Last night, Town Hall Seattle officially opened its great hall to the public for the first time in two years. During the extensive renovations to the building, Town Hall has been outsourcing its programming to nearly fifty venues around the city, and now — after a few months' delay — the venue is entering a soft-launch period before the grand reopening this September.
Earlier this week, Town Hall's curator of lectures, Edward Wolcher, gave me a short tour of the venue. There's still some work to be done, but the new Town Hall is a top-to-bottom refresh that places the building firmly in the heart of Seattle's arts community. It's always been a stately building, but now Town Hall is a smarter, sleeker, and more versatile space than ever before.
Aside from the carpeting, fresh coat of paint, and new sound-enhancement features, the upstairs great hall is likely largely as you recall it. With the pews and the stained glass windows, it resembles nothing so much as a secular church. The hall can still hold roughly seven to eight hundred attendees, making it one of the largest reading spaces in the city.
But though the Great Hall has stayed the same, the spaces surrounding it on the main floor have completely changed. For one thing, in what might be the most popular new addition for many Town Hall attendees, there are almost twenty new unisex bathroom stalls on the main floor. For another, the bar area has been expanded, offering visitors a space to pause with friends before or after a show.
There's also a new mid-size reading space off to the side of the main floor which offers Town Hall an opportunity to experiment with a new size of programming. The well-lit room, which seats less than a hundred, could be an excellent space for post-reading community discussions, or pre-reading events that give up-and-coming local talent a stage.
The downstairs space at Town Hall is virtually unrecognizable. What formerly looked like a church basement — I mean that in the warmest way possible — is now a highly adaptable space called The Forum that can expand or contract to meet any event's special requirements. In one corner of the room is a small bar and cafe area. Along the other wall are bookshelves that will soon house books written by Town Hall authors, which can be sealed off into its own small venue called "The Library."
It's remarkable what Town Hall has achieved with this remodel. They've taken two excellent spaces and evolved them into a series of modular venues that can comfortably house any event from a chamber music concert to an intimate poetry reading to a New York Times bestselling author. It's quite possible that on any given night, Town Hall could comfortably house four different events for audiences ranging in size from 20 to 750 people.
The remodel is not completely done yet; the bars aren't yet open for business, and the outdoors plaza still has months to go before it's complete. But you'll want to stop by soon to get an idea of the possibility that the new Town Hall offers. This September, the venue will celebrate its official relaunch with a monthlong festival of events intended to celebrate the organization's past and future. All are welcome.