Friday, July 11, 2008

Cleveland’s Public Auditorium

The only time I was in Cleveland’s Public Auditorium (also known as Public Hall), I was a teenager attending a Moody Blues concert. Luckily we had seats close to the front, as Public Auditorium was so huge that sitting too far back would make for a bad view. My ticket cost a whopping $5.00. I don’t think I was ever there again. I believe the next concert I attended was at the Music Hall, the smaller neighbor of the Public Auditorium. Both these venues are not used as much any more. Even though Public Hall is so massive, big concert promoters prefer stadiums and sports arenas, as they hold more people and can allow for better overall viewing and acoustics.

At one time, Public Auditorium and its neighbor the Music Hall were part of a grander plan for culture and industry for the city.

(old postcard - Public Auditorium Interior)
Here’s an article written for Builder’s Exchange Magazine which talks about the history and the some of the interesting facts about this facility:



To host the 1909 Industrial Exposition, Cleveland was forced to construct a temporary facility, which pointed out the city's need for a permanent large-scale auditorium and convention hall. However, it took seven years for the necessary funds to be generated. In 1916, voters passed a bond issue, thanks to the support of 116 civic groups. Unfortunately, World War I caused the project to be put on hold, and construction did not begin until 1920.

Designs were by city architects, Frederic H. Betz and J. Harold McDowell, along with consulting architect Frank R. Walker of Walker and Weeks. The exterior style was Italian Renaissance, with arcaded windows, a high rusticated podium and a cornice line that coordinated with other Group Plan buildings. The entrance lobby featured classical marble, tile and plaster ornamentation. The auditorium hall itself conveyed classical elegance with its wide ceiling of curved arches.

A fourth building joins the group
The auditorium was the fourth unit of the Burnham Mall Plan to be constructed, although it was not included in the original Group Plan. The cost was $6.5 million.

The Cleveland Public Auditorium cornerstone was laid on Oct. 20, 1920, and the completed building was dedicated on April 15, 1922. Smith & Oby was one local company involved in the project, at the time the largest convention hall in the United States. The main arena was 300 ft. long, 215 ft. wide, 80 ft. high. Amazingly, no columns were used in its construction. The stage was 140 ft. by 60 ft., with a 72- by 42-ft. proscenium arch. The steel-and-asbestos curtain weighed more than 40 tons. A key attraction was a spectacular pipe organ with 10,010 pipes and 150 direct speaking stops. In 1927, the Music Hall was added at the south end of the auditorium.

The seating capacity of the main auditorium, including the main floor and the U-shaped galleries, was more than 11,500. The Music Hall seated 2,800, the ballroom 1,500, the north exhibition hall 1,500, the Little Theatre 700 and other halls from six to 500. The basement Exhibition Hall provided more than 28,500 sf of exhibit space.

Safety was a major priority. Despite the huge capacity, the entire facility was designed to allow 13,000 people to be evacuated in four and a half minutes flat. The auditorium had an automatic sprinkler system, which would project a sheet of water across the stage proscenium if a fire occurred.

Indirect lighting was diffused through glass ceiling panels. The ventilating system provided 18,000 cf of fresh air per hour-cooled in summer, heated in winter. Air ducts were up to 10 sf. Other amenities included a central vacuum cleaning system and steam heating for the offices and corridors.

A long, eventful history
During the first year, an estimated 750,000 people visited the new auditorium. Since then, the facility has hosted many prestigious events. In 1924, it was the site of the Republican National Convention and the first appearances of the Auto Show and the Home and Flower Show, as well as performances by the Metropolitan Opera. In 1930, Herbert Hoover spoke to an audience of 15,000 people. In more recent years, the auditorium was the site for a Jimmy Carter/Ronald Reagan debate and a Beatles concert.
A new convention centerIn 1964, Public Auditorium was joined by a new underground convention center, which opened on August 28 of that year. The Convention Center provided 26 meeting rooms, each holding from 50 to 10,000 people, and 424,230 sf of exhibit space. A modern glass and metal entrance and lobby area serving both convention center and auditorium were added on the Mall side of the Beaux Arts exterior. The architects were Outcalt, Guenther, Rode and Bonebrake. The cost was $17.5 million, including $1 million for improvements to the Mall Plaza. With this addition, the Cleveland Public Auditorium and convention center complex was once again the largest convention facility in the United States.

In the mid-1970s, architect Dominick Durante designed a renovation for the facility that brought it up to date. Today, plans for a new convention center require refurbishment of Public Auditorium.

The Cleveland Public Auditorium was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on June 10, 1937, and was designated as a Cleveland Landmark on Oct. 16, 1937. BXM

(Old Postcard - Public Auditorium Exterior)

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported in May of 2008 that “The auditorium, built in 1926, seats up to 13,000 and, like the outmoded existing convention center, is seldom used….[it] could find new life as a ballroom for a proposed Medical Mart and a rebuilt convention center under the Mall.”

I suppose it all depends on the final location of a new convention center for Cleveland, as the Medical Mart prefers to be adjacent to that location. But, since I also like to preserve the classic buildings of Cleveland, it would be great if Cleveland’s Public Auditorium could find new life, and it would be fitting if it was the Medical Mart that could resuscitate it.

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AuthorDave said...

Thanks for the great info about Public Hall - always a fond memory from my teenage years. I was there for concerts by Elvis, Led Zepplin and many, many others.
If you're interested in the riotous Beatles concert at the venue in 1964, I've written about it in my book, "The Beatles In Cleveland." Police had to stop the show for about half an hour after fans rushed the stage. A wild night of Beatlemania on the north coast.
Thanks for the article!
Dave Schwensen

BankingMergers said...

Very interesting information here. I was in Cleveland last year and was very impressed by its architecture.

Aunt Snow said...

Cleveland's Public Hall is one of a small handful of unique venues that are fondly known in the business as a "double-headed monster." The stage for the main auditorium and the Music Hall was the same one - the two seating halls opened up on opposite faces of the stage. The stage had, in effect, two "main curtains" - one facing north and one facing south. It was a little disorienting to work in!

Phantom Dreamer said...

Beautiful building. Reminds me of Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall.