Benaroya Hall houses two performance halls in a complex that is thoroughly integrated into downtown Seattle. Occupying an entire city block at the very core of the city, the development celebrates the vital role of performance events while maintaining the continuity of commercial life along one avenue and providing a much-needed public space, in the form of a terraced garden, along another.
The Seattle Symphony has gone through a remarkable transition since the creation of Benaroya Hall. The late 1980s and early 1990s found the Orchestra in the same situation as many others across the United States — performing concerts in an oversized hall not designed for symphonic music. Before the $118.1 million Benaroya Hall opened in September 1998, the Orchestra and the City of Seattle found themselves locked in "cultural gridlock." The city, known for its varied performing arts ensembles, lacked venues to support them all. Seattle was one of only six cities in the United States to have a major symphony, opera company and ballet, and the only city where all three organizations shared the same facility. The Seattle Center Opera House was booked solid 360 days each year, virtually eliminating scheduling flexibility.
In 1998, after an ambitious capital campaign that raised $159 million in private funds for construction, endowment, and financing — the largest amount ever raised by an arts organization in the State of Washington — Benaroya Hall opened its doors, bringing with it a 50% increase in subscribers in its first season, sold-out concerts, national attention and the increased revenues for which the Orchestra hoped. The Symphony's decade-plus in this magnificent home reflects profound organizational vision, extraordinary implementation and great success. Beyond the impact on culture, Benaroya Hall has been a major component of Seattle's downtown revitalization, positively impacting tourism and neighborhood businesses.
Since 1990, the Seattle Symphony has enjoyed a major increase in audiences overall. During the 1995–1996 season, Seattle Symphony was a $9.7 million operation. Today its budget is $22.5 million, and the Orchestra presents more than 20 different subscription series — a volume purposefully chosen so that the Seattle Symphony can connect with a variety of audience segments in the Seattle market. Since the move from the Opera House to Benaroya Hall, the Symphony has increased its presentations from approximately 100 each year to nearly 220 performances annually. The ensuing community support for the Seattle Symphony and Benaroya Hall not only greatly increased revenue, but also expanded the roster of internationally acclaimed artists who now perform under the Symphony's auspices at Benaroya Hall – including a Visiting Orchestras series that has been a popular series since its inauguration in the 1998–1999 season.
Including Seattle Symphony events, Benaroya Hall hosts more than 700 public and private events each year.
In July 2000, the Seattle Symphony inaugurated the Watjen Concert Organ, a 4,490-pipe organ built by C. B. Fisk, Inc. The organ greatly increased programming opportunities for both the Seattle Symphony and other ensembles that perform in Benaroya Hall.
It has long been a dream of Seattle Symphony leadership to have a dedicated space in Benaroya Hall to serve as a "learning center." That dream became a reality in April 2001 with the opening of Soundbridge Seattle Symphony Music Discovery Center in Benaroya Hall. Soundbridge links music lovers of all ages with the Seattle Symphony and features hands-on, interactive exhibits, orchestral instruments, and a workshop/performance space. Through exploration and creation, Soundbridge offers everyone the opportunity to build a lifelong relationship with symphonic music. Hundreds of thousands of patrons have visited Soundbridge since its opening.
In March of 1993, Jack Benaroya (1921-2012) laid the groundwork for the hall that bears his name. Having recently read an article by Seattle Times classical music critic Melinda Bargreen in which Bargreen argued for a new concert hall, Benaroya met with Gerard Schwarz, the Seattle Symphony’s Music Director at that time, to discuss his plans. Benaroya said that he was considering a major gift to the City, and he asked what it would take to pursue the construction of a new concert hall. Maestro Schwarz didn’t hesitate: "It's the perfect way to get this thing going,” he said, “and $15 million is the right number."
Schwarz's direct answer to Benaroya’s question inspired Benaroya to act decisively. He conferred with his family and within a few days, Benaroya, alongside his wife Becky, made a $15 million commitment through the Benaroya Foundation. Benaroya personally committed an additional $800,000 to help the Symphony deal with immediate operational deficits.
The Benaroya story is the American dream writ large. Born in Montgomery, Alabama, of immigrant Jewish parents from Lebanon, Jack and his family moved to Seattle in 1933. He graduated from Garfield High School, then served in the U.S. Navy for three and a half years during World War II. After his discharge, he returned to Seattle and rejoined the family business — Consolidated Beverages. By his 30s, he felt the need for a new, creative challenge and left the family business to carve a niche for himself in real estate.
He began his new career by building and leasing U.S. post offices to the government, as well as buildings for lease to Pacific Northwest Bell and a number of medical and commercial buildings. He subsequently moved to larger projects including several business/industrial parks in the greater Puget Sound area and in Portland, Oregon. In the mid-1970s he built the Design Center Northwest and the 6100 Gift Mart Building in Seattle. In 1984, the Benaroya holdings were sold to Trammell Crow, the nation's largest commercial real estate developer in a joint venture with the California Public Employees Retirement System and the California Teachers Retirement System.
