Hill Auditorium, built in 1913, turned a hundred in 2013. To celebrate this
milestone, the Ann Arbor District Library has scanned articles about the auditorium from the Ann
Arbor News archives. Seen in the long perspective the changing programs mirror the interests and
concerns of the community.
Hill Auditorium was built using $20,000 that Arthur Hill, U-M regent, alumnus, and Saginaw lumber baron, had left in his will
for that purpose. It was the first university building on the north side of North University,
replacing U-M professor Alexander
Winchell’s 1858 octagon house. The auditorium was designed by Albert Kahn, best known for his Detroit factories but soon to become U-M’s
most prolific architect with major buildings such as Angell Hall, Burton Tower, Hatcher Library, and the Clements Library to his credit.
It is generally agreed that Kahn was inspired by Louis Sullivan’s Auditorium Building in
Chicago for the exterior design of Hill. For the interior, he was guided by acoustic expert Hugh
Tallant, who was brought in from New York. Although it was men such as Albert Stanley, Henry
Frieze, and Francis Kelsey, founders of University Musical Society and the School Music, who had
been lobbying for a better performance venue, U-M president Marion Burton told Tallant his
assignment was to create a space where the whole student body could meet and be able to hear the
speaker. Tallant’s final product did what they asked, but also created a wonderful space for
music, attested to by the world famous performers who come back again and again. (See
The dedication of Hill Auditorium, June 25, 1913,
was headline news in that day’s paper. An hour-long parade led by a fife and drum corps, followed
by a who’s who of important people and the whole senior class, wound its way from central campus
to Hill. A vocal music program including the Messiah’s Hallelujah chorus opened the program, thus
marking the first time the public heard music in the auditorium.
Four men made addresses, two representing the university and two from the state level but none
from the music community. U-M emeritus President James B. Angell, who had been a personal friend of
Arthur Hill, at the request of the Hill family, presented the building to the university and the
state. U-M regent William Clements (himself to later be donor of the library that bears his name)
accepted it for the university, while Governor Woodbridge Ferris and Senator Charles E. Townsend
accepted it for the state. The latter is of interest in that from the beginning the auditorium was
for all, not just the university community, which has indeed been the case.
Now best known for music, when the archive starts in Oct. of 1924, the events for the rest of the
year included two music series and five talking programs. The latter consisted of the Choral Union and another series with the Sousa Band headlining. The spoken programs included two
religious services, Vilhjalmur Steffansson on his Arctic adventures, a pro-League of Nations speaker, and a debate between U-M and the Oxford Union on prohibition. At the end of the evening, the packed
auditorium voted for the U-M team who were on the pro side.
The 1930s continued with the same mix. May Festivals were supplemented the rest of the year by famous
performers such as Paul Robeson, Ted Shawn, Sergei Rachmaninoff (listed as “Russian pianist”), Vladimir
Horowitz, and the “boy violinist” Yehudi
Menuhin. World events could be followed with an equally impressive roaster of speakers including
Winston Churchill in 1932 warming that the world was facing
disaster and Countess Alexandra Tolstoy, daughter of the
novelist, explaining the problems in her former homeland. Other educational lectures included ones
on Christian Science, historic Washington with “colored slides,” and a movie of the 1932 Olympics. Live theater ran the spectrum from a Broadway production of Robin Hood to a passion play for the religious minded. When
famous cellist Gregor Piatigorsky played at Hill in 1937 his girlfriend,
Jacqueline de Rothchild, accompanied him so that they could secretly marry away from her family in
Europe. Alva Sink, wife of Charles Sink, head of University Musical Society, heard of their plans
and insisted that the ceremony be in the Sink home.
In 1948, with the war was over and people returning to civilian life, Charles A. Sink suggested that a bigger auditorium should be built to accommodate the
increased university enrollment and more demand for concert tickets. Lack of funding, rather than
appreciation for the building in the pre-historic preservation days, prevented the project. A year
later a major updating of Hil, which an Ann Arbor News editorial described as “creeping over a third
of a century,” was announced. The skylights were covered to allow
better use of the auditorium during the daytime, the chandeliers taken down because they were considered too
old fashioned, and a color scheme of maize and blue used throughout including painting the organ
pipes those colors. In the next fifty years only minor changes were made. In 1964 a kiosk announcing coming programs was put around the stately elm in front, which
stayed until 1977 when the elm was cut down. In 1973 Hill’s
granddaughter donated a portrait of her grandfather. Repairs to the organ were regularly reported.
Interest in world affairs increased after World War II. In the 1950s and 1960s lectures on this
topic included a visit from the Philippine Ambassador, a debate with two senators over foreign policy, and a talk By Saturday
Review editor Norman Cousins who is described as a “world traveler and
analyst.“ Travelogues aimed not just at the curious but to the
increasingly large group of foreign travelers became a staple. The effect of television on the
movie industry could be seen in the upsurge of travelling shows put on by movie stars including Bette Davis, Ilka Chase, Basil Rathbone, and Burgess Meredith.
