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March 21, 2001

STORY IDEA: SMU'S POPULAR MCFARLIN AUDITORIUM CELEBRATES 75 YEARS

DALLAS (SMU) -- On March 24, 2001, the McFarlin Auditorium on the SMU campus celebrates its 75th year as host to numerous campus and community events. Those events have ranged from daily chapel services for students in the 1920s, to Will Rogers in the 1930s, to Orson Welles in the 1940s, to Bob Hope and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in the 1950s, to Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s, to Pink Floyd in the 1970s, to Barry Manilow in the 1990s to Walter Cronkite in the 2000s.

A permanent photo gallery featuring historic shots of McFarlin's construction in the mid-1920s, its original architecture before a 1962 renovation and early events such as chapel assemblies, class meetings and commencement exercises, as well as photos of famous people who have performed in the auditorium, will be erected in the basement lobby. Refurbished clocks will deck lobby walls in time for the diamond anniversary.

Built in 1926 to serve as a chapel that could accommodate the entire student body, McFarlin Auditorium was SMU's third permanent structure. It was funded by devout Methodist and San Antonio businessman Robert M. McFarlin, son of Presbyterian farmer Benjamin Porter McFarlin from Ovilla, Texas, who became Methodist when banished from his congregation for working on a Sunday to help a neighbor save his crop from threatening weather. The auditorium's original curtain, now lowered once a year during Baccalaureate services, features a pastoral scene with the word "Ovilla" painted across the bottom.

From its early days as a chapel, McFarlin Auditorium has evolved into a popular venue for community-wide events ranging from ballet performances and high school graduation ceremonies to SMU's Tate Lecture Series and popular music concerts. Off-campus groups gain access to the facility with appropriate sponsorship from a campus group.

"McFarlin has served as SMU's foremost connector to the community," says Alison Tweedy, director of McFarlin. "More people from the public come through this auditorium than any other building on campus, perhaps with the exception of the new Gerald J. Ford Stadium."

Some of McFarlin's other notable guests have included Colin Powell, Gerald R. Ford, Margaret Thatcher, Cary Grant, Sinclair Lewis, W.H. Auden, Bob Dylan, Elton John and Mikhail Baryshnikov, for whom a shower was installed at his request.

Campus legend maintains that the auditorium also houses a friendly ghost, the supposed spirit of Jack Black, a McFarlin stagehand during the late 1950s and early '60s. "When the elevator opens before I press the button or the window flies open after I crack it, I say, 'Thanks Jack,' and go about my business," Tweedy says.

McFarlin seats 2,386 and is in use approximately 300 days of the year, including about 200 performances.

Note to Editors: A tour of the building, old photographs and interviews with the McFarlin staff are available for media interested in doing a feature story on the auditorium's 75th anniversary.

 


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