A Brief History of the
Wagner Performing Arts Center
The Wagner Performing Arts Center is named for George Wagner, a German immigrant and key figure in early Monroe history. Wagner was proprietor of the Wagner Mill, an important producer of lumber and shingle products in the region from 1905 until 1936.
Upon Wagner’s death in 1931 the business and family fortune passed in large part to his son Frank, a capable businessman in his own right. Well-known in the community, Frank had earned a reputation as a generous and civic-minded individual.
The auditorium was built in 1939 as part of a desperately needed new junior high school – but neither structure would have been possible without Frank Wagner. In July of 1938, school district chairman E. H. Streissguth summed it up thus in the Monroe Monitor:
“Mr. Frank Wagner has offered the district a magnificent gift of $30,000 to aid in the erection of the building, as a memorial to his father, the late George Wagner… [It is] a splendid gift…to the entire community. It is the nucleus of the entire project and without it we could not hope to have a new school. It represents more than 1½ times as much as the district is asked to raise.”
It truly was an enormous sum by Depression-era standards, equivalent to at least $500,000 in today’s dollars. The donation covered about 22% of the entire cost of construction.
The school and auditorium were dedicated on September 15, 1939. The house was filled to capacity in a ceremony presided over by Governor Clarence D. Martin, who declared the building “one of the finest to be found in the state”, and praised Frank Wagner’s generosity and citizenship.
The auditorium served as cherished center for school and community events for decades. But eventually deterioration began to set in. Age, earthquakes, rodents, corroding pipes, and budgetary constraints all took their toll; the building became essentially unusable.
In 2012, the Monroe Arts Council partnered with the Monroe School District to undertake the renovation of the auditorium. Through fundraising drives, volunteer effort, grants and donations, much has been accomplished already. The building is once again in use, and plans are in place to rebuild the restrooms and tackle other long-term projects.
Ways to Help
Efforts of this magnitude are costly and time-consuming. The M.A.C., a registered 501c(3), is supported by membership dues, public donations, and proceeds from fund-raising activities. Please consider supporting this renovation effort by joining the M.A.C., or making a donation of money, services, or building materials.
The M.A.C. is committed to preserving the gift the Wagner family bestowed upon our community nearly 80 years ago. Our vision is to restore the grand old auditorium to its rightful position as a center for community events in Monroe – the town the Wagners helped to build.