The Donald W. Reynolds Performing Arts Center, built in 1918 as part of the University of Oklahoma’s original campus, is one of Oklahoma’s most historic buildings and one of the university’s key educational and community facilities. Originally named The Auditorium (1918) and then renamed Holmberg Hall (1938), after Fredrick Holmberg who was a professor of music and later became the first Dean of the College of Fine Arts.
In 2002 the building began a multimillion dollar renovation. The original building with the addition of the new dance wing and renovated practice rooms were renamed the Donald W. Reynolds Performing Arts Center (2005), after Donald W. Reynolds.
The Building’s centerpiece is Oklahoma’s only European-style performance hall, the setting for appearances by famous visitors to Oklahoma, generations of OU student performers, and a wide range of community activities. Sometimes called “Oklahoma’s meeting house,” the building has housed some of the state’s most memorable events.
Visitors include President William Howard Taft, statesman William Jennings Bryan, poet William Butler Yeats, Composer Aaron Copland, and dancer Martha Graham came to Oklahoma. Former high school students from across the state remember it as the site of music, band, speech competitions and events.
In addition, many of the University of Oklahoma’s landmark events, from OU President James Buchanan’s funeral to football Coach Bud Wilkinson’s national trophy presentation, were held in the facility. OU President David L. Boren chose this stage as the place to announce his acceptance of the OU Presidency and resignation from the United States Senate.
When Fredrik Holmberg got off the train in Norman, Oklahoma, from Lindsborg, Kansas, in 1903, he looked around for the tallest buildings he could find and headed toward them. Not until he stopped and talked to someone on the "campus" did Holmberg realize he had mistaken the mental hospital for the University of Oklahoma. Clutching his violin under one arm, he walked a mile and a half back through town in a storm of red dust before finding the real campus, which he said later was not nearly as impressive as the first.
Discouraged by the barren plain and ready to catch the next train north, Holmberg instead kept his appointment with David Ross Boyd. The OU president "had a way of giving one an optimistic outlook," Holmberg wrote, and after their initial encounter, the music professor from Bethany College decided to stay. Within his first six weeks, he organized a men’s glee club, a women’s glee club, an oratoria chorus, a band and an orchestra. For the next 30 years, Holmberg never stopped working for the University and its students.
A native of Sweden who immigrated to the United States while still a teen, Holmberg worked in the wheat fields of central Kansas to pay his way through college. Even before graduating from Bethany in 1899, he was teaching violin—his favorite instrument—and harmony. According to OU historian David W. Levy, Holmberg believed that music, almost as much as religion, could provide the cultural cement that bound a citizenry together. He even credited "the extremely high moral standards" of Lindsborg to the town’s devotion to communal music.
Throughout the years, Holmberg was a tireless advocate for fine arts education, not only at OU, but around the state as well. He often would take his show on the road, giving concerts and plays in out-of-town venues and always encouraging the local high school students to consider OU after graduation.
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Donald Worthington Reynolds was born in 1906 to Anna Louise and Gaines W. Reynolds, a traveling wholesale grocery salesman. He spent his childhood in Oklahoma City and it was there the young Reynolds first began working in the industry he would eventually dominate, “hawking” copies of the Oklahoma News at the railroad depot.
After high school he set his sights on the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, working summers at a meat packing plant in Oklahoma City to pay for his studies.
Upon graduation in 1927, Mr. Reynolds worked in a variety of newspaper-oriented positions. With $1,000 in capital (part of which he borrowed), he invested in his first business enterprise, a photo engraving plant. Using the profits from this venture, he purchased and then sold his first newspaper, the Quincy (Massachusetts) Evening News. The proceeds were used to purchase the Okmulgee (Oklahoma) Daily Times and the Southwest (Arkansas) Times Record, the two publications that launched the Donrey Media Group.
Oklahoma would continue to play a pivotal role in his company’s success as he acquired sixteen newspaper properties in the Sooner state over Donrey’s fifty-three years of continuous operation.
Throughout his life Mr. Reynolds continually expanded his business enterprise, ultimately owning over 100 businesses in the newspaper, radio, television, cable television and outdoor advertising industries. His sharp business acumen focused on businesses located in small, but growth-oriented communities.
Upon his death in 1993, the Donrey Media Group, one of the nation’s largest privately held media companies was sold. A substantial bequest from Mr. Reynolds’ estate provided the endowment for the charitable foundation which he had created in 1954 – the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation.
It was from this foundation that a multi-million dollar grant was awarded in 2001 to restore historic Holmberg Hall to its original grandeur.
On an early April evening, the newly minted—yet somehow familiar—concert hall on the University of Oklahoma campus was abuzz with that particular brand of electricity generated on the eve of a momentous event. Humming like atoms, patrons of the performing arts murmured appreciably, taking in the vintage theater seats, the towering proscenium arches, the red velvet curtains spilling into lush pools on the black stage.
As if controlled by a single switch, house lights and voices faded in unison as the overture to "Candide" rose from the orchestra pit. When the OU Symphony launched into a Bach concerto and the grand drape parted to reveal eight ballerinas in white gossamer against a sea of cobalt blue, a round of goose bumps so prevalent they were almost audible swept through the crowd. A new era for an OU icon had begun.
Combining the latest technical equipment with the ambiance of a turn-of-the-century European concert hall, the Donald W. Reynolds Performing Arts Center offers the best of both worlds to performers and audience alike. Funded with a $12.2 million grant from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation of Las Vegas, Nevada, and another $5.8 million in University funding, the new facility preserves the grace and beauty of historic Holmberg Hall, while renovating practice rooms, updating the stage house and providing 20,000 square feet of space to the OU School of Dance.
Read the article in its entirety: http://www.oufoundation.org/sm/summer2005/story.asp?ID=160