Pittsburgh’s historic Carnegie Music Hall reopens following accessibility upgrades and restorations to decorative elements

Musical greats including Ella Fitzgerald, Luciano Pavarotti, Patti Smith, and conductor Frederic Archer have taken stage at Pittsburgh’s historic Carnegie Music Hall since the inaugural concert took place in 1895.

The music hall announced last week it is reopening its doors following an eight-month-long renovation that addressed accessibility issues and preserved the gilded ornamentation adorning much of the venue. Considered the hall’s most significant renovations since its founding 129 years ago, the newly reopened space preserves its cultural legacy while ushering it into a new century. The renovation was a collaboration between Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh-based contractors Volpatt Constructions, partnering with Gensler and CJL Engineering for architectural design and engineering, respectively.

“If Carnegie Music Hall was a gift to the Pittsburgh community almost 130 years ago, our purpose in renovating it has been to increase the value of that gift by making it a space accessible to all while preserving the splendor of its original design,” president and CEO of Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh Steven Knapp said in a statement.

Interior of a carnegie music hall
Renovations included 1,530 custom-designed seats and widened aisles. (Joshua Franzos)

To improve the venue’s accessibility aisles were widened, the main floor was re-sloped, and the theater was outfitted with 1,530 ADA-compliant seats. Additionally, more technical improvements involved upgrades to the electrical and sound systems—each light was rewired. Air conditioning was installed in the facility for the first time in its history, as a result Carnegie Music Hall can now host performances during summer months.

The cultural space also underwent extensive restorations to preserve Carnegie Music Hall’s artistic beauty, bringing together expertise from all over the Carnegie Museums campus. With guidance from Carnegie Museum of Art conservators, painters matched antique and modern paints to reapply 1,179 fleur de lis stencils. Cotton swabs and vinegar were used to clean 33 decorative panels at the venue’s orchestra level. Eleven gold leaf panels were cleaned, re-plastered, and repainted, while 40 doors were sanded and refinished. Along the first balcony’s back wall, 43 sconces were restored with the help of paleontology preparators from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

Detailed view of artistic panels in carnegie music hall
Art in the venue was restored with the help of experts from Carnegie Museums. (Joshua Franzos)

The renovation project received financial support from The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Charles M. Morris Charitable Trust, the Scott Electric Foundation, and the Allegheny Regional Asset District, as well as other private donations. The Take Your Seat! campaign also supported the project, allowing people to donate to put a name of their choosing on one of the custom designed seats.

“We look forward to welcoming the community back to this iconic hall,” Knapp added, “which is such a revered part of Pittsburgh’s cultural history.”

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