When Port Huron civic leaders began planning for the community’s future after World War II, wide support emerged for a convention facility. Proponents argued that such a community addition, playing up the area’s water attractions and easy access to Canada via the not-yet-ten-year-old Blue Water Bridge, would bring tens of thousands of dollars into the area. In 1953, however, Port Huron taxpayers dashed the hopes of convention-center planners when they turned down a proposal at the polls for a city built facility.
Two years later, an entity then unknown to most residents offered a gift of $1.2 million to build a municipal auditorium in downtown Port Huron. The foundation had been set up in 1955 by Andrew J. Murphy, his wife, Emma McMorran Murphy, and her sister, Clara McMorran Mackenzie.
The announcement by the family members and the two other foundation trustees (Alex J. Theisen and J. Grant Moore) electrified the community and a wide area beyond it. The foundation had been named for business pioneer and early-century Congressman Henry G. McMorran, father of Mrs. Murphy and Mrs. Mackenzie. Mr. Theisen was a long time business associate and counselor to the McMorran family. Mr. Moore was a local insurance broker.
The auditorium gift announcement seemed too good to be true, yet it was true. It also was the beginning of a series of gifts from the McMorran and Murphy families. Individually and through the foundation family members would donate a total of $3.5 million ($26 million in 2010 dollars) during the next decade to provide a facility that would evoke envy far and wide. McMorran Complex today consists of one of the finest community auditoriums in the country and two arenas that not only provide ice for hockey and other skating but which have become centers for a myriad of programs and activities.
McMorran’s Main Arena was home to the Port Huron Flags of the International Hockey League from 1962 to 1981. It has been the home of North American Silver Stick Hockey finals since 1963, drawing youth hockey teams from all over the continent each January. It also has served as the training camp for the Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues of the National Hockey League & the (UHL) Port Huron Border Cats for 6 years, the Port Huron Beacons for two seasons and the Port Huron Flags of the UHL for two seaons. The Main Arena is currently the home ice for the Port Huron Fighting Falcons of the NAHL, Port Huron Minor Hockey Association, The Patriots Arena Football Team, The Blue Water Derby Girls and the Port Huron Figure Skating Club.
Among the entertainment headliners who have appeared at McMorran Place are: Trace Adkins, Montgomery Gentry, World Championship Wrestling, Collin Raye, Spirit of the Dance, Lorrie Morgan, Gallagher, Willie Nelson, Liberace, Andy Williams, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Bob Seger, Journey, Engelbert Humperdink, KISS, the Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey Orchestras, Frank Mills, David Copperfield, Tammy Wynette, Tom Jones, J. Geils Band, Ted Nugent, Ozzy Osbourne, Diamond Rio, Ricky Scaggs, Soupy Sales, John Anderson, Holly Dunn, Wayne Newton, Pam Tillis, Dan Seals, George Jones, Chubby Checker, Bon Jovi, Ratt, Barbara Mandrell, Rick Trevino, Tracy Lawrence, Billy Ray Cyrus, Mark Collie, George Carlin, Sesame Street Live, Stars on Ice, the Harlem Globetrotters, the Royal Hanneford Circus, Smokey Joe’s Cafe, A Christmas Carol, Steel Pier, Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Miss Michigan USA & Miss Michigan Teen USA, Miss Michigan United States, Forbidden Hollywood, the Three Irish Tenors, Copacabana, South Pacific National Tour, Ain’t Misbehavin, Bryan White, Sammy Kershaw, and the Royal Lipizanner Stallions.
Luminaries brought to McMorran by Port Huron Town Hall have included Eleanor Roosevelt, President Ford, Heloise, Gregory Hines, Capitol Steps, Betty Ford, Henry Kissinger, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Julie and David Eisenhower, Larry King, Alex Trebek, Dr. Joyce Brothers, Ann Landers, F. Lee Bailey, Vincent Price, Eva Gabor, George Plimpton, Martha Stewert, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, Jessica Tandy, Rex Reed, Ginger Rodgers, Pat Boone, Richard Simmons, Mitzi Gaynor, Vicki Lawrence, Pearl Bailey, Debbie Reynolds, Henry Winkler, Phyllis Diller, Barbara Bush, Jane Seymour, and James A. Lovell Jr.
McMorran Complex is also a community center. The Auditorium Lobby was designed to accommodate art exhibits, after-performance receptions and similar activities. The complex is home to the Port Huron Minor Hockey Association and provides facilities for such varied activities as International Symphony Orchestra concerts, Port Huron Civic Theatre presentations, Port Huron Figure Skating Club programs, a Festival of Trees hospital benefit, high school and community college graduations, craft and recreational shows and a host of other events and activities for audiences of all ages.
ABOUT THE ARCHITECT – Alden B. Dow
Alden Dow’s sense of design didn’t stop with architecture and landscape planning. He also involved himself in interior design. The integration of potted plants, paintings, sculpture, furniture and woodwork, with all their colors and textures, is a discipline Dow calls Composed Order. The stage curtain, designed by Alden B. Dow, is an example of Composed Order. Aesthetically, its form is satisfying, and being abstract, it stimulates both the imagination and articulation of the audience. It is freedom within a discipline, a pattern of circles and rectangles executed in appliqué.
“The real objective of architecture should be to inspire constructive creativeness in those that use our buildings. This means that our buildings must aim for something more than pure utility. Just as important, and at times even more so, is compatibility. By this, I mean that a building, in addition to serving its fundamental purpose, must also be compatible with its surroundings, the ground it’s built on, the planting, the people that pass by, the automobile, and finally, the individual person.” – A. Dow.
ABOUT THE SCULPTOR – Marshall Fredericks
Fredericks designed these over-life-sized figures for the NIGHT AND DAY FOUNTAIN outside of the McMorran Auditorium in Port Huron. The fountain is beneath the 22 ft. diameter sculptural clock, which was also designed by Fredericks. He chose time as the theme of the auditoriums exterior ornamentation because the donors of the building put great value in punctuality. In keeping with the long tradition on western art, the sculptor personified time with figures representing night and day. NIGHT has long, smooth, graceful curves which are repeated in the lines of the swan in flight beneath her. In comparison, DAY is more angular and its muscles are more pronounced, as are the veins in the arms and hands. DAY rests upon an otter hunting in a school of pike. The stout otter and elegant swan echo the character of the human figures just as the male and female figures invoke the active and passive parts of the 24 hour cycle. Fredericks is also know for THE SPIRIT OF DETROIT in front of the City County Building in Detroit, CHRIST ON THE CROSS at the Indian River Catholic Shine, GREAT SEAL OF THE UNITED STATES at the American Embassy in London, and HENRY FORD MEMORIAL at the Centennial Library in Dearborn, Michigan.