Before the Music
"A concert auditorium is a musical instrument."
Eliel Saarinen, architect
Conceived and designed in 1937-38 by Eliel Saarinen and his son, Eero Saarinen, Kleinhans' graceful and sweeping curves remain unique among the great concert auditoriums of the world. Without the statuary and ornate decors of the traditional European concert halls and opera houses, Kleinhans retains a decidedly 'modern look and feel.' The elegant refinement of the Hall's internal dimensions is often remarked, as the expansive curves embrace a large, fully suspended balcony.
However, before the music could begin, the Hall had to be built. A true saga developed, with political intrigues that nearly scuttled the effort. The history of "behind-the-scenes" events was thoughtfully preserved in the Fall of 1939 by Edward H. Letchworth, president of the Buffalo Foundation.
The Letchworh essay is an extensive, historic account in two parts: Part 1, The Buffalo Foundation, is presented below; we begin with Part 2, Kleinhans Music Hall.
One of the earliest and most faithful annual contributors to the work of the Buffalo Foundation was Mr. Edward L. Kleinhans. The idea back of its organization fascinated him. He often came to the Marine Trust Company main office and talked with George Rand about it, and about its possibilities for real service to the people of Buffalo. The flexibility of the plan and its adaptibility to so many different purposes especially appealed to him.
It was, therefore, but natural that when he died on February 2, 1934 he should in his will entrust the cherished dream of his wife and himself to the Buffalo Foundation to carry out. They were both great lovers of music, and having no children, decided to devote their estates to promoting the development and enjoyment of music by and for their fellow citizens. Mary S. Kleinhans died April 29, 1934, a few months after her husband. They both left wills, by the terms of which their entire residuary estates (as described in the will of Mr. Kleinhans) were bequeathed to "The Marine Trust Company of Buffalo as Trustee, in trust, for the uses and purposes contained in the resolution of such Trustee establishing the Buffalo Foundation, subject, however, to my express wish and direction, and I direct (subject to the limitations herein set forth) "that the corpus thereof be used to build and erect a suitable music hall in the City of Buffalo, New York, to be known as 'The Kleinhans Music Hall' in memory of my beloved mother and wife, which at such time as shall be deemed proper and suitable, shall be turned over to the City of Buffalo, New York, upon the express understanding that the same shall be perpetually known as 'The Kleinhans Music Hall' and upon such further conditions as my said Trustee may deem proper and advisable. Such music hall shall be for the use, enjoyment and benefit of the People of the City of Buffalo. Any surplus that may remain over shall be used to maintain such music hall."
Mrs. Kleinhans' will was the same except that it referred to the will of her husband. At the time the wills were probated, the principal asset in the two estates consisted of stock in the Kleinhans Company. This was sold by the Executor, with the approval of the Surrogate, to John Steuernagel, Mr. Kleinhans' former partner, and his successor as President of the Company, who gave his notes secured by the stock as collateral. The funds of the estate were carefully invested by the Trustee, and when the notes were finally paid, the assets and increased to approximately $1,000,000 in value, of which about $94,000 is subject to the life use of two beneficiaries.
Early in 1934, the Governing Committee of the Buffalo Foundation, took steps to prepare to carry out this trust. The Executive Secretary was instructed to secure data on music halls in other cities, and to assemble such other information as might be useful to the Governing Committee.
At the outset the Committee was subjected to much pressure, political and otherwise, to convert the music hall into a combined convention and music hall. On June 1, 1934, Mayor Zimmerman and several members of the City Council met with some of the members of the Governing Committee to urge the adoption of this plan. Following this conference, the Governing Committee appointed a sub-committee on the Kleinhans Music Hall, of which I was Chairman, Mrs. Carlton M. Smith, Reginald B.Taylor, George F. Rand and Miss Kerr the other members. This Committee was later authorized to add to its membership, and Judge Frank A. James, who had been personal counsel for Mr. and Mrs. Kleinhans, and had drawn their wills, Mrs. Gretchen Rand Penney, President of the Chromatic Club, and Edgar F. Wendt were added to the membership. This enlarged Committee held its first meeting on March 1, 1935, at which time Chauncey J. Hamlin presented plans for the construction of the music hall in Humboldt Park adjoining the Buffalo Museum of Science Building. He had had Edward B. Green prepare very complete and beautiful plans for the proposed building, and in connection with them submitted a carefully prepared preliminary statement and supplementary explanations.
At the same meeting the Committee discussed the proposed combination convention music hall, but felt that this did not come within the evident desire of the testators as expressed in their wills. We have never regretted this decision, and it was particularly fortunate since the city has been able to provide for a much more adequate convention hall as a separate P.W.A. project.
Other meetings of the Committee were held from time to time. Various music halls were visited by its members or representatives. Arthur M. See, Manager of the Eastman School of Music of Rochester, N.Y., Blake-More Godwin, Managr of the Toledo Museum of Art, and its music hall, the so-called "Peristyle", and C.J. Vosburgh, Manager of Severance Hall in Cleveland, all generously appeared before the Committee, explained the construction and method of operation of their music halls, and answered many questions propounded them by its members. Stenographic records of the testimony given by these men were carefully taken and distributed to the Committee members for their study and information, as well as plans and pictures of various halls. Mrs. Richard K. Noye visited the Bushnell Memorial Hall at Hartford, and reported to the Committee on the plans, construction and operation of that hall, the Assistant Director of which later came to Buffalo and gave the architects and some of the members of the Committee more detailed information.