The red scare that hit the nation after World War II affected Hill. In May of 1950 a talk by
Herbert Phillips, an avowed communist, was cancelled by the U-M regents. Students objected and tried to organize a student/faculty forum to
discuss the topic, but that too was cancelled because they couldn’t find
a faculty member willing to defend the ban. Fourteen years later, in 1964, the same issue arose,
this time the controversial person, neo-Nazi George Rockwell, was allowed to speak, albeit with picketers
and lots of heckling. In 1972, after an April Fools’ rally when in spite of no smoking rules, the U-M fire
marshal reported that “smoking of marijuana did occur”, the rules were tightened with more conditions on rentals.
The most unusual use of Hill may have been in 1950 when “Buff” McCuster, a former skating
partner of Sonja Henie, and a cast of 30 put on an ice show, “Icelandia,” using a portable ice
rink. Another unusual program took place in 1956 when a hypnotist demonstrated his skill using
volunteers from the audience.
The last part of the collection deals with the most recent restoration that updated systems while
returning the décor to as close as possible to Albert Kahn’s original conception. Articles trace
the project from its first suggestion in 1989, to approval by the regents in 1993 after a
feasibility study, to work finally beginning in 2001, the delay due to slowness of getting
We have several other collections to relating to the history of Hill Auditorium and the
University Musical Society.
AADL has digitized several images of Hill Auditorium taken over several decades, including this
wonderful photograph of Vladimir Horowitz by Ann Arbor News photographer, Jack Stubbs, as well as
many others by News photographers Eck Stanger and Robert Maitland LaMotte.
AADL, in partnership with the University Musical Society, has digitized a full run of historical
programs covering 100 years of concerts at Hill Auditorium and over 130 years of UMS concert
history. The Programs Archive is available for browsing and full-text searching, and is part of UMS: A History of Great Performances.
Founded in the Depression years by businessmen who were as tough as the times, it employed, at its height, 1300 workers and occupied 2 city blocks on 4th Street.
In 1929, local inventor Charles A. Verschoor and Mayor William E. Brown Jr. started a radio manufacturing business with support from local bankers called the International Radio Company. In 1932 they produced the Kadette, the first radio that used tubes instead of a large transformer. Verschoor then traveled to Europe researching the idea of producing a camera (like the Leica) but made and sold for $10. With the first camera rolling off the assembly line in 1936, the name of the company was changed to Argus, after the Greek mythological god of 1,000 eyes. The Model A camera was so popular, it sold 30,000 units by Montgomery Ward in the first week.
Local historians like to point out that Argus Cameras, as one of Ann Arbor’s early industries, was 100% Ann Arbor: 100% Ann Arbor capital, 100% Ann Arbor brains, and 100% Ann Arbor people. The Old News staff have gathered decades of news articles, photos and videos that trace the rise and decline of this very important manufacturer in local history.
AADL has digitized hundreds of articles from the Ann Arbor News documenting the history of Argus Camera as it happened. These articles include announcements of new products, changes in the company, and the company's impact on the Ann Arbor Community. Argus Camera's role as an industry leader and a major employer in the area assured that coverage by the Ann Arbor News was in-depth.
AADL has digitized the Argus Eyes, the employee newsletter of Argus Camera. This publication includes details about the company and its workers, from descriptions of new product lines and facilities to birth announcements and company picnics. And of course, given its source, it is also full of spectacular photos, many of them from the Ann Arbor area.
In addition to the Argus Eyes, the Argus Museum and AADL have made available digitized copies of many of the publications created by the Argus Camera organization over the years. These include instruction manuals for many of Argus's products, parts lists for the same, and educational booklets on how to take better photographs using Argus cameras.
In the early morning hours of March 14, 1966, Washtenaw County sheriff's deputies reported sighting "four strange flying objects" in Lima Township. Soon police agencies from Livingston County, Monroe County and Sylvania, Ohio were also reporting "red-green objects . . . moving at fantastic speeds." By the end of the day the Civil Defense and U.S. Air Force were called in to an investigation that has never really ended for many of those involved.
AADL has assembled all the articles that dominated the Ann Arbor News for weeks in 1966 and continues to resurface through sightings, interviews and research into UFOs and extraterrestrial life. Two facets of the UFO story make it especially compelling. Washtenaw County Sheriff Douglas J. Harvey did not immediately dismiss the sightings. In fact, he demanded a top-level investigation and challenged the U.S. Air Force's conclusions. Equally persistent was Bill Treml, the legendary and intrepid police beat reporter for the Ann Arbor News. His stories dominated the local pages of the paper with in-depth interviews with witnesses, seemingly 24-hour coverage of police operations in tracking the UFO sightings, and a dogged pursuit of U.S. government officials investigating the sightings.
The UFO story provides an interesting look at the way news events affect the lives of the participants and their communities. The Dexter family that reported the UFOs near their farm was overwhelmed by the coverage, became victims of vandalism and eventually distanced themselves from the story. The UFO sightings proliferated and swept Washtenaw area communities into a worldwide news event. Read the articles and decide for yourselves whether Washtenaw County's history includes close encounters of the first,second or third kind.
