auditorium’s first year, and challenged the community to make even more use of the building.

“I do want you to realize this is your auditorium, and your cooperation and assistance is very necessary, and that it also is your responsibility,” Grassle said.

To show off all the potential uses of the auditorium, free entertainment was staged that day in each hall. The arena hosted a figure skating exhibition and a hockey game, while the Rochester Symphony Orchestra and Choral Society, directed by Orvis Ross and Mary Edith Hughes, performed in the theater. A variety of displays were set up in South Hall, and there was dancing until midnight in North Hall.

Now, about that ice rink: The story goes that because the ice was a late addition to the arena, there was not room for a full-size hockey rink. Instead, the rink was quite a bit shorter than regulation, which provided a home-ice advantage for local hockey teams for decades to come.

More importantly, though, at the time it was built, the auditorium ice rink was one of the few places to skate indoors in Minnesota, and it attracted skaters from throughout the country for summer skating schools and ice shows.

It was already clear, after only one year, that the skating rink was helping to make sure the auditorium’s future was not on thin ice.

Thomas Weber is a former Post Bulletin reporter who enjoys writing about local history.


Then and Now - Thomas Tom Weber col sig

Thomas Weber is a former Post Bulletin reporter who enjoys writing about local history.
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