The Committee also consulted numerous local authorities, including Mrs. Zorah Berry, Mr. Franco Autori, and Mr. Cameron Baird. The last named was Chairman of a Committee on the Kleinhans Music Hall appointed by the Buffalo City Planning Association, which rendered helpful service, especially on the question of selecting a site.
In the spring of 1938 two events occurred which, with unexpected suddenness brought the question of the construction of the new music hall to an issue. In the first place, the old Elmwood Music Hall, which for centuries, more or less, had been used by the music lovers of Buffalo as almost the only available public auditorium for symphony concerts, recitals, and the like, was condemned by the city, and its further use forbidden. The second event, occurring almost simultaneously with this, was the final liquidation of the notes of Mr. Steuernagel, who anticipated their maturity dates by several years. The Buffalo Foundation was therefore unexpectedly placed in funds to construct the music hall two or three years before it had anticipated that situation, and at the very moment when the construction of such a music hall was being imperatively demanded by the people of Buffalo.
Interest, especially among music lovers, first centered on the selection of a site. Ballots were taken at various concerts to show the preference of the patrons upon that question. Most of these favored the so-called "Rose Garden Site" in Delaware Park. Dozens of letters were received by the Committee from various individuals and particularly from east side singing societies and their members urging the adoption of the Humboldt Park site either as originally proposed by Mr. Hamlin, adjacent to the Museum of Science, or the alternative later suggested by him, at the east side of the park. The most violent opposition, however, developed around the proposal to erect the music hall on the Rose Garden Site in Delaware Park. This location was bitterly opposed by the residents in the neighborhood. Many other public-spirited citizens felt that it would be a mistake to use any park lands for this purpose, requiring the sacrifice of many beautiful trees. The feeling became so intense that I really dreaded meeting many of my best friends, and my mail was filled with letters urging approval or disapproval of one or the other of these two sites.
In analyzing the advantages and disadvantages of the various sites proposed, Dr. Walter Curt Behrendt, a member of Mr. Baird's Committee. rendered valuable aid. Upwards of 26 possible sites were submitted to our Committee for consideration. After giving all of them very careful study, our Committee recommended to the Governing Committee of the Buffalo Foundation, which recommendation the latter unanimously approved, that the Avery property, located on The Circle at the intersection of North Street, Richmond and Porter Avenues, and Pennsylvania Street, should be selected. This site was later approved by the Common Council of the City of Buffalo on July 19, 1938, after a largely attended public hearing at which sentiment was almost unanimously in favor of that location.
The following explanatory statement was issued by the Governing Committee at the time:
"The final decision of the Buffalo Foundation rejecting both of these proposed locations was based on the principle that public park property should be preserved in its natural beauty for recreation and not further encroached upon by public buildings. In taking this stand, The Buffalo Foundation is following the lead of Park Commissioner Robert Moses, who has successfully resisted numerous proposals to erect additional public buildings in Central Park in New York City, and is also following the unanimous recommendation of the Buffalo City Planning Board, which took definite action in opposition to the further use of our parks for such buildings. Our parks are already becoming overcrowded. With driveways and parking spaces, the Music Hall would occupy at least four acres of park property, which could accommodate hundreds of children and young people for sports and recreation.
"The Committee felt that the Avery site came nearest of any to those which were being considered to having the attractive qualities of spaciousness and beauty of a park location. Not only is its area of nearly three acres more than sufficient for the Music Hall, including a substantial amount for parking space, but it is bordered by magnificent elm trees, and will afford a beautiful setting for the Music Hall. The Circle is on main north and south and east and west bus routes and has much tourist and sightseeing traffic to and from the Peace Bridge. With the probable street widenings and improvements now being urged by the Buffalo City Planning Association, the Buffalo Planning Board, and many other organizations, The Circle will be even more easily reached than at present. The property is generously offered at the nominal price of $50,000, less than half its assessed valuation, and a mere fraction of its cost.
"The Governing Committee hopes that this choice will meet with the approval of the music lovers and the citizens of Buffalo. It feels that, as time goes on, even those who may not agree with it now will find that this beautiful setting in The Circle sill be most appropriate for the memorial to the Mother and Wife of Edward L. Kleinhans. The Committee is certain that the selection would have the hearty approval of both Mr. and Mrs. Kleinhans, whose marvelous generosity has made possible the erection of this splendid addition to the cultural life of our city."
Shortly before the action recited above, representatives of the Buffalo Foundation had entered into negotiations with the City and with the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works, generally known as P.W.A., for the purpose of working out a plan by which P.W.A. funds should be made available to assist in financing the cost of the music hall. Only by securing additional funds could an adequate and suitable hall be built and at the same time a substantial part of the Kleinhans money be conserved as an endowment, the income to be applied toward the maintenance of the hall.
Mr. Hamlin had suggested as early as 1935, at the time of his appearance before our Committee, that it might be possible to obtain some Federal funds to assist in the project. I had expressed to him the hope that this might be done. Mr. Hamlin made further investigations and used his influence to work out some way in which such a grant might be made. His efforts, however, were not successful, as he finally reported to me.
Our Committee continued to investigate the possibility of obtaining W.P.A. or P.W.A. grants, and on March 3, 1938, a full meeting of the Music Hall Committee was held, at which the advantages and disadvantages of the use of federal funds were discussed at length. The Executive Secretary presented a summary which she had prepared of the procedure indicated by the legislation which was then pending, and analyzing the various objections and advantages of such a course. Finally, the Committee unanimously voted to recommend to the Governing Committee that negotiations be undertaken with the City of Buffalo and the Federal authorities for a grant of such funds.
