TEXARKANA, Ark. (KTAL/KMSS) – A prominent piece of pop culture history is located in the ArkLaTex.
Legends the likes of Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley performed in Texarkana on a stage that has since sat empty for almost 50 years. Now a local group is working to revive the vacant venue into an international tourist destination.
Nestled inside the Texarkana, Arkansas, Municipal Building next to the fire department sits a local landmark.
“The auditorium has a great history, lots and lots of big names,” said Mayor Allen Brown.
First opening in the 1920s, the Arkansas Municipal Auditorium has played host to a medley of musical memories.
“Elvis loved Texarkana. He loved it here. That’s the reason he stayed here on Friday nights,” said David Mallette, commissioner with the Arkansas Municipal Auditorium. “Carl Perkins wrote Blue Suede Shoes and it was first performed on this stage.”
The once star-studded downtown destination is now in need of a major renovation.
“I’ll put it this way, if you were a devout Roman Catholic, it would be like finding the Vatican in this kind of condition,” said Mallette.
Ceiling tiles are tattered and the ornate walls worn through to expose the brick beneath. All are original to the building.
The one thing that has been modified is the floor plan. After the curtain fell on the last show in the 1970s, city offices were constructed in space that once was floor seating and the stage.
Now volunteers like Mallette are working to restore this Texarkana treasure.
“We can put heads in beds and sell burgers to visitors from out of town on the basis of the use of this building for its intended purpose,” said Mallette.
When the auditorium opened, nearly a thousand people could pack the house.
“It’s already beautiful now, but when you can take those old buildings and redo them like that, it’s certainly good for our city,” said Brown.
The auditorium re-opened this year to audiences after a 45-year hiatus. Events like concerts are helping set the stage to transform the hall into a vibrant venue once again.
“I believe the city leadership and the people of the city will come together to make this happen,” said Mallette. “Or, we’ll all die trying.”
Officials estimate it will take about $200,000 to add a sprinkler system and additional seating to accommodate more guests at the auditorium. Current fire codes will only allow a maximum of 100 people in the space.
To learn more about the restoration project or to donate, click here.