History of Memorial Auditorium



Designed by architect Frank Lyman Austin, Memorial Auditorium was built as a 2,600-person auditorium and civic center to honor World War I veterans. Built in 1927, with the grand opening in 1928, Memorial has hosted public performances, private functions, athletic events, farmers’ markets, exhibits, a day care, and a teen center. Over the years it has been managed by hired contractors, Burlington City Arts, and the Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Department. In 1988, Memorial Auditorium was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a contributing building with the Main Street - College Street Historic District - many in Burlington and the surrounding area have a favorite memory linked to this building.

Unfortunately, since the 1990s the City has struggled to keep up with the needed repairs and required updates to the building and its equipment. Memorial Auditorium was closed at the recommendation of the City Engineer to ensure the safety of the public in December 2016. Over the years, many redevelopment concepts and ideas have been considered for Memorial Auditorium and the larger “Gateway Block” (which extends from South Winooski Ave. to South Union Street along Main Street). 

For a summary of the primary uses of the building from the 1980s to 2016, see this timeline.

For a more extensive history, see the University of Vermont’s Historic Preservation Program Director Professor Thomas D. Visser’s presentation on a brief history of Memorial Auditorium and his student Emma Haggerty’s research on the City’s planning for the construction of Memorial Auditorium.  


2018 Renewal Process


On December 15, 2017, Mayor Miro Weinberger issued a press release and memorandum to the City Council noting that Memorial Auditorium has had a long history of serving as a valuable community assembly space, and that there is great interest in knowing the City’s plans for determining how best to rehabilitate and steward this historic building for future generations to enjoy. In this memo, Mayor Weinberger outlined his proposed next steps to bring the building back to life:

  • Create an adaptive reuse plan for Memorial Auditorium to remain a publicly-owned, public assembly space with input from stakeholders and members of the public.

  • Create conceptual designs, construction pricing, and financing options for this adaptive re-use plan that reflects that feedback and provides details on the cost and possible sources of funds.

  • Complete this plan so that it can be considered by the Council for a November 2018 ballot item.

Engaging stakeholders and the general public is a key part of this process, with a specific focus on determining priority elements of the design and program for Memorial Auditorium. 

CEDO, taking up this charge from the Mayor, led the initiative to better understand the community’s desires for the future of Memorial Auditorium, capturing the public's priorities for the building’s restoration and renewal. CEDO provided the following support and information to the public to help people develop ideas:

  • Researched how other communities have redeveloped, financed, programed, and operated their own "Memorial Auditoriums".
  • Outlined options for how the building could be operated and managed moving forward, as well as the cost and benefit for each option for the community to consider

  • Gathered various suggestions for future uses and programming, while outlining what particular needs each use might include (such as space needs, specific safety or code updates, etc.);

  • Gathered information on how the building had been used in the past as well as how it had been managed and operated;

Moving Forward


CEDO commissioned several reports on the feasibility of several options regarding Memorial Auditorium. These documents can be found on the Documents Library webpage under the section: Physical Condition and Required Repairs



What Does the Future Hold for Memorial Auditorium?, Channel 3, 2017

Burlingtonians Speak Out to Save Memorial Auditorium, Seven Days, 2017

Tenants Must Vacate Memorial Auditorium by Year’s End, Seven Days, 2016

Memorial Auditorium’s Future Unknown, Burlington Free Press, 2015

Memorial Auditorium Showing Its Age, Burlington Free Press, 1996