The Chester Fritz Auditorium is built where the UND theatre tradition began many years ago on the banks of the English Coulee. In 1965, Chester Fritz gave the University of North Dakota $1 million towards the construction of a "distinctive auditorium" on campus. A matching appropriation of $1 million from the state of North Dakota and $1 million in private bequests completed the funding for the Chester Fritz Auditorium.
The gift came from a man whose fondness for the University of North Dakota has long been evident in financial support and enthusiasm for his Alma Mater. A North Dakota boy who rose to prominence in the field of international finance, he never severed his North Dakota roots.
"Because auditoriums serve as a force for uplifting the human spirit," Fritz said, "it is my hope that this building will be an additional means by which future students at my Alma Mater may gain clear visions of truth and beauty and integrity; and that the added opportunities for weighing comparative values will inspire listening students to rise to higher plains of world understanding, purpose, and stewardship."
The Chester Fritz Auditorium, a magnificent center for the performing arts, is considered the finest facility of its kind from Minneapolis to the West Coast. Since its opening, the Chester Fritz Auditorium has brought numerous nationally acclaimed performers to Grand Forks and to the University of North Dakota. The programming has varied from country western, opera, ballet, and symphonies, to Broadway Theatre shows. The Auditorium is also used for many University of North Dakota events.
The Chester Fritz Auditorium held its first event October 12, 1972 when the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and Philharmonic Choir performed.
The Chester Fritz Auditorium facility rests on a base measuring 170 feet by 220 feet and has an average height of 85 feet, equivalent to a seven story building. The building covers over 26,000 square feet of ground and has more than two acres of interior floors. The building is constructed of 1 1/3 million pounds of steel framing, approximately 1/3 million pounds of steel reinforcing and more than 12 million pounds of concrete. The exterior is orange Hebron rock-faced brick and pre-cast concrete, both made in North Dakota.
The layout of the Auditorium itself was designed around requirements specified by an acoustical engineering consultant. The fronts of the balcony and mezzanine and the walls are swelled into scallops. The ceiling is covered with 36 acoustical "clouds" measuring 12 feet wide by 20 feet long and consisting of dark-stained laminated wood. These curved surfaces control reverberations in even patterns to preserve existing sound made in performances. A scale model of the Auditorium large enough for a man to enter was made to test the sound in the Auditorium prior to construction.
The Chester Fritz Auditorium accommodates up to 2400 audience members on three seating levels. The main floor offers 1200 seats with four aisles and a middle cross-way. The mezzanine and balcony each accommodate 600 people.
One of the unique features of the Auditorium is the closeness of the seats to the stage. Seats at the rear of the balcony are only 110 feet from the forestage and rear seats on the main floor are a mere 80 feet from the performers.
The Starcher Chandelier
Hanging from the fifth level in the well of the Chester Fritz Auditorium lobby is the Starcher Chandelier, a gift in honor of President-Emeritus and Mrs. George W. Starcher. The gift was announced at the May 7, 1971 campus-community recognition dinner given for the Starchers and recognizes their appreciation for the fine arts. Given by UND faculty, staff and friends and the Robert D. Campbell Foundation, the Dalambert chandelier was custom-made in Italy. It is lighted by approximately 30 lamps and blends 5,550 lead crystal beads, prisms and tear drops in a classic regency style.
The stage has a depth of 56 feet. The proscenium arch measures 62 feet wide by 30 feet high and is covered by gold speaker cloth. The public address speaker cluster is installed in the center top of the arch. The stage floor is partially trapped; sections can be removed for special effects. The orchestra pit is equipped with a hydraulic lift. The fly loft is 68 feet high, equipped with 52 lines for raising and lowering scenery, with a total weight handling capacity of 89,000 pounds.
Many upgrades and improvements have been necessary in the last 35 years. Significant improvements include:
- Re-carpeted the entire building
- Lobby painted & redecorated
- Seats on the main floor and mezzanine refurbished
- Lighting System replaced
- Sound System replaced
- Dimming System replaced
- Lobby windows and front doors replaced
- Four spotlights replaced
- Two sided LED marquee installed on University Avenue