We recognized that we would have to surrender to a large extent our control over the plans, the contracts, and the use of the Hall; that every step would have to be subject to the approval of the City and of the P.W.A.; that the work would be more expensive because of the P.W.A. requirement that workmen must be hired from relief rolls when available; that the P.W.A. would probably claim political credit which in public estimation might be held to detract from the credit which should go to Mr. & Mrs. Kleinhans. We realized all these things. We also felt that it was doubtful whether under the terms of the will we had the legal right to transfer the title of the site and of the Hall to the City before we ourselves had completed it, and prescribed the conditions on which we would turn it over to the city, as contemplated by the wills. And we knew - or thought we knew - what patience we would have to exercise and what self-control, to go through with the proposition, hampered with the endless and senseless red tape of bureaucratic supervision and the exasperating interference and intolerable delays of petty political jobholders. All these things we considered. but we also knew that if we could submit to them and live through them, with proper safeguards to insure a beautiful adequate building, we could add $540,000 - over half a million dollars - to the Kleinhans gift - that such a sum is worth undergoing quite a bit of personal annoyance and assuming quite a few additional difficulties to secure - that Mr. Kleinhans, a shrewd businessman, would in all probability have been the first to recognize these facts, and to approach the problem realistically - so that in following that course we were probably doing what he would have wished under the circumstances, as well as securing a better Music Hall and a substantial endowment. Therefore, with the approval of the Surrogate, we construed the will liberally to permit us to carry out this plan, and deliberately surrendered our personal and official independence of action as the price of diverting half a million dollars of the huge sums being spent for "pump priming" to the cultural benefit of the citizens of Buffalo.
At a meeting held on April 22, 1938 I submitted a plan for P.W. financing based upon the bill which was then pending in Congress. This plan contemplated an application to be made by the City of Buffalo for an allotment of $1,000,000 of P.W.A. Funds, of which $450,000 would be an outright grant and $550,000 a loan for 50 years without interest, to be amortized at the rate of two per cent, or $11,000 a year.
It was proposed that the City and the Buffalo Foundation enter into a contract by which the Foundation would agree to cause the plans to be prepared and the building constructed under its supervision. After completion title to the hall was to be turned over to the City on condition that it be administered by a Board of 15 Trustees, 12 to be named by the Buffalo foundation and 3 ex officio representatives of the City of Buffalo, viz., the Mayor, the President of the Council and the Comptroller.
In May, 1938 I went to New York with Leston P. Faneuf, then Secretary to Mayor Holling, and had a conference with Col. Gilmore of the P.W.A. He was enthusiastic over the project and agreed that if the necessary legislation were passed, he would give our plan his hearty support.
When the bill finally became a law, however, it had been so changed that the original plan had to be substantially modified. Then occurred the first of a long series of changes and compromises necessitated first by the desire to obtain federal funds, and later by the fact that in the obtaining of such funds, even more than we had anticipated, we were compelled to surrender to a very large degree our independence of action and freedom of choice.
The original provision in the bill allowing a fifty-year loan without interest, to be amortized at the rate of 2 per cent a year was changed so as to provide only for a definite loan bearing interest. We were compelled to give up that part of our plan and to ask only the 45 per cent grant. We were next compelled to agree to transfer the site to the City of Buffalo before any construction started, as such a grant could be made to the City only for expenditure on city-owned property. In the third place we were compelled to organize a corporation to act as agent of the city and of the Buffalo Foundation for the construction of the music hall. All of these changes in the plan we made, and The Marine Trust Company of Buffalo as Trustee for the Buffalo Foundation submitted to the Common Council on June 30, 1938 a formal proposal, approved by the Mayor and the Corporation counsel, embodying the foregoing provisions and providing that the new corporation should be governed by a Board of Directors consisting (as originally contemplated for the Committee which was to operate the hall) of 15 members, of who 12 should be nominated by the Buffalo Foundation and three be city officials. In the meantime, the City had made formal application to P.W.A. for a grant of 45 per cent of the estimated coast of $1,500,000 and on July 11, 1938 word came from Washington that this grant had been approved by the P.W.A. On July 19, 1938 the Common Council accepted the proposal which with minor changes was approved by the Mayor on August 15, 1938.
On July 22, 1938 I went to Washington by appointment to submit the plan to the General Counsel for the P.W.A., Carl Farbach. I was accompanied by Leston P. Faneuf, the Mayor's Secretary, and by Elmer Stengel, Assistant Corporation Counsel of the City of Buffalo. We submitted to Mr. Farbach a proposed certificate of incorporation and by-laws for the new Kleinhans Music Hall, Inc. and a draft of a proposed contract between the Buffalo Foundation and the City of Buffalo for the construction and operation of the music hall by this corporation. In these various documents, the whole plan of procedure which had been agreed upon with the City was set forth, the principal points being that a corporation was to be organized to act as agent for the City and for the Foundation in the construction (and subsequent operation in perpetuity) of the music hall; that the directors of this corporation were to include three city officials, the remaining 12 being designated by the Buffalo Foundation; and that the plans should be prepared solely by the corporation. Mr. Farbach after reading all these papers and asking a few questions, said in reference to the proposed new corporation that he saw no reason why the city could not act through any agent it might select. He objected only to the provision by which the corporation was given the right to operate the hall in perpetuity. Later, after discussion of this subject with Mr. Larrabee, his assistant, and consultation with the other members of the Governing Committee and with The Marine, and with the Corporation Counsel in Buffalo, I agreed with Mr. Larrabee to modify this portion of the plan so as to permit the city to recapture the operations of the music hall from the corporation at any time upon giving a year's notice. This plan, Mr. Larrabee stated was perfectly satisfactory, and met the only objection which had been made.
