Many Topekans received their high school diplomas on its stage, and some took the Kansas Bar Exam in its basement. The facility housed the community Thanksgiving dinner and the Junior League Next-to-New sale. In June of 1966, it served as a shelter in the aftermath of the killer tornado that struck Topeka. It was the site of town meetings, political speeches and gubernatorial inaugurations.
During the 1951 Topeka Flood, the largest concentration of about 1,500, were fed, entertained and bedded down in the Municipal Auditorium, the emergency relief headquarters. The situation, which had resembled a fairly orderly dormitory Wednesday night when only North Topeka's and Shunganunga evacuees were on hand, turned into organized confusion Thursday evening as hundreds of Oakland and East Topeka residents registered for aid. By mid-afternoon, the auditorium facilities were taxed to the limit, and the 500-cot station at the Masonic Temple Building was full.
Topeka GrewAs the center of population in Topeka grew south and west, so did the center of activity. In 1987, the Kansas Expocentre opened, and once the proud Municipal Auditorium seemed to have been replaced. On September 25, 1987, in vaudeville style, Max Morath performed the closing performance in the Municipal, appropriately titled "I'm Living a Ragtime Life,"
a selection from the 1900 opening, featuring the art slide collection of Topeka historian John Ripley. What transpired next would open a new chapter for entertainment in the capital city of Kansas.
The RenovationIn 1985 a task force of private citizens, with the support of Mayor Doug Wright and City officials, pursued the possible renovation of the Municipal Auditorium into a performing arts facility because the new Expocentre, which lacked a permanent stage, did not lend itself to such programs. With architects, designers and engineers, the Auditorium was inspected and found to be structurally sound.
In 1987, the task force presented a proposal for a $5 million renovation that would result in an auditorium suitable for Broadway touring companies, world-class orchestras, and major dance companies. A first-of-a-kind public/private partnership was formed, with the City funding $2.5 million, and the balance to be raised from corporations, foundations and individuals from within the community.
The highly successful capital campaign raised $2.7 million, led by the naming gift of $500,000 from Andrew J. and Georgia Neese Gray. The general contractor for the renovation was Murray and Sons Construction Co., Inc. of Topeka.