Renovation underway on Buffalo’s Kleinhans Music Hall designed by Eliel and Eero Saarinen

Sounds of Saarinen

Renovation underway on Buffalo’s Kleinhans Music Hall designed by Eliel and Eero Saarinen

Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo, New York, is undergoing a restorative revamp. (Courtesy Office of Governor Kathy Hochul and Empire State Development)

Construction is now underway on the $21 million renovation of the aging Kleinhans Music Hall, a performance venue in Buffalo, New York, designed by father and son architect duo Eliel and Eero Saarinen in 1939. The performance space is getting an economic boost from the state, as New York Governor Kathy Hochul previously announced the project would receive $8 million from the Fiscal Year 2023 budget and an additional $1 million in grant funding from the Empire State Development Corporation.

Kleinhans Music Hall, a behemoth circular building with a drum-like appearance, overlooks a reflecting pool in downtown Buffalo. It opened its doors in 1940 and has been used as a music hall and performance venue ever since. It serves as the main concert and practice stage for the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as numerous other local music and cultural organizations, including the Just Buffalo Literary Center’s Babel Series, Buffalo Chamber and Music Society, and nearby schools. The complex is named in honor of Mary Seaton Kleinhans, the wife of the late Edward L. Kleinhans. Upon their deaths, the couple, who owned an eponymous men’s clothing store in Buffalo, requested that their entire estate be used for the construction of a music hall. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1989.

“The arts are critical to economic growth and community health in New York State, and Kleinhans is a vital cultural force in Western New York,” Governor Hochul said. “For decades, Kleinhans Music Hall, where my family and I have enjoyed countless evenings in the audience, has drawn visitors with its reputation for being one of the finest concert halls in the world. This project allows us to continue to make Kleinhans a modern welcoming place for visitors to experience top quality entertainment and culture for decades to come.”

Annually, Kleinhans hosts nearly 200 events, with the total annual attendance nearing 200,000. The hall comprises two performance stages and reception halls. The main auditorium holds 2,400 seats, down from the original 2,839 following a 2015 renovation, while the smaller space the Mary Seaton Room accommodates up to 700.

auditorium with seating
(Courtesy Office of Governor Kathy Hochul and Empire State Development)

While the exterior and interior are without ornamentation and windows, the primarily beige-shaded design is acoustically sound and allows for an intimate experience in a large space. After over 80 years of use and piecemeal renovations, the building is in need of extensive work to its exterior, interior, mechanics, and roof.

Planned work on the exterior includes the installation of a new roof to replace the current one installed 40 years ago, replacing the liner on the reflecting pool, and swapping out the old windows. Exterior rejuvenation effort also entails reapplying paint and repairing plasterwork. Interior overhauls include upgrades to the steam boiler, HVAC, fire systems, and security mechanisms. These mechanical upgrades will allow for a more environmentally responsible building that saves energy—and money.

Funding for the treasured building’s renovation will also come from numerous local sources including the City of Buffalo, Erie County, Assemblyman Jon Rivera, and private donations. Of the needed $21 million, $3 million will be set aside to “build an endowment” for Kleinhans Music Hall to support future maintenance and programming.

“As stewards of this magnificent building in partnership with the City, we are delighted that Governor Hochul has made this incredible commitment to this important project,” Daniel Hart, Kleinhans Director said in a statement. “This support, along with that of our other partners including the City of Buffalo and Erie County, has quickly transformed this effort from a dream to reality. Speaking for our Kleinhans Board of Directors, we believe the most important thing we can is to preserve and enhance the building so it can continue to be enjoyed for generations to come. This day represents a true milestone to that end.”