The monumental conductance displayed and resounded round Cincinnati Music Hall and Exposition Center.
As stated in previous articles remarking on the boom years of Cincinnati, by the latter part of the nineteenth century the increase of the railroad over river transport signaled a wane forthcoming as trade routed to other American central cities, primarily Chicago. Prior to this decisive exchange the lauded ‘Queen of the West’ was renowned for hosting its first May Festival, fittingly on May 17, 1873, that while carried of Theodore Thomas’s melodious conduct was fretted by the plunking rains upon the roof of Saenger Hall where the tin drumming stopped the recital mid concert. It is recorded then that Ruben Springer decided to remedy the inharmonious condition, pledging to put up $125,000 towards raising a sounder venue to ring in the yearly choir festival.
Springer’s equitable proposal for a harmonic Music Hall was met by peer contributions within five months of his initial offer to raise a renowned structure, hoping to hush any national observations that for all its touted achievements the ‘Queen City’ was once derisively recorded as ‘Porkopolis’. Further concern voiced over the limiting space planned for future expositions, of which the city planned to extend upon its industrial proficiency to display countrywide, caused Springer to issue a second grant expanding the building to two adjoining wings. A north annex, designed as Machinery Hall, and a south section known as Horticulture Hall, that later became utilized for art classes and collections renamed Art Hall.
In sum, Springer contributed $185,000 towards the construction, wherefrom a trust was instituted placed under the organization of the Music Hall Association. Julius Dexter as chairman of the building committee viewed edifices in the East such as the Harvard Memorial Building and the Jefferson Market House constructed in 1876 within New York City in model planning. In final consideration a contest was held with national and local architects applying for the significant contract with William Ware and Henry Van Brunt of Boston representing the former, while resident ‘golden boy’ James McLaughlin competed against Samuel Hannaford for this major local commission.
It is said that Van Brunt and Ware’s muted proposal in the Neo-Grec mode restrained of French revivalism surprised Dexter who expected a bolder plan in accordance with their colorful and lively Harvard Memorial Building, resulting in the committee awarding Hannaford’s and Edwin Procter’s flexible design showing a exuberant exterior. Reviewing the resident firms winning entry there is an ironic emulation of Van Brunt and Ware’s Memorial Hall at Harvard constructed in 1865, resulting in some fretful remarking to such dated mannerism granted to the extensive structure.
Indeed the main entry facing Elm Street aspires of a liturgical support, showcased of a massive-once open-rose window embedded in an immense arch that recalls the flowering façade of James Keys Wilson heralded design on the Plum Street Temple erected in 1866. Of an intentional overarching chord the striking feature recalls the turn to French and German cathedral revival, with lively (some say lofty) emphasis incorporated as a temple of music. The Elm Street facing received the most extravagant treatment based on being mostly in shadow with contrast and color, that were-at one time- offset to rich tonal effect with red brick inlaid with black mortar. Further sandstone carvings in roundels adorned the three main sections standing as recognized symbols. Of the central passage musical instruments-a lyre and horn- stood wreathed in laurel and oak leaves, the south access representing Horticultural Hall was adorned with native birds and sunflowers, while gear wheels, ratchets, and architecture tools announced the north entrance into Machinery Hall. Reviewing the description laid upon the Central Parkway facade, there was a subtle inlay of red brick coordinated with yellow mortar that was viewed to glow in the sunset side as the architects’ finely intended.
No less attentive tuning was given to the interior of Music Hall’s lobby and central chamber, although the main hall has been vastly altered from the gymnasium or classical stadium from which one of its multi-purposes uses was as a equestrian school in 1890. From this time the oiled tulipwood that though turned for acoustical purposes had darkened to a gloomy degree; wherefrom Hannaford’s firm undertook repairs in 1896 with the decided reservation to commit to musical preparations. The hall and the exposition wings underwent further renovations in 1927 and 1969. Since the 1930’s Music Hall has been the home of the celebrated Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, with further adjoining quarters offered to the Cincinnati Pops and Cincinnati Opera, while the May Festival-the oldest choral event in the western hemisphere- continues as a long-standing celebration.
Throughout the backing and commitment of generations of Cincinnati philanthropists with dedicated directors from Springer and Dexter in the 1870’s to the Corbett, Nippert, and Herschede families unto the 1970’s, prominent benefactors have preserved to retain, while remodeling Music Hall. The most recent renovation was undertaken in 2005, when the supportive wings were renewed to accommodate administrative offices, as well as social receptions promoting the designated organizations who continue to imbue the building with active vitality toward a dynamic accord of aesthetic relay, reciprocated to Cincinnatian’s attuned faith in what the combined arts continue to offer within this resonate landmark.
Once again, as a reverberating call, the upkeep of this momentous-Cincinnati’s noted- Music Hall, standing as a chief architectural example and serving as a central place of conduct sends forth a needed notice to be given further care; both behind and into harmonious consideration for the benefit of all concerned.