From top to bottom, construction teams involved in the renovation of Cincinnati Music Hall paid extraordinary attention to detail in the $143-million, 16-month overhaul. Now, 140 years after it first opened, the iconic hall with the its rich and unique history stands ready to welcome guests for generations to come.
“We’ve been in business since 1880 and take pride in our work on many of the iconic buildings in Cincinnati,’’ said Andrew Imbus, Project Manager at Imbus Roofing of Wilder, Ky. “This is a project that we are going to be proud of for a very long time.”
Work started in August of 2015 and finished in October 2017. Music Hall, which is the home of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and several other cultural organizations, reduced seating capacity at Springer Auditorium from 3,417 to 2,263-2,2524, depending on the configuration. The project included updates to the exterior, Edyth B. Lindner Grand Foyer, Corbett Tower, Library and Ballroom. In all, the project added 31,549 square-feet in the same footprint.
Take It From The Top
Among the most challenging renovations was restoring the roof. Architect Samuel Hannaford planned the roof design carefully when he designed Music Hall, but some of his drawings disappeared and some plans were not fulfilled in final construction. Even after the renovation, the Hall’s gable peaks show damage to the sandstone finials.
The Society for the Preservation of Music Hall, a volunteer-driven organization that is dedicated to preserving the structure, worked with EverGreene Architectural Arts to replace four finials. SPMH board member Thea Tjepkema discovered four unique designs for the finials, and FARO Technologies used high-tech 3D scans to measure the finials as close to 1/8th of an inch. EverGreene also used photographic research to design the missing metal cresting pinnacles on the roofline.
Imbus and his team faced its own challenges in rebuilding the roof. The roofing company had installed the previous roof in 1988. “It was worn, but still water tight,’’ Imbus said. “Some shingles were starting to blow off. The roofing project really just happened to coincide with the renovation.”
Imbus’ first charge was to find replacement shingles that mirrored those of the past roof to preserve the historical appearance of the building. Working with PWWG Architects, Midwest Roofing Supply and 3CDC, Imbus Roofing installed approximately 600 squares of CertainTeed’s Grand Manor shingles in Stonegate Gray and Brownstone.
The roof also required new double leaf smoke hatches, manufactured by The BILCO Company of New Haven, Conn. Imbus’ team installed seven DSH Automatic Smoke Vents. The vents, which measured 66 inches by 144 inches, are among the largest smoke hatches on the commercial market.
The smoke vents include a Thermolatch II positive release mechanism that ensures reliable vent operation when a fire occurs. The vents automatically release upon the melting of a UL-listed 165F fusible link, and a curb-mounted fusible link allows the latch to be easily re-set from the roof level. The vents are fully insulated and gasketed for weather tightness.
The vents are hard-wired to the fire suppression system and open electronically if the sprinkler system activates. Corken Steel, the local distributor of the smoke vents, and BILCO rep Joe DeFrain of Welling Inc., worked with Imbus in procuring the roof hatches. The vents were installed above the main hall, Springer Auditorium, and are designed to open in an emergency to allow smoke and hot gases to escape. That allows better visibility and breathing conditions for audience members and performers to evacuate safely.
“The steep slope of the main roof was high on our list of safety concerns,’’ Imbus said. “Just getting the entire work area scaffolded in a tight footprint was a challenge. For the smoke hatches we had to open up the framing and get it watertight within a day because the renovations had already been completed underneath it.”
The existing smoke vents had been nearly 50 years old, Imbus said, and were larger than the BILCO vents that his company installed. “They allow for the same amount of ventilation as the previous vents, which is all based on fire codes,’’ Imbus said. “These were the safest solutions for this project.”
Perhaps the centerpiece to the improvements occurred at Springer Auditorium, where accessibility and sightlines were improved. The seats increased in width size from 19-21 to 20-23 inches. The distance between rows also increased, from 33-35 to 35-36 inches.
In addition, the renovations made the building compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, with increased wheelchair accessible seating in prime locations, easier movement between floors, motorized wheelchair charging stations at some seat locations and new elevators that permit access to every floor. The previous building was constructed before the ADA Act, most restrooms were inaccessible for physically-challenged patrons and wheelchair guests found it difficult to navigate between floors.
The auditorium will also include a new stage lift system, and acousticians conducted extensive testing to make certain Music Hall’s natural sound more immersive and evenly-distributed to every seat in the auditorium.
Exterior improvements included newly-reopened window on the grand façade that will let in more daylight, new accent lighting that will illuminate Music Hall at night, and new path to connect the Hall to Washington Park.
Event spaces on the first and second floor were updated along with Corbett Tower, which has served many purposes in Music Hall’s distinguished history, including weddings, receptions, and dinner parties. During the renovation, workers removed a drop ceiling and wall board and revealed original stenciling believed to have been done in the late 1800s.
“This was an important project for Cincinnati,’’ DeFrain said. “It’s part of a revitalization of the entire community. Everyone in Cincinnati knows the Music Hall. We’re a third generation, family-owned company from Cincinnati, and we’re proud to have been a part of it.”
A Cincinnati Landmark
Music Hall, which was recognized in January 1975 as a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior, also serves as the home of the Cincinnati Opera, Cincinnati Pops Orchestra and May Festival Chorus.
“Fanfare for the Common Man,’’ written for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra by Aaron Copland, is often used in movies, television and as an introduction for some sports teams. The Music Hall was the designed by architect Samuel Hannaford, who also designed City Hall in Cincinnati. He served as the architect for more than 300 buildings, and his residential designs appear throughout New England, the Midwest and South in the United States.
The Music Hall renovations are part of an investment by Cincinnati to improve the “Over the Rhine” neighborhood and Washington Park, which sits adjacent to the Hall.