Town Hall Seattle construction set to begin

Renovations and upgrades at the historic Town Hall Seattle building are slated to start this week. During the 14 months of construction, Town Hall will spread its programming around the city.

The Roman revival-style building was constructed in the 1920s. The Town Hall Seattle organization formed in 1998, and uses the space for various programs while also making it available for readings, guest speakers, performances and more. Town Hall has more than 90 community partners.

“Preserving this building is kind of at the core of the founding of Town Hall,” said Kevin Malgesini, Town Hall Seattle advancement director. “We are kind of a shared community resource, but beyond that we wouldn’t be the same organization if we were in a modern, glass box.” 

Town Hall Seattle has raised more than $21 million toward a $25 million goal for the renovation and upgrades project.

The city of Seattle is looking to soon require all unreinforced masonry buildings to undergo seismic upgrades. That has been the main driver for Town Hall Seattle’s renovation project.

“It’s a huge part of the project — the seismic upgrades — and the architects worked very closely with the seismic engineers,” Malgesini said. “They’re doing a really stealth intervention.”

The advancement director said contractors will construct shear walls at each of the four corners of the building — by each staircase; shear walls are composed of braced panels. Town Hall’s walls will then be reinforced with steel that is tied back to the shear walls, Malgesini said.

The project is aiming for a Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design certification for an existing building, which is accomplished through improved operations and management.

Malgesini said Town Hall Seattle wants to improve the building by adding in additional services, while keeping its environmental impact at its current level.

There is no air conditioning, few restroom facilities and limited lighting now.

“Right now, Town Hall is not the best-lit building in the world,” Malgesini said, “but we’re switching all the lighting over to LED.”

That will require retrofitting the existing light fixtures.

The renovation will include the installation of 17 news bathrooms in the lobby, plus one ADA-accessible one downstairs.

Malgesini said Town Hall will also focus on limiting waste and consumption of plastics, with plans to offer rental discounts to those that don’t encourage the use of plastic bottles.

Portions of the Town Hall building are historically landmarked, including the terra-cotta facade, the entry on Eighth Avenue, a third of the front lobby and all of the stained-glass windows, which are being restored. One stained-glass window on the south side will be removed, to make way for heavy mechanical equipment, Malgesini said, adding storm windows will be added later for sound mitigation and heating/cooling efficiency.

Town Hall’s old, non-functioning organ found several new owners.

“The organ is mostly gone,” Malgesini said. “A few musicians came in to take pieces.”

Kinetic sculptor Trimpin (Gerhard Trimpin) will create a new instrumental art piece for Town Hall.

“He took several pieces,” Malgesini said, “and has a very specific concept that he’s going to work on.”

Some of the wood from the organ may be able to be used for a downstairs bar that’s being added in. The Downstairs at Town Hall is not landmarked.

“That’s where you’ll see kind of the biggest transformation,” Malgesini said, “in the downstairs space.” 

Back upstairs there will be a new west entrance, with a modern glass lobby and pub space on the north side of Town Hall. A library space will be sited to the south.

Malgesini said it has not yet been decided how the pub space will be managed.

“We’re in conversations,” he said.

Acoustical consulting firm Jaffe Holden is directing how to seal the building’s exterior, so people are not hearing traffic on Interstate 5 or the frequent sounds of ambulances in First Hill.

The Great Hall will receive the biggest treatments in terms of sound, with an acoustic reflector going over the stage. Malgesini said the Great Hall offers 900 seats, but audience experience varies.

“There’s hot and cold spots; the sound doesn’t mix well, it’s very directional,” he said.

A bass trap will also be tucked behind the organ screen — a landmarked part of the building that will stay — to absorb lower frequencies emanating from the hall.


While Town Hall is under construction, programs will be spread around the city. Town Hall Seattle has created neighborhood steering committees, including in Capitol Hill/Central District, University/Ravenna and Phinney Ridge/Greenwood. Malgesini said there have already been several meetings with the committees, as Town Hall looks to bring programs and production capacity to new venues. The benefit is exposing audiences to these venues, institutions and organizations, he said, while also providing program access in new places.

“A lot of what we do next year will be in the Capitol Hill/Central District area,” he said. “Seattle U is going to be a really robust partner for us.”

Other venue partners include The Summit, Temple De Hirsch, The Cloud Room and The Egyptian theater.

“The calendar will not be as full because it will just be the Town Hall-produced events,” Malgesini said, adding the first event will launch in early September as it has every season.

And the search for new neighborhood venues will continue, he added.

“We’re really hoping it changes kind of the DNA of Town Hall,” Malgesini said. “It’s an exciting year — a year of a lot of experimentation.”

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