Severance Hall
Severance Hall is a concert hall located in the University Circle
University Circle
University Circle, is a neighborhood located on the east side of Cleveland, Ohio. It is best known for its world-class cultural, educational and medical institutions, including the Cleveland Orchestra, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland Museum of Art, Lakeview Cemetery, and University...

 neighborhood of Cleveland
Cleveland, Ohio
Cleveland is a city in the U.S. state of Ohio and is the county seat of Cuyahoga County, the most populous county in the state. The city is located in northeastern Ohio on the southern shore of Lake Erie, approximately west of the Pennsylvania border...

, Ohio
Ohio is a Midwestern state in the United States. The 34th largest state by area in the U.S.,it is the 7th‑most populous with over 11.5 million residents, containing several major American cities and seven metropolitan areas with populations of 500,000 or more.The state's capital is Columbus...

. The hall has been the home of the Cleveland Orchestra
Cleveland Orchestra
The Cleveland Orchestra is an American orchestra based in Cleveland, Ohio. It is one of the five American orchestras informally referred to as the "Big Five". Founded in 1918, the orchestra plays most of its concerts at Severance Hall...

 since its opening on February 5, 1931. Severance Hall is listed on the National Register of Historic Places
National Register of Historic Places
The National Register of Historic Places is the United States government's official list of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects deemed worthy of preservation...

 as part of the Wade Park District
Wade Park District
The Wade Park District is an historic district on the National Register of Historic Places, located in the University Circle neighborhood on the east side of Cleveland, Ohio. The district, which covers roughly 650 acres, is bounded by Chester Avenue and Euclid Avenue on the south, East Boulevard...



Prior to the construction of Severance Hall, the Cleveland Orchestra first performed in the much smaller Grays Armory
Grays Armory
Grays Armory is a historical building in Cleveland, Ohio and was founded in 1837 as a city militia. They were well-trained, drilled, and disciplined. This is also one of the oldest remaining buildings in downtown Cleveland.-History:...

 in downtown Cleveland
Downtown Cleveland
Downtown Cleveland is the central business district of the City of Cleveland and Northeast Ohio. Reinvestment in the area in the mid-1990s spurred a rebirth that continues to this day, with over $2 billion in residential and commercial developments slated for the area over the next few years...

, and then moved two miles east to the Masonic Auditorium for concerts throughout the 1920s. However, both buildings were used by other groups and for a variety of different kinds of presentations. Most famously, the Orchestra twice had to arrange alternative concert locations from Grays Armory on short notice due to a scheduling conflict with a poultry
Poultry are domesticated birds kept by humans for the purpose of producing eggs, meat, and/or feathers. These most typically are members of the superorder Galloanserae , especially the order Galliformes and the family Anatidae , commonly known as "waterfowl"...

 exhibition. The Orchestra's administration came to recognize the advantages that having its own hall could bring to the ensemble's performances through consistent availability of such a hall for rehearsals, radio broadcasts, and other musical purposes.

After much encouragement from the orchestra's founder Adella Prentiss Hughes
Adella Prentiss Hughes
Adella Prentiss Hughes was a pianist and impresario best known as the main organiser of Cleveland Orchestra....

 and its then Music Director
Music director
A music director may be the director of an orchestra, the director of music for a film, the director of music at a radio station, the head of the music department in a school, the co-ordinator of the musical ensembles in a university or college , the head bandmaster of a military band, the head...

 Nikolai Sokoloff
Nikolai Sokoloff
Nikolai Sokoloff , was a Russia-American conductor and violinist. He was born in Kiev, and studied music at Yale. From 1916 to 1917 he was musical director of the San Francisco People's Philharmonic Orchestra, where he insisted on including women in his orchestra and paying them the same as men...

, plans for Severance Hall materialized using land offered from Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve University
Case Western Reserve University
Case Western Reserve University is a private research university located in Cleveland, Ohio, USA...

) at $1 per year and funds from public fundraising and local philanthropists. The conceiver and biggest funder of the project was industrial magnate and philanthropist John Long Severance, who donated $1 million towards development and named the hall after his recently deceased wife Elisabeth Dewitt Severance. Despite the economic difficulties of the Great Depression
Great Depression
The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression in the decade preceding World War II. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations, but in most countries it started in about 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s or early 1940s...

, construction began in 1929 and finished in 1931.

Designed by local firm Walker and Weeks
Walker and Weeks
Walker and Weeks was an architecture firm based in Cleveland, Ohio founded by Frank Ray Walker and Harry F. Weeks .-Background:...

