Mandel Hall restored to its original beauty with new modern updates

Earlier this month, work concluded on an ambitious restoration project in the 109-year-old Mandel Hall, a beloved music venue for the UChicago community, Hyde Park and surrounding South Side communities. The project updated the ornate hall while preserving the grandeur it had on Dec. 21, 1903, when the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed the first concert there.

The renovation, begun last summer by McGuire Igleski & Associates, includes an upgraded fire alarm system, a new sprinkler system, improved aisle lighting and new wider seats to make Mandel Hall safer and more easily accessible. The new fire alarm and sprinkler systems are modern, allow for constant monitoring, and adhere to current construction code mandates, said Dave Culcasi, the Mandel Hall renovation project manager. The accessibility upgrades and wider seats required the removal of two rows of seats, along with a reconfiguration of seat numbering. The changes brought the current seat count to 878. 

"This renovation speaks to a core value at Facilities Services, which is to leverage infrastructure upgrades combined with performance and aesthetic improvements to provide a comprehensive renovation, which will serve the needs of the campus community today and in the coming decades," said Steve Wiesenthal, associate vice president and University architect.

"People will be thrilled," said Amy Iwano, the executive director of University of Chicago Presents, which sponsors concerts in the space. “We tested out the seats and they are very comfortable; they have a nice width and feel. The hall looks brighter, and the acoustics have been improved, too.”

Other renovations completed by McGuire Igleski & Associates are the repainting of the ceiling and woodwork, leaded glass cleaning and a refreshed proscenium.

Iwano noted that University of Chicago Presents subscribers will receive revised tickets before the first show in the newly renovated space on Saturday, Jan. 25. “We want to let people know that they'll be sitting in the same place as they've always sat.” The Jan. 25 performance will feature the string quartet Brooklyn Rider.

To ensure that Mandel Hall retained its historical character, the renovation team studied photos from the hall's earliest days.

“The University and the design-construction team took great care to review historical information available about Mandel Hall, including finding and replicating original paint colors and schemes for the walls,” said Jen Kennedy, interim director of the Office of the Reynolds Club and Student Activities, which is part of Campus and Student Life. She adds that it’s been 30 years since the last renovation, and the new work has created a space that sounds better, looks better and gives patrons more comfort and safety while retaining the hall’s unique character.

It's also a fitting comeback for a performance hall with such a storied past. It's named for Leon Mandel, a department store tycoon who ran Mandel Brothers. He wanted it modeled after the great hall of Crosby House, built in 1472 by London sheriff Sir John Crosby.

Since Mandel’s opening, it has hosted some historic classical concerts. It was on Mandel’s stage that Samuel Barber conducted the first performance of his “Capricorn Concerto;” Aaron Copland first played his “Piano Sonata” for the public; Isaac Stern premiered Hindemith's “Violin Sonata;” and Gregor Piatigorsky introduced Martinu's “Variations on a Russian Theme.”

"It's such a beloved hall and has such history,” Iwano said. “It's a renewal that's very welcome."

Information about the Saturday, Jan. 25 concert or future UCP concerts in Mandel Hall may be obtained by calling the UChicago Box Office, at 773-702-ARTS (2787).