A Detailed History of the Auditorium

The present W. C. Peterson Auditorium, a truly fine facility in the Ishpeming High School, is the “Second Edition.” The original auditorium was constructed in 1909 in basically the same configuration, less the balcony. Similarities ended at that point as the initial structure was occupied by desks and served as an assembly hall for Ishpeming High School (I.H.S.) students. There were few professional performances, and social events were somewhat limited to class plays and graduation. Students entered for morning roll and were dismissed at noon, marching to piano accompaniment.

In 1930 a fire destroyed the high school complex along with the auditorium/assembly hall, leaving only the gymnasium and manual training wings. Students attended classes in makeshift classrooms scattered about the community. The YMCA, church basements, lodge halls and other sites hosted the youngsters and their instructors.

The debris from this disastrous event had barely been moved from the site before construction crews undertook the task of rebuilding from the ashes. In the middle of the Great Depression a Phoenix arose! Craftsmen in trades that no longer exist put the finishing touches to the present auditorium, and in the fall of 1931, one year and one month after the calamitous fire, the entire complex was opened to the returning students. An interesting note: the original seats, which are valued at over $250 each, were purchased at a cost of $6.57 each!

It would be over a decade before this attractive venue would start receiving its deserved attention. George Quaal, a local merchant, plunged headlong into the presentation of an entertainment series in the 1942-43 season and maintained it for the next 24 years. Such notable Metropolitan Opera starts as Marian Anderson, Jussi Bjoerling, Blanche Thebom, Robert Merrill, Jan Peerce, Paul Robeson, and Lauritz Melchior thrilled patrons of the area.

Foreign countries sent their ambassadors: The Vienna String Symphony, Tryoliers of Austria, National Ballet of Finland, Little Singers of Paris, Russia’s Don Cossacks, Westminster Choir, the Singing Boys of Norway, and more.
The rich variety included such favorites as the Roger Wagner Choral, pianist Alec Templeton, The Wayne King Orchestra, Arthur Rubenstein, world-renowned violinist Isaac Stern, The Chicago Symphony, and on, and on.

Mr. Quaal’s last presentation was on March 21, 1966. His legacy of fine musical presentations lingers in the minds of many. It would be over two decades before a revival would take place. IN 1988, a community/alumni fund drive led to a restoration of the auditorium. Over $78,000 was spent in restoring the 1,142 seats. A new lighting system, stage curtains, rigging and lighting were also added at an estimated total project cost of $200,000.

In 1991 the final stages of the restoration were completed, including the lettering of the auditorium to honor the long-serving teacher/administrator of the school district, William C. Peterson.

Since 1988, the Peninsula Arts Appreciation Council (PAAC) has worked diligently to present an on-going cultural series. The series shares the stage with such annual events as Music Fest, Negaunee Male Chorus’ “Big Sing,” The Miss Ishpeming Pageant, Allegro Christmas Show, plus the performances of the Ishpeming schools.

Our greatest support factor, however, is our patrons. Through their attendance at programs and their generous donations over the past several years, we have accomplished a great deal. We look for their continued support in our effort to up-grade this fine facility. Contributions this end can be made to:

Ishpeming School District – Auditorium Fund
319 E. Division Street
Ishpeming, Michigan 49849

The Ishpeming School District’s Board of Education and its Auditorium Advisory Board are dedicated to the continued up-grading and refinement of this beautiful showplace. With your continued support it will happen!