Relying upon this statement, and having disclosed every step of the proposed arrangement to the highest legal authority in the P.W.A., we proceeded to incorporate the new corporation, entered into a contract with F.J. & W.A. Kidd to act as architects, employed a director at an annual salary, entered into a contract for the purchase of the Avery site for $50,000, and later on made another contract for the purchase of a small lot adjoining this site on the west, for $8,000
Apparently everything was now set, and nothing ahead but smooth sailing. In the meantime, the contracts as executed, precisely in the form which had been submitted to and approved by the General Counsel for the P.W.A. and his associate in Washington (except for the one change indicated above) were forwarded to Col. Gilmore, head of the New York regional office. For several weeks nothing was heard from them, and then one day early in September, the Mayor received a letter from one Louise McCarthy, the local counsel for the P.W.A. in the office of the New York Regional Director, stating very curtly that the form of the contract between the City of Buffalo and the Kleinhans Music Hall, Inc. was not satisfactory.
and Nearly Upsets the Apple Cart
I tried to get Mr. Farbach in Washington on the telephone, but he was away, and so I talked with Mr. Larrabee, the Assistant Counsel, and told him in no uncertain terms of the consternation into which this message had thrown us and our inability to believe that it could be true. He was equally astounded. I reminded him of our conference on July 22nd at which the whole subject ad been presented and approved with one exception, and of my subsequent telephone conversation with him when he had approved the proposed recapture clause as meeting that one objection. he said: "I remember it all perfectly and am at a loss to understand what can have happened. I think there must be a mistake, but I have been away and out of touch with the situation. I will investigate at once and let you know." This was nearly six weeks after the papers had been approved.
Mr. Larrabee did not call me, so after talking with Mr. Faneuf and Mr. Stengel, who were just as incredulous and upset as I had been, we three, dubbing ourselves The Three Musketeers, took the train for Washington once more.
After cooling our heels for about two hours in Farbach's office, we were finally ushered into the presence at about noon on Saturday, September 10th. It was the same room in which we had had our first conference with him, and Mr. Larrabee was again present, although very silent. I presented to Mr. Farbach the identical documents which we had submitted to him before, and reminded him of our previous conference and of his informal approval of the plan, with the one exception, and of our subsequent revision to meet this exception, which was approved over the telephone by Mr. Larrabee. Farbach stated in substance that he did not pretend to go so far at our previous meeting as to approve our papers, - that in fact he had only glanced at them hastily. A most uncomfortable half hour ensued, especially so for Mr. Farbach, although our mounting indignation made us almost as red in the face as he was. To make a long story short, the interview ended by his stubbornly refusing to recognize his previous approval of our plan.
For a while it looked as though he would turn down the entire program. The argument grew pretty warm until finally Farbach stated that he would give the matter his careful consideration over Sunday and let us have by Monday or Tuesday at the latest some suggested revision of the plan which he could approve. He stated that he would insist that a majority of the Board of Directors of the corporation be city officials. With this somewhat discouraging prospect, we were ushered out and came back to Buffalo.
On Monday we had a hurried conference with the members of the Governing Committee to determine whether we should acquiesce in this new demand and surrender control of the corporation to city officials. We went over the whole question again in great detail. Once more, with great reluctance, we swallowed our pride and voted to surrender still more of our independence of action. In spite of Mr. Farbach's promise, no word came from him all the week, so the following Friday night, the Three again set out for Washington. We arrived there on Saturday morning, September 17th, and this time Congressman Beiter made an appointment for us to see Secretary Ickes, head of the P.W.A. When we reached his ante-room, we found Mr. Farbach waiting to see him on the same matter. He appeared somewhat nonplussed when he saw us with Mr. Beiter, particularly as Mr. Beiter told him what he thought of the attitude of the P.W.A. toward people who were trying to give the City of Buffalo a million dollars!
Mr. Farbach then stated that if we would agree that a majority of the directors of the Kleinhans Music Hall should be city officials, he would approve the plan. I said that we would agree to this and amend the by-laws of the Kleinhans Music Hall so as to provide for such a majority representation. Upon this assurance from him, and my agreement to do this one thing, which we naturally assumed was all that he would require, we were ushered into Secretary Ickes' presence. Congressman Beiter advised the Secretary that we had come to an amicable understanding on the whole matter and would immediately begin the construction of the music hall.
We then adjourned to Mr. Farbach's office and agreed with him upon the necessary changes in the by-laws which I undertook to prepare. Thereupon, to our amazement, Mr. Farbach announced that that took care of everything so far as it went, but that he must still amend the construction contract to provide for guarantees that after construction the music hall would be operated by the City of Buffalo, and must prepare a deposit agreement regulating the disbursement of the money. Departing entirely from the statement which he had made outside Secretary Ickes' office, and disregarding our protest, he said that the terms of the contract of July 29th providing for operation by The Kleinhans Music Hall, Inc. subject to the right of recapture by the City at any time on a year's notice was wholly unsatisfactory. He undertook to prepare a form of contract which would meet his objections and told us to return that afternoon.
Late in the afternoon, after sweltering for hours in our hotel room, we again trooped to his office with Congressman Beiter, but were met by the statement that he had been too busy to give further thought to the matter. He agreed, however, to have something to submit to us by seven o'clock. We waited until that time, only to be advised that he had still been unable to draft the agreement, but would do so on Sunday. All Sunday morning we waited to be called. Finally, about three o'clock Sunday afternoon he sent for us and submitted his proposition.
The new arrangement was very complicated. It provided for two contracts, one covering the construction of the music hall and the other providing for a joint deposit account in which we were required to deposit at once our full 55% of the estimated cost, and in which the P.W.A. money would later be deposited. All sums were to be subject to check, but only by checks surrounded with so many technical requirements, - vouchers, certificates and legal opinions and waivers of mechanic's lien, that it would have been actually an impossibility to operate under the arrangement. Under the construction contract, all plans and contracts must be approved by the City and by the P.W.A. and must be let in accordance with the terms of the City Charter. The contract, however, does not specifically provide that the City cannot operate the music hall through a corporation after construction, though it does provide that the City shall always retain title and the control of the Hall. Believing that this leaves the City free to work out a satisfactory arrangement with the Buffalo Foundation for the operation of the hall after completion similar to that embodied in the first contract, we agreed to accept this new contract, insisting, however, that a clause be added providing that plans and specifications and all contracts must be approved by the Buffalo Foundation as well as by The Kleinhans Music Hall, Inc., the City and the P.W.A.
The requirements surrounding the drawing of each check proved so unworkable that the New York office of the P.W.A. itself was compelled to work out with us a somewhat simplified procedure, which after much delay, was finally approved in Washington. We are therefore at last able to draw checks against our own money without being compelled to meet what otherwise would have been virtually impossible requirements.
The delays which occurred before this plan was worked out were so intolerable that I finally made another personal trip to New York to get the New York office to approve vouchers permitting us to draw our own money to pay for the site in order to avoid a default under our contracts.
While Mr. Boland in Washington was fiddling with the new contracts and the amended by-laws, which I had sent him promptly, our time to start work was running. The deadline was October 14th. On September 22nd I wired him that we were still without authority fro the New York office to advertise for bids to demolish the buildings on the site and that we must start advertising immediately if work was to start before the 14th. The next day a wire came from Mr. Boland stating that he had talked with Farbach in Chicago, who was wiring me immediately. Nothing was ever heard from Farbach, however, and several long distance telephone calls were equally ineffective. The matter was finally straightened out only by a personal call which I made at the New York office of the P.W.A. on September 28th.
I was informed on one occasion by telephone from Washington that certain papers had been mailed to me air mail the day before. Upon my expressing surprise that they had not then reached me and asking how they were addressed, I was assured that they had been addressed to me personally. These papers finally reached me two days later, through the regular mail, addressed to the Corporation Counsel, and postmarked in Washington the night of the day on which I had telephoned! This is just a single illustration of the pace at which everything moved and the impossibility of discovering what was actually being done.
It was not until October 7th that the papers were finally in form to permit the Common Council to approve the revised offer of the P.W.A. embodying all of these changes. On October 11th the directors of The Kleinhans Music Hall, Inc. met and adopted the new by-laws. All but five of the representatives of the Buffalo Foundation, resigned, and three additional city directors were elected, thus carrying out our agreement to make a majority of the Board officials of the City of Buffalo.
On October 18th, 1938, however, for one day, we put aside all of our doubts and worries to celebrate the formal breaking of ground for the new Music Hall. Col. Gilmore, Regional Director of Region No. 1 of the P.W.A., including New York State, came to Buffalo with some of his staff. In the presence of members of the Common Council and an interested group of citizens, Col. Gilmore and the Mayor turned the first spadefuls of earth on the Avery site. A band played. Speeches were make. Mrs. Lavinia Avery Mitchell made symbolic livery of seisin, transferring the title of the property to the City of Buffalo by handing Mayor Holling a branch resplendent with gorgeous autumn leaves, taken from one of the trees. Later an enthusiastic crowd of about two hundred representative citizens assembled at luncheon to hear speeches praising the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Kleinhans, and in somewhat louder terms, of the Democratic administration and the P.W.A., in making possible such a splendid project for the City. With irony running true to form, this ceremony was staged at the request of the P.W.A. while they were still refusing to permit us to draw checks on our own money to pay for the very property on which they were so dramatically digging the first spadefuls of earth!
From time to time architects submitted plans to us voluntarily, until we had about half a dozen. Some people advised us to choose the design by a regular competition, conducted under the rules of the American Institute of Architects. Others strongly advised against such procedure, saying that we should select an architect in whom we had confidence, and then follow his advice. We gave long consideration to this problem, finally determining not to have a general competition. On May 5, 1938, the Governing Committee of the Foundation, approving a recommendation of the Music Hall Committee, appointed F.J. and W.A. Kidd of this city architects for the new Music Hall.
At about this time I formed an informal advisory committee consisting of Mr. Franklyn Kidd, Miss Sara Kerr, and Miss Esther Link. Miss Kerr, Executive Secretary of the Buffalo Foundation, was invaluable as a member of this committee. She has a thoroughly trained mind, an almost uncanny efficiency in working with and through other people, and an unusual ability to analyze intricate situations. As she had been secretary to the Kleinhans Music Hall Committee throughout its existence, she was familiar with the mass of material which it had collected, and with the background and development of all the various questions and problems which it had considered.
Miss Link has an unusual combination of the qualities which we required. A graduate of Mt. Holyoke College, with some twenty years' experience in teaching music in the Buffalo High Schools, she had a thorough musical education and a fine cultural background. In her long association with Pitt Petri, Inc., she had had much experience in designing and redesigning stores. She can read a musical score or an architect's blueprint with equal facility. Our subsequent employment of Saarinen and acceptance of his beautiful design for the Hall would never have occurred except for her vision and persistence.
At a meeting of the Kleinhans Music Hall directors held August 25, 1938, the Board appointed Miss Link Acting Director of the Music Hall for a year, at a regular salary, and requested the Board of Education to give her a leave of absence without pay for that period, which request was granted.
Our informal committee had frequent discussions regarding the type of architecture to be adopted, and whether or not to employ a consultant architect. Kidd said that he did not favor these ultra-modern architects, though he submitted designs which he called "modern classical". From our discussions and studies it became evident to me that there were two different styles of architecture, or methods of approach to the designing of a building, - the classical, and the so-called functional.
In its more moderate aspects, functionalism is the approach to the designing of a building without any preconceived picture of the outside. It first decides what is wanted in a building and where the building is to be located, and then permits these decisions to determine largely the shape and form of the building. Thus it frequently has different levels in the same building. It grows out of the uses to which the building is to be put instead of beginning with a picture of the front of the building or a geometric layout of its structure. Classic architecture, on the other hand, in its strict sense, means developing something artistic according to set rules and an established pattern. A classic temple is distinguished by pillars, pediment, rectangular shape and stairs. If it is different, it is not a classic temple. Functional architecture is informal. It does not follow any fixed pattern, but its pattern is developed by evolution from the particular uses to which the particular building is to be put. Instead of designing first the form and then making the function or use fit into and be limited by the requirements of the form, the function and use are first fully developed, unhampered by the form, which is then adapted to their requirements. that is what is meant by the well-known motto of the American pioneer of functional architecture, Louis Henry Sullivan - "Form Follows Function."
We frequently considered the advisability of retaining a consulting or designing architect. Kidd agreed with us that the approach to the design should be functional, not purely classical, and suggested the names of several architects. We considered, among others, Paul Cret, who designed the Folger Memorial in Washington, William Lescaze, the French-Swiss who did the Philadelphia National Bank building, and Philip Goodwin, architect for the new Museum of Modern Art.
At one of our early sessions, the first part of July, the name of Eliel Saarinen was brought up. I think Kidd was the first to mention him. At any rate, Kidd said he had met Saarinen, and admired him greatly. Miss Link had seen the railroad station in Helsingfors which he designed and was enthusiastic about it. Kidd told us the dramatic story of how he came to be known in America.
In 1922, to celebrate its diamond Jubilee, the Chicago Tribune decided to erect a new office building and to select the design by an international competition among architects. 263 sketches were submitted from 23 countries. The first prize of $50,000 was awarded to John Mead Howells and Raymond M. Hood of New York City. The second prize of $20,000 was awarded to Eliel Saarinen of Helsingfors, Finland. In the report of the Jury of Award regarding the design submitted by Saarinen it is stated that after two ballots had been taken by the Committee and all but 12 designs eliminated, two days before the foreign entries were to close a design was received from Finland "of such astonishing merit" that the Jury unanimously awarded it second place. The report further stated that this design was of such unusual beauty and showed such a remarkable understanding of the requirements of an American office building as to compel its being awarded second prize on its self-evident merit. Although the Committee praised his design above all the others, they awarded him second prize only possibly because of the difficulties inherent in the distance between his home and Chicago, where the building was to be erected.
With this prize, Mr. Saarinen decided to come to America with his wife and children and see the country which had treated him so well. He came. Kidd remembered meeting him at a big banquet in New York given in his honor by the American Institute of Architects. Everybody was captivated by his modesty, his quiet humor, his simplicity. He was offered and accepted a position with the University of Michigan to lecture on Architecture and City Planning.
A short time later he was given a fine position with the heavily endowed Booth Foundation, which maintains several schools at Cranbrook, Michigan. He is now President of the School of Architecture there and personally designed and constructed all the new buildings for the boys school, the girls school, and the museum of science. Every summer he goes back to Finland, where he owns a large estate and has many friends, including a very warm one by the name of Sibelius.
We were greatly impressed with all that we learned about Mr. Saarinen and at once made enquiries as to his whereabouts. He was abroad, but expected back the first part of September. On September 14th, Mr. Kidd and I went to Cranbrook and met Mr. Saarinen and his son and associate, Eero Saarinen, who is a graduate of the Yale School of Architecture, Class of 1934. We had a delightful visit in their home, with its ultra-modern furnishings and were taken around to see all of the buildings comprising the school, both outside and inside. Incidentally, we talked with him regarding his ideas of architecture.
Saarinen is not an "international" architect. as the cubist school of extremists, like Lescaze, are frequently called. He does not even like to be classed as a "modern" architect. He calls his work "contemporary architecture". He says he is not interested in whether it is classic or modern. He is interested only in "good architecture" and in that way dodges the whole issue. He says all architecture should be functional, but it should also be beautiful.
The buildings at Cranbrook, designed by him, certainly vindicate his theories. I don't know when, if ever, I have been so impressed with the sheer beauty of buildings, their setting and their interior decorating and furnishing, as I was with these. Words cannot do them justice, nor pictures either - the landscaping, giving full effect to the contour of the land, the matching of tree planting with the lines of the structures, reflecting pools of water, fountains, a running brook, flowers and foliage, the buildings themselves colorful with vibrant shades of brick, and massed so as to fit into the contour of the site, - lines of perfect simplicity and appropriateness - the interiors so different, so efficiently furnished, and yet so harmonious, warm and colorful. Much of the interior decorating and furnishing is the work of Mrs. Saarinen, who excels in artistic craftsmanship and decorative skill. I came back enthusiastic about the man and his work, but disappointed because he declined to act as consultant architect. He did, however, offer to prepare a design for us if we cared to employ him directly for that purpose.
I reported to Mr. Rand, Miss Kerr, and Miss Link our lack of success and my keen disappointment. I knew from what I had seen that any design Saarinen would give us would be in a different class form any of those which had been submitted to us, or any we might expect from our own architects. However, the door seemed shut in our faces, for we did not feel that we could afford two separate architects, or that such an arrangement would be workable.
We called a meeting of the Governing Committee, but could not get a quorum. Those members who attended seemed lukewarm. I felt it was hopeless to urge Saarinen's name any longer, and the next day, Saturday October 8th, I told Kidd that Saarinen was out of the picture.
Then came a dramatic change in the situation. On Sunday morning, October 9th, Miss Link handed me a letter saying that she wanted me to read it, and if I approved, to deliver it to Mr. Rand. It was a very strong, last appeal to Mr. Rand to try to get Saarinen as a designing architect, in association with the Kidds. She stressed the fact that this would protect the Foundation from possible criticism, even if his design should not be accepted, and that if it should be accepted, it would probably give Buffalo an outstanding monument of surpassing beauty and national renown. The expense, she said, should not be excessive, and, as crowning evidence of her earnestness, offered personally with her sister and brother-in-law to underwrite the cost to the extent of $10,000.
It was a splendid letter. Me. Rand read it and was impressed. Next day we discussed it with Philip J. Wickser, Vice-President and one of the directors of the Music Hall Corporation. He too felt that the arguments were convincing, though agreeing with us that we could not think of accepting the generous offer Miss Link and her family. He suggested employing Saarinen to submit a design with the understanding that if we accepted it, he be employed by the Kidds as associate architect, but if we did not accept it, we would simply pay him $5,000 and go ahead with the Kidd firm. Meanwhile, I had heard from two members of the Governing Committee who had been unavoidably absent from the Friday meeting, - William Warren Smith, and J.F, Schoellkopf, Jr. - asking us to call another meeting of the full committee, and saying they thought we ought to make every effort to get Saarinen on any reasonable basis.
We therefore decided to do this, but felt it imperative for Saarinen to be here and to meet the Committee and directors if we were to get a favorable vote. Accordingly, I called him on the telephone - having first obtained Mr. Kidd's approval, and he and his son came that night. The next day, Tuesday, they met the Governing Committee and the directors of the corporation, and after some negotiations, on October 13th, the arrangement suggested by Mr. Wickser was finally approved by the Board of Directors.
On November 30th the models and sketches made by the competing architects were received and submitted to the Directors and Governing Committee for inspection. Each had prepared a model, with accompanying sketches, and in addition, the Kidds submitted four or five sketches. Both designs were very beautiful. Both followed the functional rather that the classical approach. Both were designed for brick construction, though any other material could be substituted. Kidd's principal plan involved a separate octagonal building for the chamber music hall, connected with the main building by a corridor. Some of his alternative designs were more classical in effect. He himself termed them "modern classical". His principal design he called "modern". The latter gave the impression of a group of buildings, rather than of a Music Hall, seeming to lack unity somewhat.
Saarinen's design, on the contrary, was distinctly a unit. His method of blending the functional and the beautiful is well illustrated by his approach to the problem. We did not tell him what kind of a looking building on the outside we wanted, but only that on the inside we wanted two main auditoriums, one seating 2800 people, and the other, 900. The normal shape of such a hall is narrow at the stage end, widening out fanlike toward the rear. He took two rooms so shaped, one of course three times larger that the other, curved the walls of each slightly so as to form a parabolic curve, and put their wide ends together, with the stages at opposite ends. This meant that the wide end of the larger hall overlapped that of the other on both sides. These openings he closed with a plain flat wall, setting it far enough back to permit constructing the foyer between. He then continued the lines of the outer walls of the large hall around the curve of the small one by means of a reflecting pool, thus making the ground outline of the whole building a perfect oval, fitted at the west end into a block housing the rehearsal and dressing rooms, boiler rooms and the like. The result is a building that was developed functionally, yet is symmetrical - that is organic in conception, yet beautiful.
On December 1, 1938 the Board of Directors met to take formal action selecting a design. All of the members of the Governing Committee of the Foundation were enthusiastically in favor of the Saarinen design and we anticipated little difficulty with the directors of the corporation. However, at Mr. Wickser's suggestion, to be prepared for any eventuality, we had asked each architect to submit a list of names of eminent architects whom he would be willing to have advise the directors, if advice was desired. We submitted each architect's list to the other, and from the names to which no objections were offered, made up a panel of those available, and arranged by telephone to have them come to Buffalo the next day if we should need them.
Much to my surprise, we did need them. Several of the city representatives on the Board could see nothing good in the Saarinen design. One compared it to an ice house, and one said that none of the plans was any good. After a long discussion, it was unanimously decided to call upon the experts for advice, and adjourn until the next day.
