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Launch of landmark Stambaugh Auditorium marks centennial

Staff photos / Andy Gray Matt Pagac, Stambaugh Auditorium’s chief executive and operating officer, looks at a 1926 front page of The Youngstown Vindicator published the day before the venue opened. One hundred years later, the current board reaffirmed the venue is for the “enjoyment, pleasure, entertainment and education” of the community.

By ANDY GRAY

Staff writer

YOUNGSTOWN — On Aug. 3, 1920, the Henry H. Stambaugh Auditorium Association board met for the first time, pledging to create a venue for the “enjoyment, pleasure, entertainment and education” of the community.

Exactly 100 years later, the current board reaffirmed that mission, passing a resolution echoing the original message during a meeting Monday in the auditorium’s Jeanne D. Tyler Grand Ballroom.

“As members of the board, we’re committed to preserving this fabulous building but also to adhere to that mission to be here for the community,” board President Terry Cloonan said Monday.

There were plenty of differences between the two meetings separated by a century. Board members and those in attendance sat at least 6 feet apart to adhere to social distancing guidelines and wore masks when they weren’t in their seats. Technical difficulties kept one board member from being able to connect via Zoom.

But Matt Pagac, chief executive and operating officer for the auditorium, pointed out that the country was emerging from the Spanish Flu pandemic when that first meeting was held.

“It’s very similar to what we find ourselves in today, very similar regulations and challenges,” he said.

Stambaugh Auditorium was poised to have a great 2020 when the kinds of events it hosts were shut down on March 12 due to COVID-19. It was about 45 days into a stretch where it would host 105 events in 120 days.

The contemporary Christian act The Newsboys was doing its soundcheck when Gov. Mike DeWine issued the stay-at-home order.

“I’ll never forget that,” Pagac said after the meeting. “We knew the shutdown was coming, but we thought it would get announced and then start 24 hours later. (Instead) it was announced effective immediately.”

There is a fear nationwide that many performance venues can’t withstand a continued shutdown, and some industry experts believe it could be another year before live theater and concerts are feasible.

“We’re not in great shape, but we’re relatively confident we’ll weather this,” Pagac said.

Stambaugh has made several changes to adapt to the current situation. About half of its full-time staff and nearly all of its part-time employees have been laid off, and its 2020 budget was reduced 65 percent from original projections. The staff has been posting video of past performances to Stambaugh’s website and social media accounts and is working on doing virtual events and other programs that will be announced soon.

“We still continue to work hard every day to find opportunities and possibilities for the future of this facility,” Pagac said.

The auditorium was funded through a bequest from industrialist and businessman Henry H. Stambaugh, who died at age 60 on Jan. 19, 1919, just two months after his will was signed.

The first board included Stambaugh’s brother, John, as president; business, community leader William B. Hall as vice president; cousin Charlotte Tod as secretary, treasurer; Asael E. Adams, a cousin and president of Dollar Savings & Trust; Rollin C. Steese, a chemist with Brier Hill Iron & Coal Co. and future director of Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company; and Phillip J. Thompson, president of the Stambaugh Thompson Co.

The board selected the site and design, and it oversaw construction of the building, which opened to the public on Dec. 6, 1926, with a performance by humorist Will Rogers.

Hanging in the east hallway of the main auditorium is the front page of The Youngstown Vindicator from Dec. 5, 1926, in anticipation of the grand opening.

“It’s always impressed me how much the building still looks like this today,” Pagac said, referring to that front page. “It’s unmistakably the same place. It’s really neat that Youngstown has been able to preserve this facility in such a great way.”

That work continues. JoAnn Stock, chief development officer, said Stambaugh is moving forward with its fundraising efforts to restore the staircase facing Fifth Avenue with a projected start next spring.

“We are focusing on the exterior of the building and are in the process of raising funds to return the monumental staircase, grand entrance and facade of the building to its original splendor,” Stock said. “None of these projects would be possible without the support of our local foundations, individual major donors and the general public.”

agray@tribtoday.com

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