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Front page history: Plans for Norton Center announced 48 years ago

Centre College’s Norton Center for the Arts has helped make Danville a “powerhouse palace of culture,” according to the Louisville Courier Journal.

Performances by Pearl Bailey, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, The Vienna Boys Choir, The Sistine Chapel Choir, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson and the Beach Boys, just to name a few, have wowed audiences in this small town for more than 45 years. In recent years, there have also been two U.S. vice-presidential debates held on the Norton Center stage.

It all began 48 years ago, when Centre announced it was going to begin its largest ever construction project, at a cost of about $5 million dollars.

The Advocate-Messenger’s front page on Feb. 21, 1971, announced that Centre’s new fine arts center would feature a 1,500-seat theater and a 339-seat experimental theater. The theater-auditorium was to be the largest full-stage auditorium in central Kentucky.

According to President Thomas Spragens, the construction project would also be the largest single-building project in the college’s 152-year history.

The building was to be constructed at the corner of Walnut and College streets, where the old Danville High School had stood for many years. Centre purchased the property from the Danville city school board in 1960.

At the time of the announcement, Spragens said “two major anonymous philanthropic sources have made it possible for the college to meet immediately the full construction cost, but the college will be required to make a substantial contribution over the next five years toward payment for the project.”

Before construction of what is now called Norton Center for the Arts, the largest auditorium was a combination auditorium-ballroom in the student center, which could hold only about 450 people.

Larger gatherings were held in the school gym.

Centre had also been holding commencement exercises in Farris Stadium and its baccalaureate services in either the Presbyterian Church or the Danville High School auditorium.

Centre had already been offering its fine arts series to the public, with performances held at the DHS auditorium.

President Spragens said the new fine arts center “will enable Centre to extend greatly its educational efforts in the fine arts. As we look to an approaching era of greater leisure time, we know that a healthy, wholesome civilization will depend to a large extent on the maturity and civility of its art forms.”