- Associated Press - Sunday, April 13, 2014

SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) - Shreveport’s grand old lady has received a $5.3 million face-lift befitting its age and stature.

The Municipal Auditorium’s makeover includes air conditioning, a new Grand Arena entrance and other work to meet American with Disabilities Act requirements, handicap-accessible seating and a good cleaning to make the historic venue sparkle and shine. Some non-working historic parts, such as steam radiators and a stage light board, remain so viewers can see what was there before.

“I’m proud as a peacock of this project,” architect Mike McSwain said as he walked halls once home of the Louisiana Hayride and graced by the likes of Elvis Presley.

Its success shows in the difficulty of seeing what’s been changed when you first walk in, McSwain said.

That melding of history and current requirements was challenging, said Trey Buteau, project manager for McInnis Brothers Construction.

“For example, the main entrance ramp is entirely new construction, but ties into existing floor, walls, wood trim and hand rails,” he said.

Voters set aside $4.3 million in a 2011 bond issue to renovate the Municipal Auditorium, Mayor Cedric Glover noted. That figure later was revised to $5.3 million after the city applied for funding through the state historic rehabilitation tax credit program.

Where things had to be replaced, repaired or added, materials and construction always harkened back to the original. One example is the oak and parquet floor in the second-floor ballroom.

The Grand Promenade down Elvis Presley Avenue was restored with period street lighting and a landscaped promenade with benches, trees and brick pavers that connect to the Municipal Auditorium steps.

Behind the stage, workers left original stage signs and autographs, including one by Kix Brooks - “Where the party be!” - and by roadies in the top-level projection room.

Even the door locks respect the original architecture that helped land the Municipal Auditorium on the National Register of Historic Places.

Shelly Ragle, director of Shreveport Public Assembly & Recreation, praised McSwain and contractor McInnis Brothers Construction for working closely with the city “to meticulously preserve the historic features of the building while providing modern-day conveniences.”

“I am delighted that the modern architect treated the auditorium with respect to the original architect,” added Shreveport Councilman Jeff Everson, whose district includes Municipal Auditorium.

“We always went back to when the building was built,” said McSwain.

However, there was one serious and major reason that drove the makeover: to bring the 1928 facility up to American Disabilities Act requirements.

To do that, McSwain said, the entrance to the Grand Arena was reconfigured to remove the stairs that led to the floor. The entrance now is flat, and to the right and left on two levels are handicap-accessible seating and two ramps that lead to the floor. And, in keeping with original construction, brown pipe hand rails.

“All of those seats are moveable. You can take seats out or put couches in, do whatever you want to do with them,” McSwain emphasized. “They are the best seats in the house.”

“The new ramp respects the symmetry of the Grand Arena, allows everyone to use the same ‘front door,’ and adds an ADA/flexible tiered, platform seating in front of the original seats,” McSwain said. Before the upgrade, the ramp was to the left of the entrance, so they didn’t have the same perspective of a grand entrance as others.

“In doing that, the architect went above and beyond the call of duty to give everyone who enters the auditorium the same experience, taking into the account the sight lines and views from the stage,” Everson said. “Everyone who walks in has the same beautiful view.”

The most money was spent on air conditioning the entire building and the electrical work, bringing it up to code, McSwain said.

As work progressed, the architects realized more repairs were needed, such as replacing upper-level seating, replacing the upper-level clerestory windows around the Grand Hall and shades so they can be closed for performances, and cosmetic repairs such as plaster and painting throughout the building.

There still are a few finishing touches to complete, McSwain said.

The revamped Municipal Auditorium recently opened with a grand party. The 66th Holiday in Dixie Cotillion was the first event since renovation. The cotillion, Shreveport’s most prominent social event, also was the last event in the auditorium in 2013 before it was closed for the renovations.

Ball Chairwomn Leigh Bowman said she was especially impressed with the light fixtures that have been taken down, polished and cleaned. “They are works of art, a perfect Art Deco design … more than utilitarian.”

McSwain said, “Every time we have been in that building - and for our team, this is hundreds of times over the past two years - we find new and interesting things that we had not noticed before. The building is rich in detail, good design and is really well built!”

And the building is important nationally as well. It is listed with the U.S. Interior Department as a national landmark for being home of the Louisiana Hayride and for its distinctive architecture.

To keep the building looking as it does until the next upgrade, the city is planning an operating manual for both users and those who operate the facility. For instance, some users in the past stapled in floor coverings marked with long, black strips. Those had to be removed by hand when the maple floors were refinished. In the new rules, that is prohibited.

“It is a beautiful building, and we want to keep it that way,” McSwain said.

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Information from: The Times, http://www.shreveporttimes.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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