The History of the Legendary Roy Wilkins Auditorium

The History of the Legendary Roy Wilkins Auditorium

85 years old and still kickin’.

The year was 1932.

Herbert Hoover was President, a gallon of gas cost 10 cents and Fred Astaire and Leo Reisman topped the musical charts with Night & Day.

In Saint Paul, Minnesota, a new auditorium, designed by renowned African-American architect Clarence W. Wigington, was being built. It was aptly named, The St. Paul Auditorium.

The venue hosted Minnesota Gopher Hockey in the 30s, 40s and 50s and the Minnesota State Boys’ High School Hockey Tournament called it home from 1945-1968.

Additionally, the venue had an attached theatre that was home to concerts, plays and family shows. In fact, early in his career, Elvis Presley played a matinee show in the theatre, before going over to Minneapolis for his evening performance. In the early 70’s, the theatre was demolished, but the auditorium remained.

The stage would go on to host many more of the biggest names in music including Guns & Roses, Grateful Dead, Tina Turner, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan.

Photo credit: Billy Ray courtesy Elvis by Billy Ray

In 1985, the St. Paul Auditorium was renamed The Legendary Roy Wilkins Auditorium.

The new name was in honor of the prominent Civil Rights activist and former NAACP Executive Director who called Saint Paul’s Rondo neighborhood home.

Today, The Legendary Roy Wilkins Auditorium is a 5,000 seat venue in Saint Paul’s downtown entertainment district joining the 2,800 seat Palace Theatre and the much larger Xcel Energy Center as well as The McKnight Theatre at the Ordway and several other parks that convert to outdoor music venues every summer. The Roy brings its own flavor to the music scene providing the perfect niche for the rising star needing to satisfy more fan demand and outgrowing smaller, club show capacities.  

In May of 2011, an up-and-coming Bruno Mars played to a packed house in The Roy.

He returned to Saint Paul in 2014 to sell out the Xcel Energy Center after his epic Super Bowl Halftime Show that same year. The Roy is the perfect venue for artists on the rise—check out all the acts who have played on this historic stage. 

Reviews of the acoustics seem to vary by the show and positive ones are a testament to the sound techs who have worked hard to hone their craft.

There is little argument about the venues legendary status from the design concepts first drawn up by Mr. Wigington to the Roy Wilkins honorary renaming to the musical acts it has drawn over the past 40 years. If the venue could write a book, it would likely be a New York Times bestseller.

More recently, it has shown its flexibility to host trade shows, adaptive sports championships, the home rink for the Minnesota RollerGirls and has become the backdrop for high school graduates across the state as they move their tassels to the other side after hearing their name read aloud.

The Roy is an iconic venue with a legendary past. It adds flavor to a myriad of choices that performers and concertgoers get to make when mapping out their next tour or putting down their hard-earned money to catch a show.

The venue isn’t perfect but, at 85 years old, it’s alive and well and a major part of Saint Paul’s music scene.

We'd love to hear your favorite stories from The Roy. Share them with us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter using the hashtag #MYSAINTPAUL.

Photo Credit for Feature Image: Joe Lemke Photography

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