Saturday, August 13, 2005

Memories of Palmer

In keeping with the week I've had, this is my second composition on this topic. I'm sure the first was better, so bear with me. Nothing more frustrating than an hour spent polishing a blog entry, pressing the post button, and having the darned thing shot into God knows where. Not sure what to blame--my computer, Blogger, Roadrunner, a faulty ethernet plug or something else entirely. All I know is point A didn't connect to point B and all evidence of my hard work disappeared in the twinkling of an eye. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

This morning's Austin American-Statesman included an article on the imminent demise of Palmer Auditorium. I cannot quite conceive of an Austin without that familiar round building by the river. It is going to be odd the day I go over that overpass from Mopac to Cesar Chavez (1st Street) and there is no green domed roof to be seen.

Palmer Auditorium was relatively new when we moved to Oak Hill in 1959. My first time inside the building was on a field trip in first or second grade to see a live production of Sleeping Beauty (or maybe it was Cinderella). I was enchanted, and a spark was ignited that flamed into a love of live theater thereafter.

We moved to south Texas for several years and it would be quite some time before I again had a reason to be inside Palmer. But I would always look for it on our trips to Austin. That big green dome was a familiar friend.

My second visit to Palmer would be during my Freshman year in Smiley High School. I was in my second year of Home Economics, a subject that I was quite taken with and briefly considered as a possibility for a college major. (That idea was squashed the next year by an irksome Home Ec teacher. Nothing like a bad teacher to sour you on a subject forever.) My teacher that year was Miss Thomas, who I remember fondly for teaching me to knit. I was a member of the Future Homemakers of America and the convention was to be held in Austin at the Palmer Auditorium. A group of us and our teacher boarded a bus and headed off to the big city. Along about Luling, I found myself appointed to be the Smiley delegate to the convention. I had about 45 minutes to study the material I would be voting on later that day. I was all of 15, already taking myself way too seriously and worried about doing a good job for my school.

That day I discovered there was more to Palmer Auditorium than the auditorium. I spent the day walking up and down the long ramps to the various meeting rooms, listening to the presentations of the different options, and voting. I have no idea what the other girls were doing that day or what fun I might have missed. I did get a very extensive tour of the upper floors of the building.

When we moved to Bastrop in the early 70s, I had many occasions to walk the round corridor around the auditorium. Before the SAMI shows, there were Sertoma arts fairs and Mother and I spent many a Saturday prowling the booths set up in the auditorium.

I attended several concerts at Palmer. This was before the Special Events Center came to town. The acoustics were awful for music, but we enjoyed ourselves immensely. We sat about 10 rows away from Tom T. Hall when he came to town at the height of his popularity. One enjoyable evening was spent in the company of Kris Kristofferson, Rita Coolidge, Billy Swan and Willie Nelson.

I descended the musty stairwell to the basement many times to attend the Book and Paper Shows. I attended my first doll show at Palmer. For several years my friend Marianna and I went to the Junior League Christmas Affair and hobnobbed with the society folks. My last visit to Palmer was a couple of years back when I went to a live production of The Music Man, starring Larry Gatlin. The audience was seated at tables in something of a dinner theater format. At the end, an orchestra from one of the local high schools marched in to 76 Trombones. I can't think of a better way to spend my last moments in the venerable old building.

Today's article mentioned that they plan to incorporate some of the green tiles from the roof into the new Long Performance Center. I find that comforting. After all, that roof soaked up the music of Elvis, the voices of years of school children, the words of governors and even a President or two. How appropriate that some of that history be retained. For years the important events of Austin took place in that round building on the river, under the green domed roof. The very air there vibrates with the history of Austin. There are many of us old-timers who will miss that place, bad acoustics and all.


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