, the building's exterior is transitional between Classical, and the late flowering of Classical style known as Art Moderne or Art Deco
Art Deco
Art deco , or deco, is an eclectic artistic and design style that began in Paris in the 1920s and flourished internationally throughout the 1930s, into the World War II era. The style influenced all areas of design, including architecture and interior design, industrial design, fashion and...

. New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

 sculptor Henry Hering
Henry Hering
Henry Hering was an American sculptor who was born New York City on February 15, 1874 and died there on January 17, 1949.-Early career:He was a student of Augustus Saint-Gaudens at Cooper Union and of Philip Martiny at the Art Students League of New York...

 created an art-deco sculpture for the pediment
A pediment is a classical architectural element consisting of the triangular section found above the horizontal structure , typically supported by columns. The gable end of the pediment is surrounded by the cornice moulding...

. Inside, Severance Hall is one of America's greatest Art Deco interiors. As was usual with the style, Egyptian Revival
Egyptian Revival architecture
Egyptian Revival is an architectural style that uses the motifs and imagery of ancient Egypt. It is attributed generally to the public awareness of ancient Egyptian monuments generated by Napoleon's conquest of Egypt and Admiral Nelson's defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of the Nile during 1798....

 mix with inspiration drawn from Greek and Roman themes. The ceiling and pillars of the auditorium glisten with Art Deco motifs in aluminum leaf, the new material that was the darling of Art Deco designers.


Some acoustic
Architectural acoustics
Architectural acoustics is the science of noise control within buildings. The first application of architectural acoustics was in the design of opera houses and then concert halls. More widely, noise suppression is critical in the design of multi-unit dwellings and business premises that generate...

 problems were soon observed in Severance Hall shortly after its opening. These were attributed in part to the use of velvet
Velvet is a type of woven tufted fabric in which the cut threads are evenly distributed,with a short dense pile, giving it a distinctive feel.The word 'velvety' is used as an adjective to mean -"smooth like velvet".-Composition:...

 curtains for the boxes, thick carpeting throughout much of the hall, and the fact that the stage, designed for theatrical productions, had a large, sound-absorbing fly space above it. In addition, the removable stage shells
Shell (theater)
In theater, a shell is a curved, hard surface designed to reflect sound towards an audience.Often shells are designed to be removable, either rolling away on wheels or flying into a flyspace...

 created for the orchestra to play within were constructed of non-sound-reflective materials, which also allowed sound from the hall's original organ to be heard from its position above the stage's fly space. The 6,025-pipe Ernest M. Skinner
Ernest M. Skinner
Ernest M. Skinner was one of the most successful American organ builders of the early 20th century.-Early years:...

Pipe organ
The pipe organ is a musical instrument that produces sound by driving pressurized air through pipes selected via a keyboard. Because each organ pipe produces a single pitch, the pipes are provided in sets called ranks, each of which has a common timbre and volume throughout the keyboard compass...

 was a massive instrument for its day, but its positioning outside the auditorium itself was something of an experiment and limited choices for addressing the auditorium's dry acoustics.

In 1958, at the instigation of Music Director George Szell
George Szell
George Szell , originally György Széll, György Endre Szél, or Georg Szell, was a Hungarian-born American conductor and composer...

, a complete acoustical redesign of the hall was undertaken. To make the auditorium more resonant, the original proscenium and blue velvet drapes were removed and the placement of carpet was reduced to a minimum. On the stage a permanent acoustical shell was built (affectionately known as 'The Szell Shell'). The new shell consisted of thick wooden walls surrounding the orchestra in a series of convex curves. The heavy wood walls were further filled with sand to heights of up to nine feet to make them less absorbent and more reflective of sound. The result was a new, vibrant-sounding space which complemented the refined, brilliant sound of the orchestra under Szell's direction.

Visually, however, the severe new Modernist stage clashed with the elegant Art Deco
Art Deco
Art deco , or deco, is an eclectic artistic and design style that began in Paris in the 1920s and flourished internationally throughout the 1930s, into the World War II era. The style influenced all areas of design, including architecture and interior design, industrial design, fashion and...

 design of the auditorium. In addition, the organ's pipe chambers were effectively sealed off from the auditorium by the new shell. This made the organ all but non-functional, its sound being transferred into the auditorium via microphones and speakers.

