Described as “by far the loveliest room in the building” when it was constructed, the beauty of the Catherine J. MacKay auditorium still defies adequate description. The auditorium’s signature features are its trio of arched windows stretching 16 feet tall, its massive chandelier, and the hours of care and skill evident in the hand-carved Minnesota limestone and intricate snow-white plasterwork on the walls and ceiling. All of these pieces work together, like individual instruments as part of an orchestra, to create a space that is both grand and glorious yet inspiring and uplifting.
The centerpiece of MacKay Hall, the Catherine J. MacKay Auditorium was completed in 1926 as part of a $500,000 enlargement project. During a ceremony on May 9, 1925, the cornerstone for the addition was laid by Anna B. Lawther of the Iowa State Board of Education. Within the cornerstone is a time capsule containing photographs of students in 1912 and 1923, photographs of the old building and the new building in progress, a book of campus views, photographs of children in the home management house and child care laboratory, a photograph of Dean MacKay, and several Iowa State publications including pamphlets on the home economics program and copies of the Iowa Homemaker and ISC Student.
As a premier facility for events of all kinds, the auditorium has seen a diverse array of uses. By day, it has held large lecture classes. By evening, it has served as a top-notch venue for plays, dinners, dances, and sporting events.
In 2014, the auditorium received a major upgrade as the focal point of a massive renovation and restoration project. The original two-tier design was converted into stadium seating for 214 students. Contractors installed Italian tile, glass railings, and a high-tech wide-screen display. Swivel seating enables students to interact even in the large classroom setting. The remodel also made the auditorium more accessible to meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards.
To maintain the auditorium’s historic appeal, lighting conservation specialists restored the original chandelier. Builders kept the auditorium’s original wood floor and woodwork, hand-carved stone surrounds, arched windows, and fine plaster detailing on the walls and ceiling. Another reminder of the past -- the portrait of Dean MacKay -- is on display near the auditorium’s main entry.