For many years the University did not have a space large enough to facilitate sizeable audiences or performances. Student events often took place at the Scottish Rite Theater or the El Paso High School Auditorium. In March 1941, Texas legislators visited the College of Mines (now UTEP) and saw a need to build an auditorium on campus and by May, 1941, the state Senate had approved $175,000 to build a new auditorium. Those plans were ultimately rescinded when the United States went to war. After the war, the need for an auditorium was revisited and preliminary plans for an auditorium were drafted. The new building was to be constructed on the land adjacent to the Library (now the Geological Sciences Building) and would be able to seat between 1,200 and 1,500 audience members. President D. M. Wiggins hosted a meeting in Dallas with state legislators, senators, and UT Board of Regents members in which he presented the plans, hoping that they would move toward approving funds for the project. Wiggins did not see the approval he was hoping for during his term.
When President W. H. Elkins took office in 1949 he took immediate notice of the need for an auditorium. The new plans, similar to the previous plans, featured seating for 1,500 guests, classrooms, and a modified Bhutanese architecture. Before approving plans, Dr. Elkins visited auditoriums at other college campuses in order to make sure that the college’s auditorium would be modern and competitive with other schools. Elkins presented the plans to the UT Board of Regents in April 1949and asked for $800,000 to construct an auditorium and a Science Building (now the Psychology Building). These plans and funds were approved. Construction on the auditorium began near the end of the year.
The auditorium was named after James Wiley Magoffin, an El Paso pioneer whose careers included trader, soldier, and consulate worker. Magoffin Auditorium was designed to be one of the most modern facilities of its type and included both radio and television equipment. In addition, Magoffin housed the Music and Speech departments. The Music Department moved into Magoffin in January 1950 and held classes in stairwells and hallways while the interior of the building was being completed. In May 1950, Magoffin Auditorium was officially complete at a final cost of $600,000.
Magoffin Auditorium was a necessary and appreciated addition to the campus. In 1973, Magoffin Auditorium was renovated at cost that exceeded $1.6 million. The only feature that remained was the exterior structure. The renovation included new air-conditioning and roof, an enlarged orchestra pit, revamping of the acoustics, new carpeting and upholstery, and completely new lighting and sound systems. When the Fox Fine Arts Complex as constructed in 1978, the building attached to Magoffin in the Music wing. The connection allows for large instruments to be easily transported from one building into the other.
Today Magoffin continues to host a variety of events and shows for the University and for the community. In addition to theatre, dance, and music performances, Magoffin supports El Paso guest speakers and assemblies.
Jessica Molinar Muñoz is the director of communications for UTEP's Centennial Office.