AADL Talks To Former Washtenaw County Sheriff Doug Harvey about the 1966 UFO Sightings
Colleges across America are once again gripped by March Madness. The University of Michigan Wolverines are in the thick of the NCAA’s annual contest to name the No. 1 men’s college basketball team. The Maize & Blue are seeded fourth in the Midwest.
To celebrate this annual hoopla, the Ann Arbor District Library is offering an opportunity to turn back the clock and experience the triumphs of an earlier Wolverine team, the 1963 ~ 1966 squad coached by Dave Strack and led by All-Americans Cazzie Russell and Bill Buntin.
The ups and downs of the three-time Big Ten champions was chronicled in the Ann Arbor News, especially in the passionate reporting of Wayne DeNeff. These articles are available online through the Old News site, presenting the dramatic story of a great team anchored by two outstanding players. Buntin set an all-time school scoring record, only to see it broken by his teammate Russell the following year.
The 1964 team made it to the Final Four, falling to Duke in the semifinal. The 1965 team had no losses going into its final Big Ten game before losing to bitter rival Ohio State, but they were named the No. 1 team in America by AP and UPI. The team went on to run through the NCAA playoffs with wins against Dayton and Vanderbilt. In the semifinal game they beat Ivy League champion Princeton and that year’s player of the year Bill Bradley. They lost in the final to the UCLA Bruins, another victim of John Wooden’s record-setting 1960s basketball juggernaut. At the time only 23 teams competed in the playoffs and only one team could compete per conference. Russell was named 1966 player of the year. Russell and Buntin had strong support from Oliver Darden, Larry Tregoning, George Pomey and other excellent players.
The News stories provide a glimpse of college basketball in a less frenzied media atmosphere, presented with behind the scenes atmosphere, drama and heart.
AADL recently interviewed one of the Wolverine’s big players from the 1964 and 1965 championship runs, George Pomey. George took on some of the toughest guard assignments in NCAA basketball history. His stories of student life, sports in a different era and how the team has remained close over the years is not to be missed.
While researching the Wolverine's 1964 ~ 1966 NCAA Championship runs we came across another bit of Michigan history, the debut of longtime Men's Glee Club director Philip A. Duey's fight song, Go Blue! Read articles on Mr. Duey's amazing song, his career at Michigan and even hear an excerpt of the song.
The Coed Murders riveted Washtenaw county from the first murder in July 1967 to John Norman Collins' conviction three years later on August 19, 1970. The Ann Arbor News featured hundreds of articles over these three years and the investigation and trial were covered in detail by News police reporter William B. Treml. A detailed summary of the Coed Murders is available in our online version of True Crimes by Sergeant Michael Logghe, formerly of the Ann Arbor Police Department. We've pulled together some highlights below.
Seven Years Later...
In 1977, News reporter Treml accompanied by staff photographer Jack Stubbs, visited Collins at Jackson Prison for an exclusive interview published in two parts on January 14, 1977 and January 16, 1977. Treml describes his impressions of the visit with Collins in his weekly "As I See It" column and in the interview below.
AADL Talks To Bill Treml about John Norman Collins and the Coed Murders
In late June, 1968, heavy rains swept through the region, causing the Huron River and other creeks and lakes to flood their banks inflicting massive damage to dams, roads, and personal property. The University Meteorology Laboratory recorded 5.28 inches of rain. Streets were impassable, bridges washed out, farm fields inundated, and nearly all neighborhoods affected, with water high enough to permit canoeing in Lansdowne subdivision south of Pioneer High School.
The Washtenaw County Health Department gave advice on coping with flood effects, including cleaning up home and disinfecting drinking water, though most insurance policies failed to cover flood damage which flooded hundreds of basments and backed up sewers throughout Washtenaw County.
One of the things that makes Ann Arbor the city it is are the numerous and diverse parks within its boundaries. West Park is a crown jewel of that parks system, having been for decades a home to recreation of all kinds for the citizens of Ann Arbor. West Park's popularity with people of all types has also brought clashes and the park's history is not without it's dark stories.
West Park's most distinctive feature is the bandshell, constructed in 1938 with partial funding from the Works Progress Administration. The bandshell was a political football within city council for a period, with aldermen changing their minds about its necessity and the city's portion of construction costs, before it was finally approved and constructed in the first half of 1938. 1800 people attended the bandshell dedication on August 14, 1938, with a concert by the University Summer Session Directors' Band.
The band shell would become the most identifiable features of West Park, both as an architectural form and as the premier location for outdoor performances. Concerts in West Park, particularly Sunday concerts, would become a core part of Ann Arbor's cultural landscape for the next several decades.
The late 1960's saw a controversy over music in West Park. Complaints over the noise of amplified music, "desecration of the American flag," and obscenity were representative of the larger cultural clash between generations that typified Ann Arbor in the period. The attempt to balance the desires of neighbors with those of the concertgoers and organizers led to a great deal of discussion in city council meetings and in the press. Concerts spread from West Park to the entire city in a program that would eventually allow for events like the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festivals.