Cooler, fresher, brighter: Memorial Hall makeover now complete

Posted at 6:00 AM, Dec 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-02 06:21:14-05

CINCINNATI -- Perhaps it’s finally Memorial Hall’s time to shine.

Built in 1908 as a monument to honor Ohio’s veterans of the Civil War, the building at 1225 Elm St. once more commonly known as the Hamilton County Memorial Building has long been overshadowed by its much larger neighbor just to the north, Music Hall.

Memorial Hall Manager Joshua Steele estimates that renovating the building has been the subject of some discussion since the 1980s. But it’s only now that the turn-of-the-century building has received a much-needed update. 

Renovated Memorial Hall opens on Friday. (Terry Helmer | WCPO)

After being closed for more than a year, Memorial Hall opens its enormous steel doors to the public Friday.

“All of the aesthetics of the building have been significantly cleaned up,” Steele said. “All of the plaster work, all of the fabulous paint work has been really meticulously restored.

“One thing I like to point out to people when they come in is that there’s no wallpaper in this building. Everything you see on the wall is hand-painted, which is fantastic.”

The beautification of the building is an important facet of the $11 million renovation. Visitors familiar with the building will notice immediately when they see the more brightly colored ballroom walls on the first floor.

The most noticeable changes, though, are in the theater that occupies the second and third stories of the building. The stage has been extended and a backstage area was added, providing more options for live entertainment in the intimate venue. The theater’s lighting and sound systems have been modernized, and a new video projection system -- complete with a 20-foot screen -- was installed.

Revamped lighting is among the upgrades. (Terry Helmer | WCPO)

Not only will visitors get better production value, they’ll also get a more comfortable experience. The seating in the theater has been completely redone, now featuring wider, padded seats. And for the first time in its history, Memorial Hall now has air conditioning, finally providing a means to cool the building during hot summer days.

Other upgrades include an addition to the Grant Street-facing rear of the building to accommodate a freight elevator, and a modernized kitchen for events.

Steele envisions the theater being used for a variety of entertainment options, including films, lectures, stand-up comedy and family-oriented theatrical programming.

Although 3CDC has taken over the day-to-day operations of the building, the Memorial Hall Society will continue to plan some of the venue’s programming. The Society’s new Longworth-Anderson Series will bring in critically acclaimed musicians to Cincinnati, including Rosanne Cash with John Leventhal (Feb. 10), Pink Martini (March 9), Richard Thompson (April 7) and Sarah Jarosz (June 9).

“The series offers a winning combination of Grammy Award-winning performers and bands playing in a perfect jewel of a theater,” Memorial Hall Society Chairman Bill Baumann said. “This high-quality series will highlight the value of having this important historic building with its beautiful, intimate theater as part of our city’s cultural district around Washington Park.”

But there’s no need to wait for an opportunity to enjoy Memorial Hall. Every weekend in December and during the entire week of Christmas, the venue will host Brickmas, a holiday-themed Lego display. Children and adults alike will marvel at Lego recreations of some of the city’s most iconic structures, including Fountain Square, Music Hall, and of course, Memorial Hall.

Tickets to Brickmas are $10 per person, and includes free access to holiday movies being shown on the theater’s new projection system. 

The Brickmas display includes Lego versions of Memorial Hall and other Cincinnati landmarks. (Matt Koesters | WCPO contributor)