Severance Hall, in the University Circle area, is the beautiful home of the world-renowned Cleveland Orchestra. The Cleveland Orchestra was formed in 1918, and it was decided in 1928 that a permanent home for them was in order. Severance Hall construction took place from December 1929 through early 1931. It was a gift from John L. Severance, in memory of his wife, Elizabeth DeWitt Severance. Her father had been treasurer of Rockefeller's Standard Oil and he was also the current president of the Orchestra's board of trustees
Severance Hall was designed by the firm Walker and Weeks , who also designed several other notable Cleveland structures such as the Public Auditorium, the Cleveland Public Library, and the original Cleveland Stadium.
The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History says that when first constructed, the hall
“contained a concert hall seating 1,844, a chamber-music hall on the ground floor seating 400, and a radio-broadcasting studio. On either side of the auditorium were triangular wings that contained circulation areas, a green room, a lounge, offices, and a library. Onstage were an elevator for the orchestra, a cyclorama, and a skydome for operatic productions, as well as a large E. M. Skinner pipe organ. The hall had a unique system of colored spotlights operated by a clavilux or "color organ" for constantly changing lighting effects. In 1958, the stage was completely rebuilt, with a new acoustical shell to improve the projection of the orchestra's sound.
The architecture of Severance Hall was transitional between the Georgian/Neo-Classical style represented by the Cleveland Museum of Art across the Wade Park Lagoon and the Art Deco or Art Moderne style that had developed in the late 1920s. The main entrance is a Renaissance portico. The interior, however, is an eclectic mix of styles. The elliptical 2-story grand foyer is transitional in function with a Neo-Egyptian design, while the auditorium is both modern and traditional in its stylized ornament and color, featuring classical and Art Deco touches. The Reinberger Chamber is 18th century in design. An unusual feature of the building was an internal automobile driveway, beneath the entrance, which was closed in 1970 and converted into a restaurant in 1971.
A major renovation project, designed by David M. Schwarz Architectural Services of Washington D.C, took place between 1998-2000 (reopening in January of 2000). It restored the hall to its original grandeur, upgraded its acoustics, and also expanded and improved on the services and amenities. The changes also included restoring and relocating the E.M. Skinner pipe organ. Overall, the renovation provided The Cleveland Orchestra with the best home possible, worthy of its global status.
A very detailed history of Severance Hall can be found on the web site for the Cleveland Orchestra (here), along with a fantastic group of photographs.
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