Whitley Auditorium was one of the five buildings constructed after the famous 1923 fire burned down Elon’s administration building. The year of 2023 marks Whitley’s 100th anniversary of being a space where students can come together and make memories.
According to Elon’s archives, Whitley was dedicated to J.M. Darden’s father-in-law Deacon L.H. Whitley. Darden financially backed the project and was the one to approve all the plans. The cornerstone of Whitley was laid on May 23, 1923.
Randall Bowman, an archivist at Elon who specializes in church history collections over the past 10 years, said that Whitley was built not only to be an auditorium, but also a chapel.
“They needed an auditorium space and also a chapel because, in the early days of Elon, church attendance was required,” Bowman said.
Bowman said that Elon was founded by a small denomination called the Christian church. He said eventually Elon became a part of the United Church of Christ. According to Bowman, regardless of whether a student liked it or not, weekly church service was mandatory for students until after World War II.
Besides weekly church services, Whitley also served as a venue to host graduations.
“Graduations took place there in the very earliest of days,” Bowman said. “When the building was finished, to the mid-80s.”
By the 1980s, the graduation classes had grown too large to keep in Whitley, so they had to move it to under the oaks for the next few years.
Bowman said that no matter what period, Whitley was always used as a space for people to watch programs.
Sophomore Wyatt Zsiga said Whitley holds a significant historical meaning to him and his a cappella group. As the newly inducted president of Rip Chord, Zsiga said that the group has been performing there since its formation in 2006 — making it a tradition for them to host musical performances each year.
“We’ve been performing in Whitley since we became a group,” Zsiga said. “It’s been something that has been a big place for us and holds a big special place in our heart as a group.”
Zsiga said that Whitley is their preferred venue because the acoustics are phenomenal.
With construction details such as the dome and even the mounted Oregon, Whitely was made to house sound well.
“It has that sound that you only can get in certain spaces,” Zsiga said.
Bowman said his favorite part of the auditorium are the powerful speakers and the strong memories, such as hearing former president George W. Bush speak.
Bowman and Zsiga both agree that Whitley Auditorium is an essential part of Elon’s history.
“It is just a beautiful space,” Bowman said. “It goes back to right after the fire. It goes back to most of Elon’s history.”