Changes and renovations

In 1970 the building's drive-through street-level entrance paved with tile was closed as the use of taxis
A taxicab, also taxi or cab, is a type of vehicle for hire with a driver, used by a single passenger or small group of passengers, often for a non-shared ride. A taxicab conveys passengers between locations of their choice...

 and chauffeur
A chauffeur is a person employed to drive a passenger motor vehicle, especially a luxury vehicle such as a large sedan or limousine.Originally such drivers were always personal servants of the vehicle owner, but now in many cases specialist chauffeur service companies, or individual drivers provide...

ed vehicles had declined. A dining area was set up in the resulting space. Later on, one of the access corridors on the ground floor was closed off to create space for a dressing room for women orchestra members (harpist Alice Chalifoux
Alice Chalifoux
Alice Chalifoux was Principal Harpist with the Cleveland Orchestra from 1931–1974 and, for many years, was its only female member.-Education:...

 had used her instrument case to dress in the hall's early years, when she was one of the only women in the ensemble).

Beginning in 1998, the Hall underwent an extensive two-year, $36 million restoration and expansion. The renovated building reopened in January 2000, winning the National Preservation Honor Award. The project architect was David M. Schwarz. The most significant aesthetic change was the replacement of the "Szell shell" with a new acoustical shell which would combine the acoustics of the old shell with a decorative style that harmonized with the rest of the hall. The resulting new stage area, which included space for the relocation and restoration of the building's original E. M. Skinner pipe organ by Schantz Organ Company, was named in honor of then Music Director Christoph von Dohnányi
Christoph von Dohnányi
Christoph von Dohnányi is a German conductor of Hungarian ancestry.- Youth and World War II :Dohnányi was born in Berlin, Germany to jurist Hans von Dohnányi and Christine Bonhoeffer. His uncle on his mother's side was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor and theologian/ethicist...

. The project also created a large, new street-level lobby where the drive-though (and later restaurant) once lay, opened a new restaurant in another area of the building, expanded the women's dressing room, added additional administrative office space, and expanded and refurbished many of the Art Deco design elements and details.

Use in film

Severance Hall was featured in the 1997
1997 in film
-Events:* The original Star Wars trilogy's Special Editions are released.* Production begins on Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.* Titanic becomes the first film to gross US$1,000,000,000 at the box office making it the highest grossing film in history until Avatar broke the record in 2010.*...

 Harrison Ford
Harrison Ford
Harrison Ford is an American film actor and producer. He is famous for his performances as Han Solo in the original Star Wars trilogy and as the title character of the Indiana Jones film series. Ford is also known for his roles as Rick Deckard in Blade Runner, John Book in Witness and Jack Ryan in...

 film Air Force One
Air Force One (film)
Air Force One is a 1997 American action-thriller film written by Andrew W. Marlowe and directed by Wolfgang Petersen. It stars Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman, and Glenn Close, and also features Xander Berkeley, William H. Macy, Dean Stockwell and Paul Guilfoyle...

. The scene during the opening credits
Opening credits
In a motion picture, television program, or video game, the opening credits are shown at the very beginning and list the most important members of the production. They are now usually shown as text superimposed on a blank screen or static pictures, or sometimes on top of action in the show. There...

 shows a night-time military raid on the presidential palace of the leader of Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan , officially the Republic of Kazakhstan, is a transcontinental country in Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Ranked as the ninth largest country in the world, it is also the world's largest landlocked country; its territory of is greater than Western Europe...

. Severance Hall's roof, with additional architectural elements added as set-dressing, was chosen to depict the palace. During the scene, several landmarks of nearby Case Western Reserve University are visible, including the Thwing Center (the student union) and the Allen Memorial Medical Library
Allen Memorial Medical Library
Allen Memorial Medical Library is located along Euclid Avenue on the campus of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. The library was designed in a classical revival style by the Cleveland firm of Walker and Weeks and completed in 1926. In addition to housing a portion of the Cleveland...


A segment of the Cirque du Soleil
Cirque du Soleil
Cirque du Soleil , is a Canadian entertainment company, self-described as a "dramatic mix of circus arts and street entertainment." Based in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and located in the inner-city area of Saint-Michel, it was founded in Baie-Saint-Paul in 1984 by two former street performers, Guy...

 film, The Journey of Man, was filmed in the main lobby. Shot in 1999 in IMAX
IMAX is a motion picture film format and a set of proprietary cinema projection standards created by the Canadian company IMAX Corporation. IMAX has the capacity to record and display images of far greater size and resolution than conventional film systems...

, the segment Banquine, utilized the 40 foot ceilings in the Bogomolny-Kozerefski Grand Foyer.

External links

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