- Associated Press - Monday, January 20, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - A North Dakota auditorium where Presidents Woodrow Wilson and John F. Kennedy took to the stage has kicked off a yearlong celebration of its 100th birthday.

The stone and brick structure now known as the Belle Mehus Auditorium opened in downtown Bismarck on Jan. 19, 1914. It was originally built for $45,000 and called the Bismarck Civic Auditorium. The celebrations began Sunday with an open house.

Other events planned for the anniversary include a concert on Feb. 9, a black tie gala, a movie night and a red carpet night. A fundraising effort to upgrade the building will run all year, the Bismarck Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/1eMTimm ).

The last major capital campaign in 1995 raised $2.5 million for a major overhaul of the decaying facility, said Susan Lundberg, executive director of Sleepy Hollow Summer Theatre. Lundberg formed Friends of the Belle, which helped raise money for the renovation, including $2.4 million in city sales tax money.

“We were very proud that the city and residents thought enough of what it represented and its history that they passed the tax and supported our vision,” Lundberg said.

The first show on the auditorium’s stage was Reginald DeKoven’s operetta, “Robin Hood.” The paper reported at the time it was the social event of the city and sold out even when ticket prices were as high as $18, a large sum for that era.

“It was a brilliant assemblage, one of which Bismarck, Queen of the Slope, has every reason to feel proud,” wrote W.F. Cushing, wife of the Bismarck Tribune editor.

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Information from: Bismarck Tribune, http://www.bismarcktribune.com

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