Last year, Griswold Auditorium received a grant from the State Historical Preservation Office to fix the landmark’s masonry. Today, the city is seeking ways to instill public usage. (File photo)

Allegan grapples with new uses for Griswold Auditorium

By: 
Virginia Ransbottom, Staff Writer

With a new Allegan City Hall about to be renovated that will eventually be the meeting chambers for city council and its boards and committees, discussion is underway on what new activities can give Griswold Auditorium new purpose.

That’s where municipality meetings have been held due to the current city hall being too small for gatherings.

“The use of the building (Griswold Auditorium) will decrease since it was more of a municipal building than a community center,” said city manager Joel Dye. “City staff has been discussing with residents what the next chapter will be.”

While preparing for the move, staff has been cataloguing documents stored in the basement of the City Hall at Locust Street and stumbled upon Marilla Griswold’s will. She donated $100,000 in 1918 for the City of Allegan to find a place to build an auditorium in her name (See related story on Page A1).

Promotions coordinator Parker Johnson and promotions assistant Tammy Gorby were tasked to think outside the box for ideas the next chapter would be for The Griswold.

“One of the first conversations we had was to offer more live music and stand-up acts,” said Johnson.

In keeping with Marilla’s interest in the YWCA, ideas for country line dancing, yoga, jazzercise, Zumba, other low-impact public classes in the basement, which is basically a gymnasium, were suggested for little or no cost on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. That way, the city can still offer the basement as a banquet room for setting up on Thursdays for weddings and receptions on Fridays and Saturdays.

“We want to give the community more opportunity to be in the building,” Dye said. “We’re one of the few community’s that doesn’t offer a recreation program.” 

It was also Marilla’s desire to always have a place for community theater.

The Allegan Community Players are one of Michigan’s oldest theater companies (dating back to 1918). Johnson said the theater group has a fresh board with a lot of young people involved.

“They realize that the Griswold Auditorium is the home of the community players and they want to bring that back there,” said Johnson. “We want to keep it open and active even more so than in the past.”

Dye said the city could start opening up the Griswold to the community starting in January after figuring out some funding for leader compensation.

No action was taken at the city council’s last pre-session meeting but it will be a topic on the council’s regular meeting on Dec. 10.

Council member Nancy Ingalsbee said she would like to see a space for seniors to come in and play bingo, cards and meet and greet. She also suggested a summer recreation program for school children.

Mike Manning said when the Leverences were involved in the council they brought a lot of arts to the Griswold.

“Some of those concerts were really good,” he said. “Maybe we could also get some lectures by authors.”

Mayor Rachel McKenzie said she was in favor of the ideas as were other council members.

Contact Virginia Ransbottom at (269) 673-5534 or vransbottom@allegannews.com.

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