Snøhetta will lead a $100 million revamp of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra’s Powell Hall

Midtown Makeover

Snøhetta will lead a $100 million revamp of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra’s Powell Hall

Built in 1925 as an extravagant movie palace and vaudeville house, Powell Hall has been home to the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra since 1968. (Paul Sableman/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

In January 1968, the then-88-year-old St. Louis Symphony Orchestra—the second oldest symphony orchestra in the United States—moved into its current home at Powell Hall on Grand Boulevard in Midtown St. Louis after a $2 million renovation of what was previously an opulent, Rapp & Rapp-designed 1925 movie palace named the St. Louis Theatre. In her New York Times assessment of the reimagined, acoustically reconstructed, and renamed space, Ada Louise Huxtable deemed Powell Symphony Hall to be a “fortuitous blend of happy accident, tradition and theatrical magic,” noting: “The Hall is a bold experiment in the conversion of a movie theater at a time when the building of extravagant new cultural centers has reached epidemic proportions in the United States.”

Fifty-five years later, Powell Hall will undergo another major transformation. This time, the historic building will not be converted for new use but rather be renovated and expanded for the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO). Snøhetta has been selected to lead the design of the $100 million overhaul, which is timed to coincide with the centennial of the building in 2025.

While the 65,000-square foot expansion will reduce the hall’s audience capacity from 2,689 to 2,150 when the 1960s-era seating section is wholly replaced, the project will yield new amenities and resources for both visitors and performers, including a multifaceted education and resource center and dedicated rehearsal spaces for SLSO ensembles. Accessibility throughout Powell Hall will be improved while the venue’s backstage spaces will be upgraded and expanded. New dressing rooms, storage areas, and media/recording suites are also in the works as are a new entrance lobby and public plaza that, per Snøhetta, “creates an open and welcoming gateway to Powell Hall.”

facade of a historic theatre building
The nearly 100-year-old Powell Hall, previously the St. Louis Theatre, is one of several landmark buildings in St. Louis’s Midtown Historic District that have been adapted for new use. (Paul Sableman/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

The neoclassical venue, which as noted by St. Louis Public Radio has only received “minor upgrades” since the SLSO renovated the space and moved in 1968, will also get new soundproofing and insulation.

While the revamp of Powell Hall promises dramatic and long-needed changes, the historic character of the designated St. Louis Landmark (it is also a contributing property to the National Register of Historic Places-listed Midtown Historic District) will be preserved and renovation work to the famously ornate interiors will be carried out with a judicious approach, according to Snøhetta.

“We can say that the expansion is very respectful, both architecturally as well as just in size and scale,” Snøhetta project manager Takeshi Tornier told St. Louis Public Radio. “The challenge is really to improve it where we can without changing it drastically, and really treating it very respectful.”

In a statement, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra President and CEO Marie-Hélène Bernard made a similar pledge, stating: “We will preserve the history of Powell Hall while also creating a hub for community, innovation, and powerful music experiences.”

ornate lobby of a symphony hall with chandeliers
Powell Hall is known for its baroque interiors, including a grand foyer modeled after the chapel at the Palace of Versailles, preserved from its days as a grand movie palace. (David Ackerman/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

“The project will improve every aspect of the audience and artist experience and will better support our mission as performer and educator, enriching lives through the power of music and fostering a sense of belonging for everyone,” she added.

The St. Louis Cultural Resource Office’s Preservation Board will review SLSO’s plans at its March 28 meeting, as Bernard told St. Louis Public Radio. SLSO first acquired the building in 1966 after it had sat empty for several years following the closure of the St. Louis Theatre. The lauded renovation of the venue, led by St. Louis-based Wedemeyer, Cernik & Corrubia in collaboration with theater architect Ben Schlanger and acoustician Cyril Harris, took one year to complete. The orchestra, long without a permanent home, had previously performed at the 1934 Kiel Opera House, now known as Stifel Theatre.

As detailed by Snøhetta in a news release, joining the firm in its role as project lead and design architect are architect of record Christner Architects, Chicago-based theatre planning consultant Schuler Shook, Kirkegaard, also based in Chicago, as acoustics, noise, and vibration control consultant, and BSI Constructors as construction manager. Both Christner Architects and BSI Constructors are based in St. Louis.

Construction work is anticipated to kick off next January with the SLSO targeting a January 2025 completion date—just in time for Powell Hall’s 100th birthday, which at that point, will have been the SLSO’s home for 57 years. The launch of a capital campaign to raise funds for the project is forthcoming.