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The Town Hall

About this listing

Performance space originally built as a lecture hall and meeting place for the womens suffrage movement.

Place Details

Borough : Manhattan
Neighborhood : Times Square
Public Hall, Arts and Entertainment, Performance


Anonymous Nominator

The Town Hall was constructed as a lecture hall for public discourse by the womens suffragist organization, The League for Political Education, in 1921. It became the broadcast site for one of the most popular shows in American radio, Americas Town Meeting of the Air, which engaged the public in moderated panel discussions featuring political and cultural icons such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Langston Hughes. The Town Hall has developed into a premier concert hall, launching the careers of Marian Anderson, Martina Arroyo, and Whitney Houston, and frequently features artists like Ani DiFranco, Rufus and Martha Wainwright, and the New York City Gay Mens Chorus, among numerous others.

The Town Hall is a four-story adaptation of a neo-federal design. Laid up in Flemish bond brick with contrasting limestone trim, the façade is divided horizontally into three sections by limestone belt courses decorated with a Greek fret. The base is punctuated by a seven-bay blind arcade outline in limestone. Double doors are set into the arches at the base while the tympana are lighted by lunettes. Theatrical canopies are suspended over the doorways and are anchored to the spandrels by tie rods. The middle section of the façade is distinguished by a large limestone plaque reading: “The Town Hall. Founded by the League for Political Education, 1894-1920. Ye shall know the Truth and the Truth Shall Make You Free.” Two empty niches flank the plaque.

The auditorium, which has a rough semicircular plan, has two levels—a main floor and a cantilevered balcony. The walls are composed of a marble base with torus molding which supports rusticated artificial stone. Monumental gilded pilasters with composite capitals accent the angles of the hall. A gilded cornice incorporating dentils and acanthus leaves joins a plaster guilloche and fretwork band at the ceiling level. Crystal chandeliers hang from a paneled plaster ceiling that is centrally adorned by an Adamesque ceiling ornament. The shallow stage is set behind an ornamented elliptical proscenium arch, which is supported by pilasters decorated with a neo-Classical arabesque pattern. A shallow relief in the hall’s lateral walls echoes the proscenium arch. Perhaps the most decorative features of The Hall are the arched organ grilles, which flank the stage on the diagonal walls. Here a tabernacle motif is suggested and the carved screen is patterned with arches and garlands reminiscent of the work of the 17th-century English woodcarver Grinling Gibbons. The neo-Classical architectural ornament, while typical of that used in many auditoriums and theaters of the period, adds to the visual ambience of Town Hall. Such factors as the plan of the auditorium, the types of materials, and the placement and design of architectural detail are important in determining the acoustics of the space.

(June 2012)

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