The Way We Were: The Bell Auditorium

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Last week we asked readers to share memories of the Bell Auditorium. Here are a few.


Tapping into the past

My first memory of Bell Auditorium is my first-grade spring tap recital. Directed by Mrs. Henri Price and sponsored by the YWCA, this 1956 recital featured all of her ballet, tap and gym classes in an evening extravaganza enjoyed by many in the Augusta area.

I don’t remember being scared, but as a 6-year-old standing on that stage performing before a packed house, I’m sure I was. Mrs. Price, however, had us well prepared, so maybe not!!

Many other memories followed.

Benefits of the Bell

Watching the Harlem Globetrotters with Meadowlark Lemon, attending the Community Concert Series for many years (performances by Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians, the Tucson Boys Choir and many others), attending the SRP Christmas parties, stuffing Easter Seal envelopes downstairs with my Girl Scout troop, participating in a YWCA Social Dance Spring Formal, singing for a Billy Graham crusade, watching the Ice Capades, and participating in my high school graduation on June 1, 1967. Another special memory is the Chronicle-Herald Basketball tournament held every winter featuring area high school basketball teams.

I also remember the Music Hall which shared a stage with the Bell. It was torn down many years ago to make room for the civic center. Smaller productions, such as the Augusta Symphony, the Augusta Opera and the Augusta Players were able to utilize the smaller auditorium with the benefits of a large stage. I saw my first production of Amahl and the Night Visitors, still one of my favorites, on this stage.

In recent years I have continued to visit the bell for stage productions and events including Broadway at the Bell. The Bell Auditorium continues to provide Augusta with wonderful programs, sporting events and concerts which Augusta and the entire CSRA can attend. Long live the Bell

Mary Ellen Sartori

Military ball memories

My first formal dance was at the Bell, held by YWCA dance classes, and again taught by Mrs. Price. Some mothers made our dresses, and I envied girls wearing store-bought clothes. My homemade dress was pretty, green and white organdy with ruffles, and I felt like Scarlet O’Hara dressed for the picnic.

Then came high school and we attended the Richmond Academy Military Ball with our boyfriends looking handsome in their best uniforms and me in another homemade dress, of white tulle. Besides dancing I attended religious events at the Bell like the Billy Graham Crusade, citywide reformation Services, and our Youth Choir sang in concerts with youth from other downtown churches.

Now I must mention the “sparkly steps.” The concrete steps leading to the street had mica or something added to them that made them sparkle in the night lighting. Girls like glitter, so we always looked for it. Most has worn off by now, except maybe the side steps.

Jean Bowe Strickland

A journey to drive

Two memories.

Bell Auditorium was used for local high school baccalaureate services and graduations. I graduated from Butler High School, Class of 1967. Baccalaureate services were always the Sundays before graduation. All high schools held their services together. It was always very colorful with all the different colored graduation caps and gowns.

After graduation, I started to work at Fort Gordon. I had no transportation. I knew as strict as my daddy was that there was no way he would co-sign for me a car. My cousin, Peggy was selling a car and I wanted to buy it. I went to the bank, used my $354 balance in my savings account as collateral and got the money to pay her for the car.

All my daddy said was, “I ain’t paying for it, you better keep up the payments, and you better figure out how you are going to get your license.”

I knew that meant I had to figure out how I was going to get them. The Driver’s License Bureau was located in the basement of the Bell Auditorium. It wasn’t manned by the Georgia State Patrol back then, just regular civilian workers.

I went in, took my written test, stood on a red line and read an eye chart and then stood in line to take the driving part of my test. A gentleman approached me and told me to come with him. We went outside. He asked me where was the car I was going to test in. I pointed to it.

We got into the car, he told me to drive around the block and pull into a parking space (it was diagonal). I did as I was told. We went back into the basement and they handed me my license.

When I got home, I showed my daddy my license all he said was, “Be careful and don’t let me catch you driving too fast.

Time and procedures have definitely changed over the past 50 years!

Sheila L. Burnett

Thrill of a lifetime

The first thing that came to my mind was the summer of 1956. Elvis was performing there. I had baby-sat and earned enough money for my ticket. Some friends and I from Jackson went.

We actually got back stage and Elvis was coming down the stairs. I got his autograph, but over the years I have lost it. But that was a thrill of a lifetime.

– Jane H. Cole

Flare for Flair

I remember going to Monday Night Wrestling after watching wrestling on TV every Saturday. I loved to watch Rick Flair, Mr Wrestling One and Two and all the crazy antics. The Bell was always full every Monday. A bunch of us would go and scream our heads off like a bunch of fools! Definitely good times.

– Ivan Bolgla

Kiss from Conway

As a very young teenager, I remember seeing my very first live rock’n’roll show at the Bell, which featured Conway Twitty before he became a country music star. He let some of us girls come up on the stage after the show to talk to him and gave us all a kiss on the cheek.

– Laura D. Moore

Talent showcase

I remember playing for Waynesboro in the CSRA basketball tournament in Bell Auditorium in the 1960s. The dressing rooms were heated by radiators hung from the ceilings. If the taller players stood up they would bump their heads on the hot radiators.

There was a lot of talent showcased during those games with the Purple Hurricanes from Waynesboro playing Richmond Academy, Aquinas, Butler and the big schools from Augusta and South Carolina.

It was quite an event! There must have been 50 schools entered in the tournament.

– Frank Bevan

House of basketball

The CSRA Basketball Tournament!

During the ‘60s, it was said to be the largest high school basketball tournament in the world lasting about 10 days.

Boys and girls teams from Georgia would play South Carolina teams for the championship.

– James Anderson, Appling

If walls could talk

I remember when Meadowlark Lemon and the Harlem Globetrotters performed at Bell Auditorium when I was in high school. I was an usher for it and didn’t need a ticket to enjoy the show.

The Chronicle-Herald Basketball Tournament was held there and my Class Night at Aquinas for Graduation 1968 was held in the Music Hall.

Stars of the Grand Old Opry performed there in the fabulous ‘50s. If the walls of the Bell Auditorium could talk, they could tell stories worthy of a book.

– Tom Parker North Augusta

Toast of the town

I vividly remember the dedication ceremony on March 31, 1940 where our pastor, Dr. Marvin MacFerrin of the Greene Street Presbyterian, gave the dedication address, The Spiritual and Cultural Values of Our Auditorium.

Metropolitan Opera stars came many times. I especially remember Rise Stevens, Lawrence Melchior, Sergio Franci and Jose Iturbi, to name a few; and, I suppose, these names are not familiar to most of us today, but these were international stars. Dressing up and attending these concerts were second only to attending shows on Broadway! They were elegant and most memorable affairs.

“The Bell” was the toast of the town for many of us during those years and has continued through thick and thin for seventy-four years. Augusta can be very proud of this heritage!

– Barbara Owens Flicek Crout

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