Alumni project Memorial Amphitheater survives decades of history

The Memorial Amphitheater is the place to gather for some of UNA’s most prominent events —The Big Deal, Culture Fest and Take Back the Night to name a few.

As much as current students might feel it is only a part of their history at UNA, the Memorial Amphitheater’s history goes back decades to humble beginnings.

The Memorial Amphitheater started out as a clearing for Locust Dell Academy students to gather for campus activities, according to the UNA World War I Memorials pamphlet by Robert Steen, a former director of human resources and affirmative action at UNA. Locust Dell Academy was a girl’s school that operated from 1834-1843.

When LaGrange College became Florence Wesleyan University, the university’s second name, it moved to the current Florence location, and the university created a stage for the area in 1919, according to the pamphlet.

This area held events such as the Alabama Historical Pageant and meetings for veterans.

During World War I, 288 students at State Normal School at Florence, the university’s third name, left school to fight in the war, and previous Alumni Secretary Susan Jones Price decided to plan an amphitheater construction to honor them, according to a Jan. 15, 1934, article in The Flor-Ala.

Price enlisted alumni help to fund a majority of the project, raising nearly $3,000, according to the article.

The university took Price’s idea to the Olmstead Brothers, two Massachusetts architects, who worked with Price’s design.

Almost 15 years later from the time they met, in 1934, the Civil Works Administration built the Amphitheater, which looked similar to its current design.

The Amphitheater underwent a few more changes, including the addition of lights and refurbished steps over the years, but one thing has remained the same: it has always been a place for students to gather and enjoy events.

“This is where we used to sit with our best beau or gal on a balmy spring evening or maybe even on a cold winter night,” said Sara Spain, the 1956 feature editor of The Flor-Ala. “This is where he finally got up courage to ask her to marry him. This is the stage from which we made our famous speech for the presidency of the SGA. This is the place where our college life ended as we walked across the stage to receive our diploma.”

In her article, Spain said the Memorial Amphitheater had held events like plays and dances in years past.

Now, the Amphitheater hosts many gatherings, and current students make their own memories.

Senior Donglin Jia said he has heard a lot of excellent music at concerts at the Memorial Amphitheater.

“I really liked the music I have heard at all of the events I have went to,” he said. “UNA has a lot of great musicians, and the music at different events is a great part of UNA.”

The Big Deal was a significant memory for freshman Alex Curling.

“When I first got here, I went to the Big Deal at the Amphitheater, and it was hype,” he said. “I loved seeing so many different people come together there and realize that we are all UNA students regardless of our age.”

Senior Katrina Helms said one of her most memorable amphitheater moments was the response to an unexpected guest speaker.

“One time when the (open-air preacher) was spewing his hate, a guy got up and started playing his guitar and singing loving Christian songs,” she said. “It was quite nice.”