In the morning, the three experts available arrived, and went to work. They were all from New York City, men of national reputation and outstanding achievements, - Ralph Walker, of Voorhees & Walker, architects for the World's Fair, J. Andre Fouilhoux, one of the architects who designed Radio city, and Harrie T. Lindeberg, a well-known Swedish American architect.
They examined the models and all the sketches most minutely, met the directors and members of the Governing Committee, discussed the plans with each other and with us, and finally made a written report unanimously recommending the Saarinen design.
I thought that all our troubles were then surely over, and again called a meeting of the Board to take action. In the meantime, quite a number of other interested persons, whose artistic or musical judgment we respected, saw the models and plans, and without exception favored those of Saarinen. However, when the Board met, we found ourselves deadlocked. Only eight directors were present. All three absentees were in favor of the Saarinen plan, as were the four who were present representing the Foundation, but three of the four city officials present still argued against accepting them, while the fourth - comptroller Eckert - said nothing. We tried in every way to meet the curious objections offered, or to work out some compromise that would restore harmony, but to no avail. Finally we forced a vote, and the resolution approving the plans was adopted by a vote of four to three! Comptroller Eckert refrained form voting!
With this dramatic episode I will conclude the narrative of our struggles. Not that all our troubles were over - far from it. Every week, every day almost, brings some new problem, some bureaucratic blunder or delay, some question of policy or politics. But at least our goal was now clear.
Before closing, however, I must speak about a few features of the design adopted, which have occasioned comment.
We finally decided to omit the stage house and fully equipped theatrical stage, adequate for the presentation of grand opera, which we had originally planned. Added expense of construction and operation, difficulties with the stage handlers union and the impossibility of presenting opera without a large deficit in a hall seating only 2800, finally led us reluctantly to abandon that plan. As at present planned, we will have two halls, a large auditorium seating 2800, with ramped floor and balcony, and a smaller chamber music hall, seating 900, with a flat floor, and movable chairs, which can be used for receptions or as an annex to the foyer, when concerts are being given in the auditorium. There will be large vestibules, ample foyer and coatrooms, comfortable seats, landing platforms for automobiles accommodating twelve cars at a time, located on both the north and south sides of the building, a modern refreshment bar, with smoking rooms, a green room, and retiring rooms in the basement, a rehearsal room for orchestras, and numerous dressing room, offices and the like.
We believe that we have the best equipped and most widely experienced acoustical engineers in the country. Men who have constructed or reconstructed acoustically over 4,000 theatres, and who are now doing the acoustical work for the New York World's Fair. With them, we feel that the acoustics of the new hall are in good hands.
The plans call for a reflecting pool curving around the east end of the building. As this would extend into Fourteenth Street, we asked the Council to relocate that street. They did even better, by voting to close it entirely between Porter Avenue and Pennsylvania Street, thus adding substantially to the landscaping in front of the building and saving a number of beautiful trees.
As our materials, we chose pinkish-rose brick for the main building, contrasting with veined stone for the curved wall of the chamber music hall. This choice was not due, as many have intimated, entirely, or even primarily to reasons of economy, although these materials are less expensive than marble, but because having evidence of the delightful color effects Saarinen has already achieved with that medium, we feel he will accomplish a similar result here. We remember, too, that the Boston Symphony Hall, the Bushnell Memorial Music Hall in Hartford, the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford-on-Avon, and many other similar buildings, are built of brick.
The question I am most frequently asked is: "When will the Music Hall be completed?" My answer is, we are required to complete it by February 18, 1940, unless we get an extension. Whether we can meet that date is uncertain, both because of delays occasioned by the P.W.A. entanglements, and by the time necessarily consumed by the architects in completing the details of their plans. The Kidds and Saarinens are all working together harmoniously, and the details of the design have been virtually completed. The plans and specifications are being prepared, and must be checked and approved by P.W.A. before we can advertise for bids for construction. We may meet the deadline of February 18th, but I am afraid it will be more nearly June, 1940, before the Music Hall will be ready and equipped for use.
We are often asked why we did not adopt a classic Greek style of architecture, like the Albright Art Gallery and the Historical Society Building. It is not that we do not see the beauty of that style, because we do admire both those buildings. The answer is to be found partly in what has already been said about classical and modern, or contemporary architecture. Another answer is the one given by Saarinen himself, with a twinkle, when he was asked that question: "Because we are not Greeks". This new style of contemporary architecture is the result of an evolution brought about by modern trends and requirements. We felt that here is a chance to give Buffalo a fine example of this new architecture, not copied from the dead past, but rooted in the living present, and dedicated, in the spirit of the New York World's Fair, to the world of tomorrow. Perhaps we have made a mistake, but we have used our best judgment, and we ask all who would criticize to withhold their final decision until they have seen the result in the completed Hall.
We are striving to vindicate the trust reposed by Mr. & Mrs. Kleinhans in the Buffalo Foundation to carry out their generous plans. In spite of the difficulties we have yet to overcome, and the probability that we will make mistakes before our task is finished, we cherish the hope that when the Hall is finally completed and furnished, Buffalo will find it a useful, beautiful and inspiring realization of the vision of the generous donors whose memory it will perpetuate.
Kleinhans Music Hall, Inc
Incorporated, July 27, 1938
Ground Breaking for Kleinhans Music Hall
October 17, 1938
Corner Stone Laying
September 12, 1939
(from above, noted as Part 1), click: Buffalo Foundation