Kleinhans Music Hall
(North and Porter Streets at Richmond Avenue)
Concert goers who attend performances at Kleinhans Music Hall don’t merely hear the outstanding performances of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. Instead, the music envelopes listeners and one is drawn into the performance, whether classical or pops, traditional or contemporary.
Kleinhans proudly proclaims that the acoustical and lighting research which preceded the hall’s design and construction made it “one of the finest in the world,” and adds that the main auditorium“was considered one of the greatest architectural and acoustical achievements of its time.” It is not an exaggeration to say that there isn’t a bad seat in the house, from the front row to the balcony. In addition, unobtrusive lighting creates an atmosphere of warmth and comfort.
The music hall is the legacy of men’s clothier Edward Kleinhans as a memorial to his wife, Mary Seaton Kleinhans, and his mother, Mary Livingston Kleinhans. Edward and Mary Kleinhans died in 1934 within months of each other. They left their estate of about $1 million to build a music hall “for the use, enjoyment and benefit of the People of the City of Buffalo.”
Courtesy Full Circle Studios
The music hall was designed by the father-and-son team of Eliel and Eero Saarinen in what has been called a modern, neo-expressionist or International style. Their selection to design the music hall continued a Buffalo tradition of being able to attract the greatest architects of the time to create its buildings. The two designed some of the outstanding structures of the 20th century—Eero designed Washington’s Dulles International Airport and the St. Louis Gateway Arch—achieving recognition as being among the greatest of the experimental architectural designers.
Buffalo architects F.J. and W.A. Kidd were selected to oversee the music hall’s construction. The Saarinens created the graceful contours of the building’s exterior, and the Kidds carried out the interior designs according to the Saarinen plan.
The interior and exterior lines are smooth, curvilinear and sweeping, suggesting music in its motion and flow. The exterior is faced with Ohio Wyandotte brick interspersed with panels of veined sandstone.
The concert hall consists of two parts: the main auditorium that seats more than 2,800 people, and the Mary Seaton chamber music hall seating 900. The excellent acoustics in the auditorium are possible because the ceiling was built in a series of ridges and the plywood stage tilted slightly upward at the front in order to channel sound evenly to all corners of the auditorium.
The dedicatory concert was held October 12, 1940. Kleinhans Music Hall, a Buffalo Landmark, is on the National Register of Historic Places and in 1989 was declared a National Historic Landmark, a rare designation for a building less than 50 years old.
Symphony Circle, where Porter, Richmond and Pennsylvania Avenue and North Street converge, was part of the systems of parks and circles designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in the 1870s. By the 1890s, land surrounding The Circle, as it was then known, had been purchased by members of Buffalo society who built lavish mansions. But, with original owners passing from the scene beginning in the early 1920s, heirs became unable to maintain the properties.
The home of Buffalo industrialist-philanthropist Trueman Avery and his wife, Delia, both instrumental in The Circle’s development, was one of those properties. Their daughter, Lavinia McCormick Mitchell, offered the Avery mansion to the city for a nominal sum as a location for the new music hall. The site selection committee was impressed with the park-like beauty of The Circle and selected it over other proposed locations. The Avery mansion was taken down and Kleinhans Music Hall stands in its place on a three-acre parcel of land.
In 1958 The Circle was renamed Symphony Circle, associating its name with Kleinhans Music Hall and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.
David M. Rote, “Kleinhans Music Hall,” on the City of Buffalo Web site.
The Web site of Kleinhans Music Hall.
Chuck LaChiusa, “Buffalo as an Architectural Museum: Kleinhans Music Hall,”. Exterior and interior photographs are included in both the Kleinhans and LaChiusa Web sites.
Chris Brown, “The Light Has Returned,” a history of The Circle and its development, with pictures.