On September 20, 1909, ground breaking ceremonies were held for Macky Auditorium. Legal delays halted construction, and it took 13 years to complete. Since its completion in 1922, Macky has been the site of performances by the famous and not-so-famous, early commencement ceremonies, offices for administrative and departmental personnel, riots in the 1960s, and the home of the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, the Artist Series, the Conference on World Affairs, College of Music band, choir, orchestra, organ and opera performances, as well as many other events.
The history of Macky Auditorium began with the generosity of Andrew J. Macky, a Boulder pioneer, gold rush settler, carpenter, and founding director of the First National Bank of Boulder. A primary figure in Boulder’s history until his death in 1907, Macky bequeathed $300,000 to the University for an auditorium.
Macky came to Colorado from New York state in 1858, riding the wave of new settlers lured by the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush. When his Golden Mining claims proved worthless, Macky moved to Boulder in 1859 where he worked as a carpenter, postmaster, treasurer, justice of the peace, school secretary, and clerk of the district court. Finally in 1877, Macky hit upon his life’s work with the founding of the First National Bank of Boulder of which he was president from 1885 to 1906 and director until his death in 1907. He was one of Boulder’s original settlers and – by the time of his death in June, 1907 – one of the town’s most prominent citizens.
Macky’s life was filled with “firsts.” In addition to founding the First National Bank, he built Boulder’s first frame building in 1860 – his home – at 14th and Pearl streets. Later, he was the first to own a brick residence at 12th and Pine streets. He established the Boulder Mill and Elevator Company and supported the development of a city gas plant. James P. Maxwell, a state legislator who played a key role in establishing the University, said of Macky, “For nearly 50 years, Mr. Macky figured prominently in the business activities of Boulder and during the larger part of that time, filled positions of trust. Probably no man during that period enjoyed the confidence of the people more or repaid that confidence with greater fidelity.”
Although Macky’s $300,000 gift resulted, in part, from heavy lobbying by Macky’s friend and then CU President, James H. Baker (1892-1914), those who knew him believed another experience planted the seed for Macky’s generous gift to the University.
Not college educated himself, local lore had it that Macky was inspired to aid the University following a 1905 trip to the Colorado-Nebraska football game in Lincoln. Joining 500 townspeople who rallied to attend the game in Lincoln, Macky was placed at the head of the team’s parade onto the field at the outset of the game. Despite an embarrassing loss of 18-0, Macky was so impressed with the team’s spirit that observers believed it inspired his later gift.
According to then Senator Harry Cassady, Macky was buoyed by the athlete’s camaraderie and decided then and there to make a major contribution to the University. Within three months, Macky’s will was drawn and in it was a $300,000 gift from his estate. At the time, Macky’s gift was the second largest ever made to a Colorado university or college.
A newspaper account of Macky’s gift, noting his interest in education, explained, “Lacking the advantages of a university education, he was a sincere advocate of higher learning and advanced culture and was often heard to regret that he had not been able to go to college. His generous gift to the university was, in itself, evidence that he was among those rare persons who are willing to give their all that others might enjoy privileges that they had been denied.”
After Macky’s death, CU President Baker asked architects Gove and Walsh of Denver to combine features of buildings he had seen and admired in his travels abroad – the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy; the King’s Chapel in Cambridge, England; the Magdalene Tower in Oxford, England; a Princeton campus building and a New York City church.
Of that process, Baker later explained, “Photographs were turned over to the architects, Gove and Walsh, with the request to harmonize the elements, if possible, and make ‘something different.’ The result seems to be generally approved.”
Construction of the entire structure, including classroom and office space, spanned 13 years – beginning with the September 20th groundbreaking in 1909 and a cornerstone ceremony on October 8, 1910. A challenge of the Macky will, which had established funds for the auditorium, accounted for most of the delay.
One member of the cornerstone ceremony group noted at that occasion that a fierce wind blew “so menacingly across the lake and over the little bare hillside that one wondered whether even a building could stand there long.”
Macky’s adopted daughter, May, brought suit against the estate, asking for a third interest in it, when she found Macky had left nothing to her in his will. Against Macky’s wishes, May married John Rooney and subsequently gave up all claim to the estate for a consideration of $50. Litigation lasted many years and during these delays, 1909-1915, the office wings were completed, but the auditorium remained a roofed-over shell, with no doors and windows. Crude wooden benches were brought in for religious services and other student events, held as early as 1912, while construction was still underway. The “temporary” benches made due for 10 years. Thought uncomfortable by 2000 standards, the upright wooden seats removed for Macky’s 1986 renovation were a welcome sight in 1922, when first installed in the newly finished auditorium.
The legal case was finally decided in favor of the University, and Macky’s completion in 1922, long awaited by campus and Boulder officials alike, was marked with a $20,000 appropriation by the Board of Regents for a pipe organ. A fundraising campaign covered the balance of the bill for the $68,000 Austin organ. Macky’s inaugural concert was held May 19, 1923.
Over the years, Macky Auditorium has been the site of commencement ceremonies for thousands of graduates, for numerous Christmas pageants, Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra concerts, Artist Series concerts, organ recitals, the Conference on World Affairs, and Shakespeare Festival rehearsals.
Macky Auditorium Concert Hall has been the site of appearances by artists such as Harry Belafonte, Benny Goodman, Herbie Hancock, Yo Yo Ma, Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Penn and Teller, Tori Amos, REM, and many others. Macky has also featured talks by the Dalai Lama, Dr. Jane Goodall, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Macky has also been the site of non-performance incidents. In 1953, someone made it to the top of the towers, by climbing the walls without any equipment. In 1969, Students for a Democratic Society rioted at a lecture by S. I. Hayakawa, throwing lighted cigarettes, folding chairs, and a bottle at him. In 1971, several hundred unruly students attempted to crash a sold-out Neil Young concert, breaking the glass in the foyer doors, and fighting off police armed with firehoses.
As a multi-use facility, Macky Auditorium Concert Hall provides a space for a variety of cultural opportunities for the citizens of our community.