Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium opened on February 22, 1924, created as a living memorial to Hamilton County war veterans.
First proposed at a Kiwanis Club meeting in 1918, Memorial Auditorium was designed as a municipal auditorium and all-purpose exhibition hall. Built by the City of Chattanooga at a cost of $700,000, Memorial Auditorium was designed by renowned architect R.H. Hunt.
For forty years, the Auditorium served as Chattanooga's primary meeting hall and largest capacity indoor entertainment venue. Its flat floor and flexible seating allowed it to accommodate a wide variety of events, including boxing matches, roller derby, ice shows, religious revivals, tennis tournaments, circuses, even aquacades. It also hosted dances, banquets, civic meetings, political rallies, and Chattanooga's annual Cotton Ball.
But by the 1960s Memorial Auditorium was in desperate need of repair. Civic groups including the Kiwanis Club, Chamber of Commerce and Allied Arts Council spearheaded a renovation, which was approved by the City Commission in 1964. The City authorized a $4 million bond issue, of which $1 million was earmarked for renovation of Memorial Auditorium. A few months later, an expanded renovation plan was approved, with a budget of $2.1 million. The Auditorium closed for almost a year, reopening on November 6, 1966.
The 1966 renovation added such amenities as escalators and air conditioning, and converted the basement-level parking garage into exhibit space. Memorial Auditorium would become a convention center and exhibit hall competitive with any in the southeast.
By 1985, its mission had changed. The completion of UTC's McKenzie Arena and the Chattanooga Convention and Trade Center had eliminated the need for an all-purpose hall. Instead of trying to do everything passably, Memorial Auditorium would concentrate on doing one thing well. It would fill Chattanooga's need for a mid-sized theater and concert venue.
A coalition of civic and veterans groups led by former Chattanooga Mayor Robert Kirk Walker persuaded the community that it was time to reinvest in Chattanooga's great hall. $5 million in public funds and almost $2 million in private contributions were raised.
After an 18-month renovation, the Auditorium was rededicated on January 31, 1991 as a near-capacity crowd honored the men and women of the Armed Forces. Technical improvements included new dressing rooms, a hydraulic orchestra lift, state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems, and increased stage depth. However, the major change was that the Auditorium had been converted from an all-purpose exhibition hall with a flat floor and movable seating, to a sloped concert hall with permanent seating and greatly improved sightlines. These technical improvements, along with a complete cosmetic overhaul, have made Memorial Auditorium a first class performing arts facility second to none in style, comfort and acoustics.
Since its reopening, Memorial Auditorium has hosted a wide variety of events, from national tours of "Cats," "Les Miserables," "Grease" and "Riverdance," to Baryshnikov, Isaac Stern, Bill Cosby, Bob Dylan, David Copperfield, Patti Labelle, Garth Brooks, Prince, Widespread Panic and many others.