You don’t often recognize the importance of a venue until it’s gone. If you’ve lived in Seattle more than five years, you can probably name a now-extinct rock club or bar that played a significant role in your life. Odds are good that you didn’t even know you’d miss those places until they closed forever.
Town Hall is only temporarily closing for a top-to-bottom remodel, but it’ll be out of commission long enough that we’ll acutely feel its absence. It’s impossible to imagine Seattle’s literary scene without Town Hall, and the coming year is going to feel barren without the 400 events it annually hosts. Particularly in the spring and fall, the busiest seasons for books, we’re going to be missing Town Hall like hell.
The simple fact is that no other venue is Town Hall-sized: With seating for 900, the grand upstairs hall is large enough to accommodate the crowds summoned by big-name visiting authors like Jhumpa Lahiri and Arundhati Roy. The downstairs hall, with its church-basement vibe, is just the right size for civic events and up-and-coming authors like Claire Dederer or Bryan Lee O’Malley, who might overpower more modest bookstore reading rooms.
But it’s more than just a matter of arithmetic: Town Hall’s stateliness imbues events with a certain legitimacy that no other space in Seattle (barring perhaps the over-the-top grandeur of Benaroya Hall) can touch. A night at Town Hall feels like a proper night out on the town, and the wide array of events in any given week—science, music, literature, politics—means that any Seattleite can find something in its calendar that appeals.
This Friday, June 30, Town Hall is throwing an all-day party before it shuts down for renovations. At 10 and 11 a.m., staff will lead tours of the space, which was constructed 101 years ago as a Christian Science Church. At noon, staff will play some of their favorite Town Hall talks over the years in a kind of greatest-hits reel.
Then there’s an opportunity to become part of Town Hall’s history: At 2 p.m. will be an open mic of sorts, in which anyone has the opportunity to speak for five minutes on any topic they desire. These presentations will be recorded for posterity. And at 4 p.m., anyone who donates $25 or more to Town Hall’s renovation campaign will be given a Sharpie and one square foot of floor space to decorate as they see fit.
Finally, from 7 p.m. to midnight, is a big last hurrah of a party. Onstage you’ll find slam poetry from Seattle great Buddy Wakefield, a dance performance from Northwest Tap Connection, and a special edition of the popular Ignite series of slideshow lectures. Outside the great hall, you’ll find food trucks and photo booths. At the end of the evening, there will be a special poetry reading and a toast to the venue’s future. When you raise your glass, look around and consider how that great hall—a big empty space, for the most part, made special by the people onstage and in the pews—has made such an indelible mark on this city.
Town Hall, 1119 Eighth Ave., 652-4255, townhallseattle.org. Free. All ages. All day Fri., June 30. Paul Constant is co-founder of The Seattle Review of Books. Read books coverage at seattlereviewofbooks.com.