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Jan. 7, 2003

Hill Auditorium reopens: Historic restoration, modern amenities
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Photo: U-M Photo Services

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Hill Auditorium, cultural icon for the University of Michigan and Ann Arbor, will reopen Thursday after a 20-month renovation, the first major upgrade since 1949.

The restored hall will offer the best of the old and new: the revival of the lovely arts and crafts period interior, the addition of a new lobby and concession area on the lower level and a range of amenities to enhance the experience for audiences and performers.

A season of celebration marking Hill’s reopening will begin with a program at 1 p.m. Thursday, and the facility will remain open through 7:30 p.m. Highlights will include a Jan. 17 performance to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the University Musical Society and a performance of U-M professorWilliam Bolcom’s epic “Songs of Innocence and Experience” on April 8.

President Mary Sue Coleman said, “The University and the community treasure Hill Auditorium, the site of so many memorable performances and rites of passage. This project preserves the best of the original, conserves the building for the future and brightens this jewel of our cultural assets. I extend a most heartfelt invitation to the campus, and to the community, to join in celebrating this grand new chapter in the history of Hill.”

Hill, which cost $40 million to restore, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a significant structure in the Central Campus Historic District. A litany of notables has appeared there, from conductors and singers Leonard Bernstein and Eugene Ormandy; Enrico Caruso and Luciano Pavarotti to musicians Sergei Rachmaninoff and Yo-Yo Ma and speakers Robert Frost and Cornel West. Students in the U-M School of Music prize the opportunity to develop their performance skills on the Hill stage. Many members of the community cherish personal memories of participating in commencements, school plays and other events in Hill.

Hill was designed by noted Detroit architect Albert Kahn with Ernest Wilby.

Albert Kahn Associates, successor to the original Kahn firm, served as project architect for the renovation, and Quinn Evans Architects of Ann Arbor is the preservation architect. With the exception of minor improvements, the four-story brick and stone building had been renovated only once before, in 1949. The layout and the mechanical systems dated to the 1913 original.

Dean of Music Karen Wolff said, “Our faculty and students are eager to move back into Hill, the most important public face of the School of Music at U-M. Thousands of our alumni remember performing there and hearing stellar musicians from all over the world. We look forward to January when we will resume our performances there and with our first and second year students the thrill of performing on stage for the first time."

Kenneth Fischer is president of the University Musical Society, which has been instrumental in creating Hill’s reputation for showcasing outstanding talent.

“I'm so excited for all of our UMS music lovers when they return to the ‘new’ Hill for the much-anticipated re-opening festivities Jan. 17-19, which will also commemorate UMS's 125th anniversary,” Fischer said. “Their jaws will drop when they see the stunning colors surrounding the stage, their spirits will soar when they see how welcoming Hill has become for everyone and their hearts will pound when they see the world's great artists back on the stage.“

Historic preservation
The original Kahn design featured a rich polychrome color scheme accenting
decorative plaster medallions that frame the stage and outline the parabolic ceiling. That interpretation of an arts and crafts treatment has been restored in earth tones of warm grays, blues, blue-grays, green-grays, golds and deep red-browns. They incorporate, true to Kahn’s plan, a subtle display of the maize and blue University colors. More than 300 lights concealed behind paint for decades now illuminate the house, most dramatically in a string of pearls of 136 ceiling lights surrounding the laylight.

Period lighting fixtures and carpeting were installed throughout the building; and the color palette restored in the lobbies.

A new 4,500 square-foot lower lobby with a concession area adds space for socializing and refreshments, and houses a rotating display of items from the Stearns Collection of Musical Instruments. Two new monumental staircases connect the main floor to the new lower lobby.

“This will be a hall that people will enjoy acoustically and will find much more comfortable,” Michael Quinn, principal of Quinn Evans Architects said. “Audiences will also come away with a greater appreciation for the architecture that architect Albert Kahn gave us with his original design. We hope the community will feel this is a home run.”

Sound and light locks, including an inner lobby on the first level, were added to dampen noise from outside the house. Ventilating equipment was moved from the basement to an addition at the north end to minimize sound infiltration in the house. New burgundy velour seating was also chosen with acoustics in mind.

Eric Hill, a vice president at Kahn Associates and project principal, said the challenge of the project was to devise plans that would accommodate new infrastructure and mechanicals while preserving the historical integrity of the building.

Access for the disabled
Two elevators were installed and barrier-free seating increased from six to 38 spaces on the orchestra and mezzanine levels. A ramping system and a new cross-aisle on the main level improve circulation and provide access to the stage. The alterations to meet code to achieve access, minimize sound and increase lobby space reduced the house capacity from 4,169 to 3,600.

Air conditioning, sprinkler and fire alarm systems were provided, and audiovisual systems, performance lighting, house lighting, power and communications systems were replaced.

The organ display pipes at the back of the stage have been restored to the gold bronze color of their first installation in Hill. The terracotta, limestone and brick exterior was repairs as necessary, and the geometrically-patterned tapestry brick plaza fronting the main entrance was rebuilt and restored.

Above the ceiling, catwalks were installed to improve safety and allow better access for maintenance, such as lighting.

Associate Vice President for Facilities and Operations Henry Baier oversaw the project for the University. The project team consists of: architect-of-record, Albert Kahn Associates, Inc.; design architect, Quinn Evans Architects; interior decoration, Mariuca Brancoveanu; theatre consultant, Fisher Dachs Associates; acoustic consultant, Kirkegaard Associates; lighting designer, Gary Steffy Lighting Design; construction manager, The Christman Company.

For more information on Hill, visit

Contact: Joanne Nesbit
Phone: (734) 647-4418


Diane Brown
(734) 936-2323