The Late, Great IMA Auditorium


Yes, the late, great IMA Auditorium as it is referred to by Flint Expatriates holds a lot of memories for many people – from Jimi Hendrix concerts to the Shrine Circus, and everything in between. According to author Gary Flinn’s book Remembering Flint, the auditorium had seating for 6,000 people and was the premier venue for concerts, stage shows, dances, lectures, sporting events, exhibitions, and the Shrine Circus for many decades. The six-story structure was built by the Industrial Mutual Association in 1929 for $1.2 million on the former site of the Randall Lumber and Coal Company, and the previous site of the Crapo Sawmill.

The auditorium was doomed, however, due to the energy crisis of the late 70s and the loss of IMA’s vending machine and food service contract with Buick. Flinn writes in his book that the IMA could no longer afford to operate a large sports arena. Its doors closed on in June of 1979, having never made a profit during its 50 years in operation.

Many My City Magazine readers shared their memories about attending events at the auditorium. Marsha Briggs Galbraith of Genesee shared, “I just talked to my mom, who turns 100 at Christmas time, and she told me about going to the IMA Auditorium as a child for free movies every Sunday afternoon. She said they were top-rated movies with famous actors. She walked with her siblings from Stewart Avenue. She also remembers going to dances there as a teenager and young adult.” Marsha also attended many events there herself, including the Shrine Circus and Bob Seger, Ten Years After, and the Average White Band concerts. She also remembers attending the Buick new model kick-off every September. “My dad won a new grill three times!”

Carol Sweatland remembers going to the Shrine Circus in the 60s, and seeing the Travelogues, and the Harlem Globetrotters. Larry Robins and his father attended the Golden Gloves boxing tournament there, as well as tournament basketball games. “We saw the Shrine Circus at the IMA in the 70s,” says John Dolza. “It was a great show!”

The last major event held at the IMA was a Peter Frampton concert on June 1, 1979 and the final event was a country music benefit concert. The Mott Foundation bought the auditorium for $2.4 million and it was converted into the ill-fated Auto World Theme Park, which closed six months after opening. The building was imploded in February 1997, making way for expansion of UM-Flint’s campus; but the many fond memories of the IMA Auditorium continue to live on.


Remembering the IMA Auditorium

“I remember going to the Shrine Circus there and taking my daughters too!”
Harold Barden

“I was in my first karate demo, with martial artists from all around the United States. I was 15 years old and demonstrated with masters.”
Kenneth Jordan

“My first memories of the circus were there, with Kathleen Lewis Moore and my mom.”
Cris Ahearn

“Went to the Shrine Circus in the mid-60s, then saw The Shiek twice in 1967-68, but my big excitement was seeing Black Sabbath in August of 1972. I was 16 and very excited. Too bad Ozzy was so drunk that the show became problematic …”
Kenny Roberts

“My sister Lisa and I went to the Peter Frampton concert there in 1979. Our seats were really terrible, but it was a memorable experience!”
Sherron Barden

The auditorium was converted into the Auto World Theme Park, which closed six months after opening.


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