February 25, 2010
Renovations won’t stop Denfeld Auditorium
from “seeing it all”
By Molly Brown
Ten grandiose chandeliers hang from the ceiling
illuminating the ornate architecture and sophisticated presence
of the Denfeld High School auditorium.
Seating 1,800, this cathedral-style masterpiece
displays scrolling carvings down the sides of the walls which echo
the designs on the archways of the hallways just outside the beautiful
Over the years, the stage has seen famous faces
like singer Johnny Mathis and former president Richard Nixon. It
has honored outstanding local figures and teachers within the community.
It has waved good-bye to hundreds of graduating students each spring
since Denfeld High School’s opening in 1926, making tradition
a key contributor in the history and charm of this local gem.
Keith Anderson, former technical director for the Denfeld Auditorium,
spent 27 years overseeing projects and restorations in an effort
to both polish and preserve the original architecture of the space.
“It’s a great place with a lot of
character. There have been some minor changes, but this place is
pretty much the same as it was 75 years ago,” Anderson says.
The minor changes Anderson speaks of are the various
restorations the auditorium has undergone including repainting and
plastering the walls where holes and cracks formed, taking apart
and restructuring the organ, and expanding the sound booth.
“The first major restoration was in 1987
when we made it more energy efficient,” Anderson says.
Previously, all the lighting and effects were
operated by rope and pulley systems. However, safety concerns called
for all lighting and sound to be wired electronically.
In 2004, the auditorium was closed for restoration
for almost a year.
“It was really spruced up during that time,”
says former Denfeld student Brian Herrick. “They repainted
and filled in the chips on the details you see on the walls. I remember
walking in and was just amazed at how great it looked.”
The careful preservation of the auditorium’s
aesthetic beauty is what Denfeld head secretary Claudia Anderson
is most proud of.
“If this place were in a California high
school, it would have been just trashed. Not here. Our students
here respect the history and uniqueness of it,” she says.
One aspect of the auditorium that has changed
over the years is the performances it houses.
“I’ve seen it all from classical operas
to elaborate religious ceremonies,” Mr. Anderson says.
Recent acts aim to make their performance a spectacle
event by setting up their own elaborate lighting and sound systems
complete with strobe lights and fog machines.
“It’s sort of a dichotomy, watching
such elaborate performances in such a sophisticated space,”
Mr. Anderson says.
While he admits it is fun watching the smoke and
mirrors, Anderson thinks the venue is more suited for more classical
performances like opera. In his opinion, these simple acts highlight
the acoustics that the auditorium is known for.
While Denfeld High School will be closing for
additional renovations next year, the historic auditorium will remain
Performances come and go, but one thing is for
sure. Duluth’s Denfeld Auditorium remains to be a local force
to be reckoned with, no matter what changes the future holds.
As Mr.Anderson says, “This old horse keeps
going, she doesn’t mind.”