Downtown Gem - Panora

November 1, 2021

The state of Iowa is blessed with many town squares. The squares often serve as community parks perhaps with a courthouse, city hall or gazebo in the center. Downtown Panora has an unusual square where the high school was built in the center. The active gymnasium still stands. Panora City Administrator Lisa Grossman tells the story.

The Panora High School gymnasium in Panora was built in 1936 as an addition to the school. It was started in January of that year and known as WPA Project No. H-1276. The WPA or Works Progress Administration was founded in 1935 to provide work for needy persons on public works projects. WPA employees built bridges, roads, public buildings, public parks and airports. While the school has long since been torn down, the gymnasium and many other WPA projects are still standing today. 

A few fun facts about the gymnasium: in order to dig the footings in the cold January weather, builders had to bust through the frozen ground with dynamite; the first home game played at the gym was December 11, 1936. “Dutch” Reagan, WHO sports announcer, was at the high school to cover the new facility and stayed for the evening game. “Dutch” later was known as President Ronald Reagan. 

Presently known as Veteran’s Auditorium and located on the town square of Panora, the gymnasium still functions in the same way it did back in its early days. Youth basketball is held and pickle ballers have a weekly league. The auditorium holds important veteran’s events, parties, fundraisers, political events and community celebrations. The facility is in the care of the City of Panora Veteran’s Auditorium Board, who oversee the maintenance and budget provided by a special tax for memorial buildings.

The Auditorium is connected to the City’s Community Building, which is also located next door to the Panora Library. These three buildings anchor the downtown square, which has a plaza, gazebo, decorative bollards, musical instrument park and plantings.

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