Severance Hall

Cleveland, Ohio | C.1931

Photo Credit: Accidentally Wes Anderson

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On a cold winter night on February 5th, 1931, Cleveland audiences “packed to the roof” witnessing the inaugural gala concert of the Cleveland Orchestra performing in their grand new home. Described as a “giant jewel box,” the Severance Hall was the talk of the town, and to this day is home to what has been ranked as the 7th best orchestra in the world.

Working with acclaimed architects Walker & Weeks, philanthropist John Severance conceived of a space that would creatively be dedicated to his late wife Elizabeth’s memory while also contributing to the cultural character of the city. 

The result is a lavish Art Deco-inspired interior design, with patrons greeted by three large lotuses on the marbled floor–Elizabeth Severance’s favorite flower. Even the lacy patterned ceiling in the grand foyer and performance space, encompassing most of the venue, is thought to have been inspired by her wedding dress. 

Due to the gilded facades and immense grandeur of the space, it’s easy to miss parts of the hall that at one time made it unique. A recording booth is still used in the main performance venue, touted as one of the first in the nation in order to broadcast concerts to listeners at home. A chauffeur’s booth and telephone rest in the lower lobby, harkening back to a time when patrons could actually drive through the hall and be dropped off within its ornate hull. 

With seating for more than 2,000 concertgoers, the grand concert hall is also not just the host of the city’s orchestra. Mostly hidden behind the main stage facade, the 6,025 pipe Skinner organ is a legend in its own right, weighing almost 50,000 pounds and considered one of the best concert organs in the nation. 

Festooned with lace, lotus, and world class pipes, the venue remains a jewel of the city and home to a top tier ensemble. However, if looking to visit, it might serve one best to not drive through the hall’s lobby.

Image available as a collectable, limited-edition art print 🖼  Shop now!

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