The responsibility of running the Benaroya Company was passed onto his son, Larry, allowing Jack to concentrate on fundraising for — and contributing to — charitable and civic causes. He believed in giving back to the community, and one of his favorite quotes was by Winston Churchill, "You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give." Significant gifts by the Benaroya Family fund diabetes research at the Virginia Mason Hospital and Research Center, the University of Washington and the University of Pennsylvania.
In 1995, Jack Benaroya was inducted into the Puget Sound Business Hall of Fame, an award sponsored by Junior Achievement, and was also the recipient of the Seattle-King County Association of Realtors' First Citizen Award in 1998. Becky and Jack Benaroya received a 1995 Seattle Symphony Individual Arts Award for their extraordinary commitment to the community.
Cyril M. Harris (1917–2011) spent his entire professional life in the field of acoustics, as a research scientist, teacher, author of numerous books, and the acoustical designer of many performing arts facilities. At Columbia University, he researched the acoustical properties of building materials, room acoustics, and musical instruments and published extensively on these subjects. Halls for which he has been the acoustical designer include the Metropolitan Opera House (1966), Powell Symphony Hall in Saint Louis (1968), Krannert Center for the Performing Arts in Urbana, Illinois (1969), the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (1971), Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City (1979), and the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Bombay, India (1980).
Dr. Harris' extensive publications serve as basic reference books for acoustical engineers and architects internationally. They include: Acoustical Designing in Architecture, Noise Control in Buildings, Dictionary of Architecture and Construction, Illustrated Dictionary of Historic Architecture, and the newly published American Architecture: An Illustrated Encyclopedia.
In the design of auditoriums for music, Dr. Harris was a strong proponent of tradition, employing the conventional rectangular shape of concert halls and using classic building materials, such as wood and plaster.
In describing the qualities of a great concert hall, Dr. Harris stated, "It should have warmth. There should be tonal balance; no part of the frequency range should be emphasized at the expense of another. The hall should have as great a feeling of intimacy and a sense of contact with the performers as is possible in an auditorium seating over two and a half thousand people. Clarity of tone is important, too; it helps when the hall provides a blending of the sound of various instruments, yet permits them to retain their individual identities." Dr. Harris noted that the sounds produced by the performers should be complemented to the highest degree possible by appropriate reverberation and diffusion characteristics. To ensure that both the S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium and the Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya Hall achieve acoustical excellence, he worked closely and synergistically with Mark Reddington of LMN Architects to create superb facilities for musical presentations in Seattle.
Cyril M. Harris served as Professor Emeritus of Architecture and Charles Batchelor Professor Emeritus of Electrical Engineering at Columbia University. He received his B.A. in mathematics and his M.A. in physics from UCLA, and his Ph.D. in physics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he specialized in acoustics. He held honorary doctorates from the New Jersey Institute of Technology and from Northwestern University. His achievements in auditorium acoustics have been recognized by the AIA Medal awarded by the American Institute of Architects, the Gold Medal of the Acoustical Society of America, the Gold Medal of the Audio Engineering Society, the Franklin Medal from Philadelphia's Franklin Institute, the Sabine Medal of the Acoustical Society of America, the Mayor's Award for Science & Technology of the City of New York, and the Pupin Medal for 1998 awarded by Columbia University.
LMN Architects is acclaimed for its design expertise in meeting complex project challenges which result in architectural works of aesthetic sensitivity and enduring quality. Their relationship with the Seattle Symphony stretches over a decade of design investigation and technical resolution that led to the new concert facility for the Orchestra's performances. This effort was led by project Partner-in-Charge Judsen Marquardt and Design Partner Mark Reddington. LMN’s distinctive cultural arts venues, convention centers, higher education facilities and transit stations enrich civic life throughout the United States and beyond. The firm now numbers 100 employees with architects, interior designers and urban planners as well as computer scientists.
At the core of LMN’s practice is a belief in the creative process of active engaged dialogue. The firm’s design process is a collaborative exploration with consultants, colleagues, clients and the community seeking new insights and innovative solutions. Discussions of real issues—the site, the program and functional requirements—provide the basis and the inspiration for a project’s form. By beginning each project with exploratory research, by asking the right questions and by providing direct answers, LMN engages the fundamental experiences and needs of both the users and the community.
The firm has been responsible for design of over 75 public events buildings nationwide, including convention, civic and performing arts centers. LMN's recent design work includes the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts in San Antonio, TX., the Conrad Prebys Music Center at the University of California, San Diego, CA., the Music and Drama School at the City College of San Francisco, CA., and the School of Music at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, IA. Seattle area projects include Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, the city’s 2,900-seat performance hall at Seattle Center that is home to the Pacific Northwest Ballet and Seattle Opera. There are smaller LMN designed theaters and performance spaces scattered throughout the city and the region. The nearby arch over Pike Street creates a gateway into Seattle and is part of LMN’s Washington State Convention Center Expansion. The firm also designed the new Foster School of Business, the Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science and Engineering, and several other facilities at the University of Washington’s Seattle campus, as well as other higher education campuses in the region.