Each year since its inception in 1999, Town Hall Seattle has opened the doors of its home at Eighth Avenue and Seneca Street to tens of thousands of Seattleites for musical performances, political debates, spelling bees, and more. The Roman-revival-style building has since become a cornerstone of the city’s civic life, growing to host 400 events each year, for which 110,000 people cross the threshold. The people who walk through the doors have helped shape that programming, but so too has the 100-year-old building itself.
“Town Hall, from the beginning, was founded as a shared community resource,” says Town Hall Seattle advancement director Kevin Malgesini. “Between community input and community use, the opportunities and limitations of the building have really shaped our programming.”
Now, though, the Great Hall has been darkened and the doors have been closed as the organization undertakes a year-long renovation to modernize its home and make it accessible for even more of the citizenry. The renovation is the fruit of the organization’s deep bond with its community, allies and thousands of donors having helped Town Hall in a $25 million capital campaign that will ensure that the vital educational resource thrives for years to come.
Managed by Point32, designed by the architects at BuildingWork and acousticians at Jaffe Holden, and realized by RAFN Construction, the top-to-bottom renovation will give Town Hall a long-awaited upgrade, enhancing the building’s modern functionality and making it more accessible than ever before. “The renovation will transform the building,” explains executive director Wier Harman. “It’s going to be a very cool mix of very familiar and utterly new.”
The building’s 100-year-old facade will get a face-lift, while still preserving its historic charm. The renovation will also add a downtown-facing entrance on the lower level of Town Hall. There will be major restructuring of the downstairs space to allow more natural light, better versatility, and flow. A flexible, moveable stage will be bookended by a library and a pub, optimizing the space for both intimate events and interactive participatory civic discussions alike. There will also be more accessible meeting spaces, improved multimedia capabilities, and acoustic improvements, changes that will literally break down barriers and allow a broader audience to experience its community-sourced programming.
“We’ve always worked to make our stages accessible and to remove barriers wherever we can find them,” says associate director of development and messaging Missy Miller.
The project has been a long time coming. Since Town Hall’s inception, it has solicited feedback from dozens of community partners to determine how the building might better serve the community. “Going into the project, we knew we really needed to make sure the choices we were making were facilitating their needs too,” says Malgesini.
Seventeen new gender-neutral restrooms are planned for the main lobby area, in addition to seismic retrofitting, a new climate control system, and acoustic and AV improvements to the Great Hall. The project will also add infrastructure for a new digital stage, giving Town Hall more broadcast options and enabling more live streaming. “Even people who can’t physically gather in the space with us can still participate in our programming,” says Miller.
The impact of the renovation will go beyond the walls of the building in another way as well. Town Hall will be using its experience to create a “how to” guide for sustainable historic renovations. This project reflects a core tenet of the organization’s mission—its commitment to education. The guide will include comprehensive project research findings on green building practices and offer the community another unique way to engage directly with the project.
What, though, are Town Hall’s patrons supposed to do in the year that the building is off-line? Well, in what they’ve aptly named Inside/Out, Town Hall will continue to produce events during the renovation, at venues throughout Seattle—in neighborhoods as far south as Columbia City, all the way up to Phinney Ridge. Along with its full range of regular programming, Town Hall plans to engage with communities on a more grassroots level. “[Inside/Out] is an opportunity for us to throw the doors open even wider. To welcome in even more voices. To be even more intentional about reflecting the entire community,” says Malgesini.
This latest chapter in the two-decade evolution of Town Hall should serve to strengthen the city’s artistic, intellectual, and civic-minded population. And when the doors open again at Eighth and Seneca, it will be to an even larger community that will bring with it a new era.
“At its core, Town Hall believes that every voice matters,” says Malgesini. “’Now is the time’ has been the message so clearly and loudly spoken by the community.”
Town Hall Seattle’s historic building is turning 100, and it needs some love. A top-to-bottom renovation will preserve the landmark’s historic look and feel while making critical infrastructure, seismic, and performance advances. With state-of-the-art lighting and sound systems, a new downtown-facing entrance, and new multilevel restrooms, Town Hall will be more accessible, more comfortable, and more vibrant than ever. Learn more and get involved at townhallseattle.org.