The building Town Hall calls home has been a fixture in the First Hill neighborhood for more than 100 years. The nonprofit organization hosts about 450 events a year, often with two sold-out events happening in one night. Thousands of people enter the Roman Revival building for a variety of programming. Events include those encouraging civic engagement and celebrity appearances, such as a talk with actor David Duchovny on his latest literary venture, “Bucky F*cking Dent.”
“It’s probably had more people come through in the 18 years of Town Hall than it did in the 82 years as a Christian Science Church,” Kevin Malgesini said. “It was a big congregation. It was a robust and active congregation, but a church is used differently.”
Malgesini is Town Hall’s advancement director and is looking forward to the next chapter for the organization. Earlier this year staff moved into office space across the street so crews could come in and begin revitalizing the space. The 12-month project began in August.
While the building undergoes updates, Town Hall has moved its programming to community centers, churches and arts centers around the city. The “Inside Out” year gives staff an opportunity to build stronger bonds with community organizations and be inclusive.
“It’s one thing to believe that every community should have access to these things and that this is a shared community resource for everyone,” Malgesini said. “It’s another thing to do a really good job making sure individual communities know, ‘No, we mean you, this is also your resource.’”
The building is a local and national historic landmark, so there are limitations to what can be done. For instance, the terra-cotta façade must stay intact and the great hall upstairs cannot be divided into smaller rooms.
Many of the updates, such as seismic reinforcement, won’t be visible. But patrons will notice other additions. The plan calls for the installation of a modern elevator to enhance ADA accessibility, an acoustic reflector above the stage in the great hall to improve the acoustics of the vast space and an HVAC system. This will allow Town Hall to stay open all year rather than close in July and August because of the heat. The lobby level will also have 17 gender-neutral bathrooms.
“Given all the conversations around gender conformity and access it felt like the right move for an organization like Town Hall,” Malgesini said.
An additional lounge or performance area is also planned on the west side of the building. It will overlook a park planned for a later date.
The renovation isn’t going to be cheap. Individual donors, corporate giving and funds from the city of Seattle, King County and the state have brought in $22 million toward the total $28 million needed.
“It’s been incredible to see the way the community has stepped up,” Malgesini said. “We have been raising money since late 2013 or early 2014 and really focusing on bigger gifts to make sure we have the foundation we needed.”
Town Hall’s founder David Brewster created the organization to be a shared community resource. A place where every voice matters. Since its inception, Town Hall has grown to become an access point to arts and culture, science and music. It is connected to more than 200 organizations through partnerships.
Town Hall isn’t just a space reserved for brainstorming and highlighting issues the city is dealing with. It’s also a space to showcase local influencers who have an impact on those outside of the Emerald City. Malgesini is proud of bringing together writer and social justice activist Ijeoma Oluo and her brother Ahamefule Oluo, a musician and Town Hall’s first Artist in Residence. The event sold out and was streamed live online for those who couldn’t be there.
“Seattle is also producing really amazing voices that are having an impact on the national stage and that are driving the conversation. I think Ijeoma and Lindy (West) are two examples of that,” he said. “To see these two incredible women that have a perspective and a voice and are so incredibly articulate and clear about how they’re connecting with a broad audience. It’s really exciting to see.”
Lisa Edge is a Staff Reporter covering arts, culture and equity. Have a story idea? She can be reached at lisae (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Twitter @NewsfromtheEdge, Facebook
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