The Timeline

Jan. 5, 1959: Grand opening of Municipal Auditorium, designed by the Austin firm Jessen, Jessen, Millhouse & Greeven. Credit for the dome's color scheme goes to renowned modern artist Seymour Fogel, who was then an instructor in the University of Texas Department of Art & Art History.

February 1963: Three thousand five hundred people, including Vice President Lyndon Johnson and Lady Bird, attend a concert at Municipal Auditorium by African-American opera star Marian Anderson. It is considered a breakthrough event in race relations.

Nov. 22, 1963: More than 5,000 Austinites turn out to welcome President John F. Kennedy at a dinner on the final stop of his tour of Texas. Hundreds of plates are set out for dinner. The guest of honor never arrives.

Sept. 24, 1965: Two months after going electric at the Newport Folk Festival and three weeks after releasing Highway 61 Revisited, Bob Dylan plays his first live date with the Band (Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Robbie Robertson, Richard Manuel, and Garth Hudson, then called Levon & the Hawks) at Municipal Auditorium. More than 4,000 people turn out for what Dylan later calls one of his favorite concerts of the 1965 tour.

1981: Bass Concert Hall opens on the University of Texas campus, giving Austin a new state-of-the-art performing-arts facility. The Austin Symphony Orchestra and Ballet Austin leave Municipal Auditorium, where they have performed for decades, for Bass. Municipal Auditorium is rededicated and renamed the Lester E. Palmer Auditorium in honor of former Mayor Lester E. Palmer (1961-1967).

1992: The symphony, the ballet, and now Austin Lyric Opera, which was founded in 1986 and also made Bass Concert Hall its performance home, begin butting heads with UT's Performing Arts Center over scheduling at Bass, leading the start of a search for a new home.

1997: Representatives of the ballet, symphony, and opera form the Greater Austin Performing Arts Center, a broad-based coalition of arts companies and civic leaders, to develop a new performing-arts center for the city. The group determines that the best solution to their problem is to renovate Palmer Auditorium into a multivenue performing-arts center, but it is unable to persuade the Austin City Council to support their plan. The group subsequently renames itself Arts Center Stage and seeks to put the issue before the voters.

November 1998: Arts Center Stage gets on the bond election ballot. Propositions 11 and 12 would grant Arts Center Stage a 50-year lease on Palmer with the aim of renovating it into a $50 million performing-arts center paid for with private funds. In turn, the city would build a new $26.1 million community-events center and a $13.4 million, 1,000-space parking garage (paid for with a 5% increase on the local tax on car rental). The voters approve the proposal by an almost two-to-one margin. Estimated date of completion: 2003.

May 1999: Teresa Lozano and Joe R. Long contribute $20 million toward the Palmer Auditorium renovation. The facility will be named the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Center for the Performing Arts.

June 1999: Mort and Angela Topfer pledge $5 million to the Long Center and will have a 600-seat theatre in the complex named in their honor.

November 1999: The Arts Center Stage board of trustees selects Chicago-based architects Skidmore, Owings & Merrill to design the Long Center.

December 1999: Debra and Kevin Rollins pledge $5 million to the Long Center and will have a 230-seat studio theatre in the complex named in their honor.

March 2000: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill present their initial schematics for the Long Center, showing a 2,400-seat concert hall, a 700-seat theatre, and a 240-seat flexible-seating performance space. Revised cost for the renovation: $89 million. Revised date of completion: fall 2004.

June 2000: Following a nationwide search, Arts Center Stage names David Fleming chief executive officer of the Long Center.

February 2001: Michael and Susan Dell donate $10 million from their personal foundation to the Long Center, leading the 2,400-seat concert hall to be named Michael & Susan Dell Hall.

2001: Long Center designs are changed to add a rehearsal/recital hall, a catering kitchen, and a chilled-water plant. Revised cost: $110 million.

May 2002: Arts Center Stage announces a one-year delay in the opening of the Long Center: fall 2005 instead of 2004. The slowdown in the economy causes the capital campaign for the center's construction to stall out just above the $60 million line, $50 million shy of the total cost of construction.

June 29, 2002: The Palmer Events Center opens, with former Mayor Lester E. Palmer in attendance.

July 2003: David Fleming resigns as Long Center CEO to take the job of executive director for the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts in Green Bay, Wis.

October 2003: Responding to the tanked economy, Long Center trustees decide to downsize the project, electing to build only the 2,400-seat Michael & Susan Dell Hall and 230-seat Rollins Studio Theatre for now, which shaves $50 million off the cost, now revised to $125 million. But with plans to postpone building the Topfer Family Theatre and rehearsal hall, the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill designs must be abandoned and new architects hired. As $17 million has been spent on the original plans, $30 million must still be raised before construction can begin. Revised date for completion: 2007.

December 2003: Local architectural firm TeamHaas is hired by the Long Center board as the new design team. Its preliminary design sacrifices Palmer's patchwork dome but keeps the support structure for the dome around a terrace, puts the concert hall on the original foundation inside the ring, and sets the small theatre – and any venues that may be added down the line – next to the ring structure. Revised cost: $74 million.

March 2004: For the fourth time, UT announces a delay in the closing of Bass Concert Hall for fire and safety renovations. The announcement by UT President Larry Faulkner that UT would delay from April 2006 to April 2007 gives Austin Lyric Opera, Austin Symphony, and Ballet Austin a place to play for the 2006-2007 season.

April 12, 2004: Stan Haas presents TeamHaas' full designs for the revised Long Center in a public meeting inside Palmer Auditorium. Haas points out that the new design will recycle elements of the old venue – including the foundation and stage house – at considerable savings for the Long Center. Revised cost: $67 million for construction, plus $10 million for an operations endowment.

June 16, 2004: Long Center trustees select Dallas-area arts administrator (and former Austinite) Cliff Redd to be the Long Center's new executive director.

May 2005: Asbestos removal and deconstruction begins on Palmer Auditorium.

May 2007: The Long Center capital campaign reaches its $77 million goal with a $5 million donation to the endowment from the trust of the late Amarillo arts patron Sybil Harrington.

September 2007: The Long Center capital campaign tops $80 million, surpassing its $77 million goal. Since the arrival of Executive Director Cliff Redd in 2004, the capital campaign has raised $35 million over 40 months.

March 6-9, 2008: The Long Center's Sneak Peek open house, featuring performances by 20 local performing-arts groups plus special guest MASS Ensemble, is attended by 15,000 people.

March 28-30, 2008: Long Center for the Performing Arts' grand opening.

  • More of the Story

  • A Place to Gather Again

    The Long Center recycles not only Palmer Auditorium's materials but also its civic purpose

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle