Setting stage for Town Hall

Historic building to close at end of June for large-scale renovation work

Almost a century old, Town Hall is gearing up for its grand restoration, and is giving the public a chance to see all the secrets hidden inside the city’s historic landmark.

Building tours for the public have been taking place the last few weeks, with the last one happening on Wednesday, May 24.

“[Town Hall] is changing utterly, but in many ways you won’t even see,” said Town Hall executive director Wier Harman. “We’re going to honor the character of the building and its landmark status.”

Before diving into the tour of the building on Thursday, May 11, Harman walked attendees through the history of the building and the organization. The Roman revival-style building goes back all the way to 1922, while Town Hall was formed in 1998.

As an organization, there are three main characteristics that makes Town Hall unique, Harman said, city and nationwide. Town Hall hosts programs across a broad range of topics, is a resource to more than 90 community partners and hosts its own events. The organization is committed to access makes the space affordable.

“There is a key differentiation between Town Hall, the place, and Town Hall as an organization,” Harman said. “This is a product of the energy and ideas of the people of Seattle. If you take anything away from the questions — is Town Hall a place or an organization? — it’s both.”

The $27 million project aims to preserve the Town Hall building, and make sure it’s here to stay for another 100 years.

The building tour gives people a chance to learn about the history of the structure, the vision for the restoration and all things new that are coming to Town Hall.

A seismic upgrade has been the main driving force behind this project, as currently the building is unreinforced and vulnerable in the event of a large earthquake.

A majority of the work will be hidden within the walls — a new metal skeleton system —with some evidence visible around the windows on the north and south sides.

Improving the acoustics of the Great Hall is another major focus. A giant acoustic reflector is going to be installed above the stage, to even out the distribution of sound across the room. In addition to that, there’s also a plan to seal off the space from outside noises and soundproof the rooms within the building, to eliminate bleeding of the sounds when multiple events are happening at the same time.

“We always have artists tell us how much they love performing on our stage. We wish the audience experience was as good,” Harman said. “With that move, we’ll be able to take this hall, that’s dedicated as a people’s hall, and essentially have a world-class concert facility.”

Installing air conditioning will allow Town Hall to stay open year-round and not close down during unbearable July and August heat.

The restored building will also see a long-awaited addition of 17 new bathrooms on the Great Hall level.

While the upstairs work is all about preservation and restoration of the landmark, downstairs performance space is where people will see a lot of changes take place.

“Our upstairs is really all about doing everything we can to preserve the look of the building, and downstairs is all about transformation,” said advancement director Kevin Malgesini. “It’s not landmarked, and we have the full freedom to reimagine how this space can best serve Town Hall.”

There will be a new ADA-access entry on the west of the building that will lead directly to the downstairs space, and a new elevator to the upper level. The performance space is going to be divided into three zones: library, flex zone in the middle, and a bar/pub space on the left side. The stage will hover between zones, depending on the kind of event that’s taking place.

One of the interesting things people will get to experience on the tour is climbing up a narrow staircase to go inside an organ. The organ is in a non-functioning condition, and Town Hall is looking for its new owners or, if none arise, to salvage it for parts.

Though there are many things to come from the restoration, a lot of ideas didn’t make the cut due to budget constraints.

“When we first got our pricing for all the things we wanted to do, it was $34 million,” Malgesini said. “We’ve been working on bringing down the cost, and there were a few things that we had to let go. For example, there is a pillar that’s been crooked since the last earthquake, that’s non-structural. We’re going to do a $27 million remodeling, and not be able to fix that.”

Prior to closing its doors, Town Hall will host an all-day event at the end of June, for people to commemorate the start of a new beginning. The organization will still produce a full season during the construction — under the name “Inside Out” — and events will be hosted in different locations throughout the city. Town Hall hopes to reopen its doors in fall 2018.