Severance Hall, the permanent home of the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra, was built between 1929 and 1931. Its completion represents over $7 million in donations from both the Cleveland public and heavy weight philanthropists, as well as a land grant from the Western Reserve Society. Influential people such as John D. Rockefeller, Dudley Blossom and William Bingham III donated huge sums of money toward the Hall, but the man who shouldered the brunt of the cost was Mr. John Long Severance. To Severance, the Hall was akin to the Taj Mahal. Upon its completion in 1931, Severance Hall was dedicated to Elizabeth “Bessie” Dewitt Severance, the beloved wife of John L. Severance, who died shortly after the couple pledged the original $1 million to the cause.
The burden of building and planning the Hall was given to the architectural firm Walker and Weeks. Construction alone cost around $2.6 million, with the remainder of the $7 million dedicated to furnishing, decoration, acoustic technology, and the endowment fund that would keep the Hall both beautiful and state of the art. The building included a concert hall seating nearly 2,000, a chamber music hall seating 400, a pipe organ elevator as well as the 6,025-pipe Ernest Skinner organ, a recording studio, a grand foyer, and interestingly an internal automobile drive-way leading to the parking lot. This drive-way was closed, and then turned into a restaurant in 1941. In 1958 the stage was completely rebuilt, a shell added to benefit the acoustics of the Hall, and concert hall stripped of most wall hangings and some of the carpeting; resulting in a richer sound.
It was decided that Severance Hall should closely resemble the Art Museum (situated on the north side of Wade Park) in its exterior, but would have an interior unlike any ever seen before. The result was a Georgian/Neo-Classical style building built of Ohio sandstone and Indiana limestone, in complementary shades of white and off-white. Inside is an eclectic mix of inspiration from Victorian, Egyptian, classical and ornamental styles and a recurring motif that reflected Mrs. Severance’s love of the lotus flower. From the ornate silver flowering and blue jewel tones in the grand auditorium, to the gold and bronze leaf design in the atrium, nature is very much at home in this “musical wonder of wood and steel”.