Freemasonry reached the height of its popularity in the 1920s. During that era Freemasons built monumental concert halls, libraries, and museums in cities across the nation. The Rhode Island Freemasons commissioned noted architects Osgood & Osgood to design the Veterans Memorial Auditorium as a Grand Masonic complex in 1927. The Great Depression halted construction and the project lay dormant for over a decade. The State of Rhode Island took over the project in the 1940s; however World War II further delayed its completion.
In 1950 the theater officially opened as RI’s first professional performing arts venue. In the ensuing decades scores of legendary performers and local artists graced The Vets’ stage. With nearly 2,000 seats, the theater is acclaimed for its unique combination of size and intimacy enjoyed by both audience and performer. The venue is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is celebrated for its gilded proscenium arch and exquisite interior distinguished by allegorical and heraldic ceiling murals.
The landmark fell into a state of disrepair in the 1980s and the State considered reducing the Masonic complex to a parking lot. The Veterans Memorial Auditorium Preservation Association (VMAPA) was established in 1983 and by the 1990′s community groundswell to save The Vets, coupled with public investment helped partially restore the theater. The architects sought to design historically sensitive improvements while implementing state-of-the-art technology to suit the needs of modern performance venues.
Phase I comprised the back–of–house improvements, including new dressing rooms, green room and offices.
Phase II entailed designing an addition comprised of a new loading dock, handicap balcony access, additional restrooms, a new back box theatre, and a new supplemental lobby overlooking the city. A rebuilt, energy efficient marquee completes this phase.
Phase III consisted of restoration of the auditorium including historic painting and gilding, new consessions and HVAC replacement.
The Vets now serves as the heart of the revitalized Avenue of the Arts and hosts The Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra. In addition, the Vets hosts a broad range of events each season, offering a variety of performances, rehearsals, exhibitions, concerts, educational events, meetings, and other special events.