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Landmark Bangor Auditorium Hosts Last Event Before Wrecking Ball
03/01/2013   Reported By: Jennifer Mitchell

Under the benevolent gaze of the Paul Bunyan statue, the Bangor Auditorium has played host to everything from hair bands to circuses to Jimmy Carter's town hall meetings. It's also been home to the Maine High School basketball championship games every year since the auditorium opened well over half a century ago. The final game of this year's tournament will be played Saturday evening. And while the tourney will live on, the auditorium won't: It's scheduled to be razed to the ground in just two months. As Jennifer Mitchell discovered, the final whistle this weekend will be a bittersweet sound for the many who share memories of this curious V-shaped building.

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Audio: Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White, the number one song from 1955.

When this song was at the top of the charts, Bangor was at the top of the world, with a brand new, high tech, hi fi, thrilling technicolor auditorium! It was something special.

"When you came in, was just pretty much just, 'Wow!' The size of it. And the brightness of it. You know - very, very unusual," says Peter Webb, Maine Basketball Commissioner.

But for the purpose of this story, Webb is Number 21, point guard with the Houlton Shiretowners, and the year is 1956. It's the first basketball tournament ever held at the Bangor Auditorium, and he was there.

"Oh, it was really enjoyable to play there," he recalls. "The sounds that are created by this design and the proximity of about 2,000 people to the court in the bleachers is extraordinary. You travel to many arenas up and down the East Coast and you just don't get that - the fans are further removed from the court."

Webb just celebrated his 75th birthday. He's just a year ahead of a Bangor High School rival, Ed Fowler, who started producing MPBN's own broadcast of the high school games back in the 1970s.

Jennifer Mitchell: "So... did you watch him (Peter Webb) play?"

Ed Fowler: "Yes. I did. And I was disheartened."

Peter Webb: Chuckles

Ed Fowler: "Because he was Houlton High School and I was Bangor. So, oh yeah."

"You know, North of Boston it was probably the biggest building, it certainly was the biggest building," Fowler says. "And you know, because at the time and place, it really was an incredible facility."

It could hold up to 9,000 people and host Lipizzaner show horses and ice hockey games, pro-wrestlers in spandex, and Shriner clowns. There was nothing else quite like it in the state - but it wasn't designed for TV.

"Everything in this building has to be run through the building, back out to the trucks, and it takes a while because we have to snake cables behind things, under things," says Nick Woodward, who took over game production at the auditorium for MPBN when Ed Fowler retired in 2009.

Woodward says older buildings sometimes present challenges. "And it's the tear-down when the games are over. Things are a little dirtier. There's a lot more nacho cheese on the floor and on the cables than there was when we moved in."

Many of these problems will be solved with a move to the brand new arena which replaces the aged auditorium. But for many, the change will be difficult.

"I know there's some sentimentality about leaving the auditorium, but my guess is that in two or three years people will be really happy that they did," says Penquis High Coach Tony Hamlin, who played at the auditorium back in the 1960s.

But Hamlin takes a more pragamatic view as he prepares his team for the final game ever to be played there on Saturday, against Boothbay Regional High. So does his adversary, I. J. Pinkham, the Boothbay coach who also played at Bangor Auditorium in the 1960s.

"A building is a building. It's the people that make the Bangor Auditiorium," Pinkham says.

The Bangor Auditorium will live on as the Cross Insurance Center, the brand new facility where next year's tournaments will be played. It occupies the space where an even older arena was - one that was knocked down when the Bangor Auditorium was built back in 1955.

Editor's Note: MPBN will broadcast that final game live, Saturday night, on MPBN television.


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