For decades in the early 1900s, Jacksonville was in need of a civic auditorium dedicated to the performing arts.
The Armory building on Market Street and some of the larger swanky downtown hotels filled in admirably as de-facto facilities for such performances, but both solutions were ultimately inadequate.
In the mid-‘50s, the city finally approved plans for a riverfront civic auditorium, on which construction began in 1957. The facility was designed by locally-based Kemp, Bunch, and Jackson – now KBJ Architects – and built by The Auchter Company, which also built the Landing, the Wells Fargo Center, and Jacksonville International Airport among other projects.
The Jacksonville Civic Auditorium, as it was dubbed, opened in 1962. The venue featured two different theaters, a 3,200-seat main auditorium and a smaller auditorium, as well as a large exhibition hall.
It became the primary city venue for live performing arts events; it was named the new permanent home of the Jacksonville Symphony which formed in 1949, and FSCJ’s Artist Series began within the auditorium shortly after it opened.
Unfortunately, the auditorium soon became infamous for its terrible acoustics, which proved particularly cumbersome for the Symphony but also affected other acts. Ironically, the auditorium was greenlit by the city at the same time as the Coliseum, which was also known for its sound issues.
In the ‘90s, the city sought to resolve the auditorium’s shortcomings by including it in the $235 million River City Renaissance urban revitalization plan. KBJ Architects, the building’s original design firm, was tasked with leading redevelopment efforts. Rothman, Rothman & Heineman and Fisher/Dachs Associates were enlisted to assist in the redesign, as was acclaimed acoustician Larry Kierkegaard of Kierkegaard & Associates.
The $35 million renovation project commenced in 1995 and involved creating a dedicated symphony hall in the former exhibition hall space as well as redesigning the existing theaters. The Florida Times-Union contributed $3 million toward the renovations, earning naming rights to the venue.
The newly reconfigured Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts opened its doors to the public in 1997. It featured the 2,900-seat main auditorium, renamed Jim & Jan Moran Theater, the 600-seat C. Herman & Mary Virginia Terry Theater, and the brand-new Robert E. Jacoby Symphony Hall which could seat 1,800 and was built with 12-inch-thick walls.
Today, the Times-Union Center continues to serve as the primary hub for performing arts in Jacksonville.
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