By Larry Schwingel
Photography courtesy of War Memorial Auditorium
Since 1950, the War Memorial Auditorium in Fort Lauderdale has been a backdrop for some of the area’s swankiest events. In its early years, the revered venue featured acts like Buddy Holly, Bill Haley and the Everly Brothers, the piano magic of Liberace and the mind magic of David Copperfield. As the years went by, the auditorium became an open house for a range of events, from car shows, MMA matches, boxing bouts and bodybuilding contests to dance competitions, opera performances, stamp collector shows, LGBT programs and more.
Today, the War Memorial Auditorium seeks a new entertainment identity to attract a younger generation of patrons and keep the interest of older ones. The popular Orchid Show is a mainstay, but other events like VegFest and L’Illusion du Plumage, a Las Vegas-style costume extravaganza, have been added to the calendar. Five pickleball courts have also been installed for interactive fun.
Perhaps the most ambitious new project for the venue is its proposed ice rink. The Florida Panthers reached out to discuss the possibility of constructing an ice hockey rink, as well as an indoor lacrosse and soccer field. City Commissioner Heather Moraitis says the idea has a huge upside, as more leisure activities are welcomed and needed in the area.
“Every time I drive down that road going back and forth to work, I see the growth that’s happening,” she says. “A lot of families and young people are moving in, and my goal is to activate that area and utilize it as a recreational space.”
Beneath all the pomp and circumstance of the War Memorial Auditorium is a living monument that honors a fearless, selfless group: veterans. The structure was built as a symbol of hope for the future, with a guarantee that there would always be a link to the past. Near the entrance, a plaque honors Fort Lauderdale’s Alexander Ramsey “Sandy” Nininger Jr., who posthumously received the first Medal of Honor of World War II. A replica of a Korean War-era F-86 Sabre Jet towers nearby.
Embedded in the lobby’s floor is a star with points commemorating battles of WWII, while the names of local residents who served in the armed forces and paid the ultimate sacrifice are listed on wall plaques. A bronze statue of a kneeling soldier donated by the American Gold Star Mothers stands guard, perhaps serving as a gentle reminder that the War Memorial Auditorium’s real story is not about glitzy events—it’s about an iconic building where the walls speak quietly of selfless bravery, honor and sacrifice.
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2018 Issue.