When Stevens Institute of Technology opened its doors in 1870, it consisted of 21 students and just one academic building (Edwin A. Stevens Hall), which still stands as the cornerstone of the Institute, and houses the Grace E. and Kenneth W. DeBaun Auditorium. Designed by Civil War architect Richard Upjohn, famous for the design of Trinity Church in New York City (1846), the 80,000-square-foot, five-story Edwin A. Stevens Hall is a high Victorian Gothic style masonry building.
Widely acclaimed for its intimacy, its acoustical clarity and its architectural beauty, the now DeBaun Auditorium was not turned into a theater until 1903. Prior to that, it served as a laboratory, classroom, and even a gym. Since its conversion, this majestic space has hosted national meetings (including the founding of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers), and numerous civic and community events.
In 1910 the Stevens Dramatic Society was born, using the theater for at least one production per semester. The Society achieved regional notoriety for its pioneering advances in all aspects of theater arts, and consequently, the theater flourished at Stevens. Once called the Stevens Experimental Theater, new and innovative sound and lighting techniques were tested before being used on Broadway. The sound system for the first 3-D movie (3D Stereographic Sound) was also developed in this theater.
In 1991, Edwin A. Stevens Hall was designated a city landmark by the Hoboken Historic Preservation Committee and is listed in the New Jersey Registers of Historic Places. At the same time, Stevens initiated a full-scale renovation of the building but it wasn't until 1996 when Trustee Ken DeBaun '49 and his wife Grace issued a challenge to Stevens alumni to complete the funding for the theater's renovation. Their leadership gift and continued support of the renovation project was acknowledged through the naming of the facility in their honor. The theater was dedicated the Grace. E. and Kenneth W. DeBaun Auditorium in a three-day celebration, October 15-17, 1998.
With seating for 470, DeBaun Auditorium is one of the most active theaters of its kind in the area and is realizing the potential to dramatically contribute to the culture of the Stevens community, Hudson County and beyond as a full center for the performing arts – DeBaun Center.