The Archives of the Cincinnati's Historic Music Hall

Photo by Phillip Groshong

Early in 2003, the Society for the Preservation of Music Hall established a committee to research and catalog the history and archives of this venerable building. Robert Howes, a violist for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, was named chairman for this effort. Together with an assembled committee, significant progress has been made. The Cincinnati Museum Center's Historical Society Library has agreed to store and catalog the materials that are discovered and identified by the SPMH committee.

In early October, 2003 a display of some of the material assembled opened in display cases on loan from the Historical Society. It was located in the southeast corner of the second-floor balcony overlooking the foyer. Currently plans are underway for acquisition or construction of a permanent display case for rotating historic displays of Music Hall memorabilia and artifacts.

Most recently, materials acquired by SPMH's Archive Committee were used in the documentary Music Hall: Cincinnati Finds Its Voice.

If you have Music Hall historic materials, photographs or memorabilia and would like to donate it to SPMH, please contact SPMH at (513) 621-1919 or write to SPMH, 1241 Elm Street, Cincinnati, Ohio, 45202.

The links below are to articles from the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Cincinnati Post on the archive program.
Enquirer Editorial October 6, 2003
Post Article December 23, 2003


Cincinnati Enquirer Editorial
October 6, 2003

Historical exhibit: Cues concerts

Few buildings in Cincinnati have hosted as much local history as Music Hall, yet it took 125 years for some of that beloved hall's own history to be put on display there. This weekend, in this 125th anniversary year of the grand opening and Ohio's Bicentennial year, an inaugural selection from Music Hall's archives will go on exhibit just in time for weekend Bicentennial concerts by Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra.

Among the historic photographs and exhibit documents from Music Hall's earliest days under construction is a recent discovery - a brief, hand-written note dated Jan. 27, 1876 from Ohio state Sen. Joshua H. Bates to an official of the newly formed Cincinnati Music Hall Association:

"The House has just passed the Springer Hall bill," Bates wrote.

Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra violist Robert Howes found the note in some cardboard boxes at the Society for the Preservation of Music Hall's offices. Howes, who has made an avocation of researching the history of concert halls, believes Music Hall's great benefactor Reuben Springer and other contributors must have discovered in the course of trying to incorporate that Ohio law had not provided for a non-profit corporation devoted to music. Thus the need to pass a "Springer Hall bill," which not only put all Ohio concert halls that followed on a sound legal basis but also authorized incorporating symphony orchestras and other arts groups throughout the state. It was surely one of the earliest statutes of its kind in the United States.

The Springer Hall bill amended Ohio's law to include corporations for such additional purposes as "the preservation and exhibition of works of art" and "encouraging and cultivating a taste for music."

The amendment was enacted April 11, 1876, and two years later, in May 1878, Music Hall opened with a dazzling May Festival. As exhibit documents show, Music Hall founders "fast-tracked" construction.

The Society for the Preservation of Music Hall is partnering with Cincinnati Historical Society at the Museum Center to prepare the Music Hall exhibits and keep them fresh and changing every few months. Howes has agreed to serve as archivist documenting the selections. The exhibit space will be located on the southeast corner of the second-floor balcony overlooking the foyer.

The inaugural exhibit, starting this weekend, also includes records of that construction-era dilemma - Music Hall's bones. The concert hall was built on the site of Cincinnati's common burial grounds. Construction unearthed human remains, and heated squabbles ensued with the city and Health Department before the bones were finally and properly hauled away and construction could proceed. Some things never change.

The memorabilia are a fascinating addition to Music Hall's attractions, and a timely roll-out for the Bicentennial.

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Music Hall exhibits her secrets

By Mary Ellyn Hutton
Post music writer
December 23, 2003

Music Hall has many secrets.

But it is slowly giving them up.

The grand dame of Elm Street, 125 years old this year, is the subject of an exhibit in the gallery overlooking the Music Hall foyer.

The inaugural display, continuing through January, is about the building of Music Hall.

"It was logical for the first exhibit to be connected with the 125th anniversary," said Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra violist Robert Howes, chairman of archives for the Society for the Preservation of Music Hall and prime mover of the project.

"We set up a partnership with the (Cincinnati) Historical Society this past summer and we've been working very closely with them."

In charge for the CHS is archives manager Anne Kling of the CHS Library at the Museum Center at Union Terminal.

The exhibit is located in the southeast corner of the gallery in three display cases on loan from the Museum Center.

With track lighting installed by the SPMH, the space will become a permanent feature of the hall.

The inaugural exhibit contains:

Historic photographs, including one of the original interior of the Music Hall auditorium.

Architecture books with design sketches for Music Hall (on loan from architectural historian Walter Langsam).

A journal of correspondence and a cash book kept during the construction of the main hall.

Documents regarding the disposition of human remains found at the site (Music Hall was built over a 19th-century potter's field).

The program of the 1878 May Festival, inaugural event in the new the hall.

A 19th-century flute and two piccolos on loan from the CSO.

The selection was made by a committee headed by Howes, with "heavy hitters" Langsam, Mac Justice and Louis Thomas (ex officio).

Justice is a retired teacher of English at Western Hills High School and "an excellent person for doing research," said Howes.

Thomas, retired professor of history at Northern Kentucky University, is author of a history of the CSO from its founding until 1931.

"Most of the documents in this exhibit I found in a couple of cardboard boxes in the SPMH offices," said Howes, a student of the history of American concert halls who is writing a book on the subject.

"I got word around to the staff and they started telling me about other places where there were historical materials, such as old scrapbooks, file drawers full of office correspondence going back to 1905, that kind of thing. We just started snooped around and accumulating things."

One of things Howes turned up, a hand-written note on a little slip of paper dating from 1876, clinched a piece of Music Hall history. "It has been fairly well known that Reuben Springer (primary benefactor of Music Hall) may have developed the modern concept of the matching fund. He came up with a certain amount of money ($125,000) and said the public had to meet it dollar for dollar or he was going to pull out."

It appears that he also brought about tax exemption for non-profit organizations, at least in Ohio, said Howes.

"Springer's other stipulation was that Music Hall had be tax exempt, but to do that, they had to incorporate. Then they discovered that there was nothing in state law that allowed an organization like the Music Hall Association to incorporate. They had to pass legislation."

On that little slip of paper -- "which could have ended up in a waste basket at some point during the past 125 years" -- was a note from a state senator to Julius Dexter of the MHA saying 'The House has just passed the Springer Hall bill.'"

Everything of historical significance found in connection with the Music Hall exhibits is being transferred to the CHS "and becomes their property," Howes said.

"We decided to do that instead of setting up our own archives."

The next exhibit, planned for February, will be on the founding of the College of Music of Cincinnati in 1878. Initially housed in Dexter Hall at Music Hall (now Corbett Tower), the College of Music later moved to its own building on Central Parkway. (It merged with the Cincinnati Conservatory in 1955, becoming the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music in 1961.)

The turnover period will be every two to three months. There will be future exhibits on Music Hall tenants such as the Cincinnati Opera and May Festival.

Ideas are no problem, said Howes. "They keep popping out of our heads like popcorn."

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