Iroquois Amphitheater & the Works Progress Administration (WPA)
During the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) put many Kentuckians back to work, in fields such as construction, literature and art. Iroquois Amphitheater, in south Louisville, is one standout project of the WPA.
The 3,500 seat, open-air venue was built by 275 employees and was completed in only 75 days.
Iroquois Amphitheater opened to the public on July, 4, 1938. The inaugural production of "Naughty Marietta" dazzled a sold-out crowd.
Just as popular as the performances at Iroquois Amphitheater was the venue’s water curtain feature. A fountain-like structure with colored lights, it was designed to distract patrons during scene changes.
The amphitheater brought to life operettas and Broadway musicals.
In the early days, sets were created by designer, director, writer and actor Rollo Wayne – a native Louisvillian.
The first permanent producing director was Frederick De Cordova, who in later years became a TV and movie director and the executive producer of Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show.
The following 60 years saw stars such as Audrey Meadows, Don Ameche, Carol Channing and Liberace perform there, until major renovations took center stage in 2000.
A new design, which preserved portions of the original structure, continues to bring Louisville a wide variety of quality entertainment.
Iroquois has been dubbed the official amphitheater of the Commonwealth, and in September 2010, an historical marker was dedicated to recognize this significant site.
- The Works Progress Administration was created in 1935 by a Presidential order of Franklin Delano Roosevelt At its height, 1936-1938, the WPA employed 73,000 Kentuckians. Under the Reorganization Act of 1939, the program was renamed Works Projects Administration.
- The WPA projects encompassed a vast scope, including construction, literature and arts. By 1940, in Jefferson County alone, the WPA was responsible for paving about 348 miles of roads and sidewalks, construction and repair of 62 bridges, construction and repair of 18 libraries, construction and repair of 94 schools and construction and repair of 103 recreational buildings.
- Another prominent construction project of the WPA in Louisville took place at Bowman Field: a concrete runway and the art deco administration building.
- At its height, the WPA employed 73,000 Kentuckians.
- The renovated Iroquois Amphitheater seats 2,407 people.
Special thanks to Stefanie Buzan at Little Loomhouse and the University of Louisville Archives and Photos Archives for the use of their historical photos.
- Program 513
- Former newswoman Jackie Hays, the historical Iroquois Amphitheater and more, in this "Louisville Life" program. (#513)