Ready for grads, historic Memorial Auditorium reopens after $16.2 million renovation

As graduation season returns to Sacramento, students across the capital region are getting extra special commencements as a restored and refreshed downtown Sacramento landmark reopens.

The University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law ceremony Saturday was the first graduation event to be held in Memorial Auditorium after its $16.2 million renovation project.

“That’s where I graduated from law school, right there on that stage,” City Councilman Steve Hansen, who represents downtown, told The Bee on Saturday. “It’s wonderful to still have this building available for the community.”

Jesuit, St. Francis and Christian Brothers high schools will also hold graduation ceremonies in the days to come. Schools including C.K. McClatchy, Galt, Kennedy, Mesa Verde, Mira Loma and Sacramento High will hold their graduation events at the venue in June.

To celebrate the reopening of the stately building at 15th and J streets, the public is invited to an open house from 10 a.m. to noon May 27 to showcase the updates. The event will include tours conducted by city staff to show off all the improvements made in less than a year, from plush seating to better acoustics, according to city project manager Sabrina Tefft.

“We refurbished all the chairs in the dress circle in the upper balcony, and then the top balcony we restored the beautiful, historical wood seats up there,” Tefft said.

New theater-style chairs were also installed for the floor seating. The stage floor was redone, and rigging and lighting for the stage have been improved. A new sound system was added with additional acoustic elements in the space to improve the sound experience.

“We added some acoustic paneling to the walls, we added some tiles to the ceiling, and then also we have some banners that come down that are acoustical banners that will help with the sound as well,” Tefft said.

The first concert to test out that new stage will be Tuesday when Tedeschi Trucks Band takes the stage with special guest Los Lobos. Acts scheduled to perform at the auditorium in the fall include Weird Al Yankovic as well as Earth, Wind and Fire.

And big-name policymakers and thinkers will be speaking at the theater in the year ahead as part of the Sacramento Speakers Series, including former FBI director James Comey in September.

“I think the community is going to be extremely pleased with the historical improvements we made with the restoration but also the new amenities and just the quality of the experience in the newly renovated auditorium,” Hansen said.

Maintaining the historical integrity of the building, which seats 3,850, was important to the project, Tefft said. Memorial Auditorium opened in 1927 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It closed in 1986 due to concerns about its earthquake safety and reopened a decade later after a renovation.

“From the color scheme to the type of material, we really tried to protect the integrity of the building,” Tefft said.

The renovation also included updates to the dressing rooms and an additional temporary loading dock for performance groups who will have events in Memorial Auditorium while the Community Center Theater undergoes its own renovation.

The Community Center Theater will begin its renovation in early June, Tefft said, and is scheduled to reopen in September 2020. The two projects along with the renovations to the Sacramento Convention Center, which will close down in July, make up the C3 Project, which is meant to improve the city’s ability to support culture and economic development by modernizing the downtown venues.

“All the improvements (to the auditorium) were done so we could get ready for the events coming over from the Community Center Theater, and so hopefully the experience will be good for those patrons.”

Hansen said there would be more innovations coming soon, including an upcoming concessions project, separate from the auditorium’s renovations, that will bring new food and beverage service.

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