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Hallelujah! Jordan Hall’s Scaffolding is Coming Down


Just in time for the seasonal “Hallelujah Chorus” from Boston Baroque, patrons of concerts at Jordan Hall can offer their own “Hallelujahs.” The scaffolding and protective fabric screens, which have obstructed the entire façade for almost a year, are coming down. NEC personnel are assuredly offering their own Hallelujahs — the project was ahead of schedule and under budget.

The ceremonial unveiling, to be presided over by NEC President Tony Woodcock, will take place on Wednesday, November 18, at noon. NEC is also offering “festive music and refreshments.”

<p>New terracotta cornice and mable panel.</p>
Terra cotta cornice and marble panel above Jordan Hall entrance. (BMInt Staff )

All four of New England Conservatory’s buildings have been undergoing $20 million in deferred  maintenance work for the last year, but Jordan Hall is the one that has impacted concert-goers. While scaffolding was up, patrons found it difficult to drop off concert-goers and newcomers were baffled about where to find the entrance. The original signage put up by the contractors was “inadequate,” explained Public Relations Manager Ellen Pfeifer, so NEC staff attempted to improve upon it — with limited success, if one eavesdropped to other concert-goers on the way in.

“But it is almost a moot point now,” laughed  Ms. Pfeifer.

Built in 1903, the building has been known from the beginning simply as “Jordan Hall” — and not “The Eben Jordan Memorial Building” or some such, which some observers think more appropriate, since it was paid for by Eben Jordan II of Jordan, Marsh Department Store.

Jordan Hall was designed by Edmund Wheelwright, architect for the Massachusetts Historical Society, built four years earlier, and the nearby much more elaborately detailed Horticultural Hall, completed in 1901.  He was also architect for one of Boston’s most beloved bridges, the Longfellow, more familiarly, the “Salt-and-Pepper” Bridge, and the understandably idiosyncratic Harvard Lampoon (Wheelwright was a founder.). He is often credited with being the designer of the Anderson Memorial Bridge (1913-15), but it was probably the work of his successor firm; he had been institutionalized with mental illness for two years prior to his death in 1912.

Although the façade of Jordan Hall is less ornate that either of its neighbors, it does have nice neo-classical detailing, such as the cornice and dentate molding under the roof. And it sports a wrought-iron balcony running along one-third of the facade at the second-story level. Like Massachusetts Historical Society’s building, however, Jordan Hall’s brick is yellow, and not red, brick.

Because it is a National Historic Landmark (designated in 1980), its restoration fell under the eagle eye of the Massachusetts Historical Commission.  (In fact, it is the only conservatory building in the United States to be designated a National Historic Landmark.

Existing windows were restored wherever possible or  replaced by new wood windows that meet preservation guidelines. New  marble was quarried in Italy to replace damaged marble pilasters and  decorative medallions. Decayed terra cotta cornices were removed and  replaced with new sections cast from the originals.

To maximize energy efficiency overall and to weather-proof rooms where temperature- and humidity-sensitive musical  instruments are kept, workers installed High R-value roof insulation and reflective PVC roofing material, energy-efficient windows and  weather sealing, and new efficient boilers. All usable building  materials removed during construction were recycled.

NEC had trouble sourcing the marble for the pilasters and medallions, according to Ms. Pfeifer, and found some in Italy. Terra cotta cornices were re-cast (actually a common practice in restoration).

“In a way, we are glad to do it right.”

Funded by tax-exempt bond financing completed in July 2008 through MassDevelopment, the project was designed to secure,  protect, and stabilize NEC’s campus buildings for the next 50 years. Tishman Construction was the project manager.

The supervision of the restoration was done by Wessling Architects of Quincy. Ann Beha Architects,  responsible for the restoration of the Jordan Hall interior and auditorium in 1995, won numerous awards, from the Massachusetts Historical Commission, the Victorian Society in America, the Boston Preservation Alliance, and others.

By far the majority of concerts held in the hall are free, sponsored by NEC. Outside concert organizations which rent the Jordan Hall auditorium have been assessed a $2 charge for every ticket sold, for a restoration fund. It was phased in, according to Ms. Pfeifer, during the past season, and has been in full force this year. Some organizations, like Boston Baroque, tagged on the additional fee to ticket buyers; others simply absorbed it, which has proven a burden for many of them in these disastrous economic times.

Now that the burden of access has been lifted and Jordan Hall taken care of for the next fifty years, patrons of concerts hope the fee is also to go the way of the scaffolding — down and away.

1 Comment »

1 Comment [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. But, does anyone know if Gainsborough St. returns to two-way status?

    Comment by John E — November 23, 2009 at 5:48 pm

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