Lately, veterans have been in uproar at the city of Manhattan’s plan to renovate Peace Memorial Auditorium, the World War II living memorial located in City Hall. The auditorium, built in 1955, has been in disrepair and is currently being unused. The city plans to remove the stage, an annually used venue for dance recitals by the community, and replace it with offices for the Parks and Recreation department.
“More and more memorials are falling into disrepair,” Susan Dale, a stand-up comedian and head to the renovation opposition, said. “This issue isn’t a Manhattan issue but a national one and we want to show other communities what to do.”
Susan Dale became involved when her mother, Randi Dale, found out about the renovation project over the summer. Randi Dale was once a cover girl for U.S. war bonds during World War II and was featured in several national magazines. Susan Dale said that patriotism runs deep in the Dale family.
“When we found out about the plan, we decided to dig a little deeper,” Susan Dale said.
They found that the nearly $3 million auditorium renovation will include removing the stage and audience seating. Upon further research, the pair said they also found that building a new office for Parks and Recreation elsewhere in Manhattan will only cost $1.5 million.
“I was dumbfounded,” Susan Dale said. “So I just started rallying people together to let them know what was going on.”
Since then, Randi and Susan Dale have reached out to celebrities – such as Gene Simmons and Toby Keith – as well as to several veterans groups and historical preservation groups, all campaigning to save the auditorium.
In June, the council met to discuss plans for the auditorium and, after pressure from the Dales, asked the Historical Resource Board to review the issue. The board suggested that the city find other alternatives, according to a Aug. 10 Topeka Capital-Journal article. Although the board can advise the commission on such matters, they are not obligated to follow its suggestions. Susan Dale was surprised to find out that the commission decided to keep paying the architect to work on his plans for the renovation.
“People were shocked,” Susan Dale said. “If they continue with their plans, they’re turning their backs on Vietnam and Korean vets too. They’re turning their backs on their soldiers.”
Randi Dale said the issue was important to her because of the efforts that went into constructing the memorial in the first place. Randi lived in Manhattan when the construction for the memorial started in 1955.
“When they built the memorial, the vets didn’t want some statue or memorial,” Randi Dale said. “They wanted something the community could use.”
Since its construction, the auditorium has been used for community events like Art in the Park. However, due to several limitations – such as lack of AC – the auditorium fell into its current dilapidated state.
“We’ll be pushing for the city to revitalize it,” Susan Dale said. “We want to replace the stage, the lighting and put in a new AC unit so that it can be used again.”
According to a Aug. 10 Topeka Capital-Journal article, Manhattan Mayor John Matta was reported saying that his position on the issue is influenced by the plaque in the auditorium, and that it is open to interpretation. Matta and the city commission were unavailable for comment.
The inscription reads, “This building is dedicated to the memory of our early settlers whose vision, ideals and unity of purpose gave our city its enduring character … and to those patriotic citizens who sacrificed their lives so that American democracy might be preserved.”
A decision will be made tonight at the city commission meeting, at 7 p.m. in City Hall. Susan Dale hopes they will reconsider their choice to renovate the auditorium.
“I hope they do the right thing,” Susan Dale said. “People need to remember what those vets did for us. World War II is one of the most important wars in our history. Our entire culture could have changed. So it’s important to remember the vets’ sacrifices during that war and any other war.”
Should the city commission decide to continue the construction, Susan Dale said she will not give up the fight and plans to reach out nationally about this issue. If the city commission decides to reconsider their plan, she hopes she can get the auditorium on the historical list, which is no small feat.
“Either way, it’s going to be a fight,” Susan Dale said. “But those veterans didn’t stop fighting and neither will we.”