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Memorial Hall

By Sarah Stephens · July 2nd, 2008 · Cincitecture
  Memorial Hall
Memorial Hall

With the Fourth of July so close you can almost taste the hot dogs and ice cream, it seems a fitting time to discuss a building meant to honor the individuals our society places at the forefront of patriotic pride: soldiers.

Well, technically that dedication includes not just soldiers, but flag-waving sailors, Marines and pioneers as well. Almost exactly 100 years ago -- June 13, 1908 -- the Hamilton County Memorial Building, or Memorial Hall, was dedicated. Built to honor veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic (Civil War Union vets) and the Spanish-American War, its uses have varied throughout the years and its future is currently uncertain.

Like its stunning neighbor, Music Hall, Memorial Hall is also the brainchild of Samuel Hannaford & Sons. One of Cincinnati's few examples of architecture in the Beaux Arts style, I cannot stress enough how impressive and truly spectacular this building is when seen in person -- both inside and out.

Although the symmetrical, temple-like classicism displayed in the fa├žade can be found in architectural examples throughout the city, there is one aspect that cannot: freestanding sculpture. The only other examples that come to mind are the Germania Building and Gregg's Antiques. Continuing the vertical line of the columns below, six sculptures of pioneers, soldiers and sailors stand upon the cornice, reinforcing an overall sense of harmonious symmetry.

Entering the foyer through one of three wrought-iron doors, you are greeted by the first of the building's green chandeliers. Flanking the central hallway are two ballrooms that used to entertain men and women. Separately, that is -- one room for the ladies, the other for the gents. While both rooms feature much patriotic paraphernalia, portraits and antiquated documents, the room to the right displays a collection of antique pianos and, even more interestingly, a wreath from Abraham Lincoln's funeral procession.

If you take the marble staircases, which flank the entrance hallway, to a second floor, you'll find spaces even more visually engaging. The front room, which houses the Classical Music Hall of Fame, seems almost contradictory -- it's extremely well lit thanks to the presence of one of many oversized arched windows, yet its stone and cement barrel-vaulted construction lends a certain cavernous quality. Continue into the curved hallway and an even greater reward awaits. Restored to immaculate perfection, the 610-seat auditorium is the picture of grandeur and elegance. Illuminated by bare bulbs, the arched stage provides delicate lighting effects that simply ooze with nostalgia. On this arch can also be found a series of moral guides, such as "unity," "philanthropy," "patriotism" and my personal favorite, "manliness." Look up and you'll see more of those green chandeliers. They used to crank up and down, but are now firmly rooted in place.

Up to this point, Memorial Hall has been used for events, receptions, children's theater and classical music concerts. As of late, it is attracting a more indie crowd thanks to the MusicNOW Festival. Director of Operations Ray Henry would like to cater towards this sort of clientele in the future.

Its future with Hamilton County, however, is uncertain. The county is currently exploring its possible sale and has yet to make any decisions. As of now, Memorial Hall is a sorely underutilized historical and touristic resource to this community. With the current bustle of development and investment in the Washington Park area, however, the hope is that it won't stay that way for long.

MEMORIAL HALL, which offers free tours, is located at 1225 Elm St. in Over-the-Rhine.



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