History of McFarlin Auditorium

Built to defy time, scorn fire, and withstand rain and wind – what a lasting monument.

Charles Selecman, University President
March 24, 1926 at the Opening Dedication Ceremony


McFarlin Memorial Auditorium's genesis can be traced to a stormy Sunday in Ovilla, Texas. A Presbyterian farmer, Benjamin Porter McFarlin, spent that Sunday helping a neighbor whose wheat crop had to be harvested to save it from the threatening weather. For this unselfish act McFarlin was "churched" (banished) by his congregation in return for working on the Sabbath day. McFarlin promptly offered a traveling Methodist minister the land and money to build a new church in Ovilla. The minister stayed and McFarlin became a Methodist.


By the early 1920's the students, faculty and staff of SMU had severely outgrown the capacity of Dallas and Clements Halls. Arguments were put forth as to what the next campus building should be. In the end, President Selecman and the Methodist bishops made the visionary decision to build a chapel/auditorium as SMU's third permanent building. Financing was secured by a generous donation from devout Methodist and San Antonio businessman Robert M. McFarlin, son of the farmer from Ovilla.


McFarlin was opened in 1926 to fulfill the University's pressing need for a chapel that could accommodate the entire student body. The building has evolved over time and continues to serve the University in the manner envisioned by SMU President Charles Selecman as "a place where we can have our friends from the community and elsewhere gather together on great occasions."


When the fire curtain at McFarlin was first lowered, the audience saw a pastoral scene featuring a modest frame building set back on a tree lined, country lane with the word "Ovilla" painted at the bottom. In recent years, the Ovilla Curtain has been lowered during Opening Convocation as a reminder of the University's early days: to acknowledge the gift of the McFarlin family and to underscore the lasting value of friendship.

Martin Luther King Junior visits SMU at McFarlin Auditoirum 1966


On March 17, 1966, a standing-room-only audience in McFarlin Auditorium welcomed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to The Hilltop.

Learn more about his visit and listen to his entire speech.